Nini Nobless, co-founder of Montreal disco powerhouse duo Lime, dead at 74

Denis LePage, left, who later took the name Nini Nobless, is shown with then-wife Denyse LePage in this undated photo.  (Claudine LePage/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Denis LePage, left, who later took the name Nini Nobless, is shown with then-wife Denyse LePage in this undated photo. (Claudine LePage/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Disco producer Denis LePage had a knack for drawing revellers to the dance floor, and in the heart of Montreal's pumping 1980s nightlife, the musician's hit-making skills were unmistakable.

With a stream of Billboard chart hits, LePage helped define an era of Canada's discotheques as part of the duo Lime. LePage, who identified as non-binary and later took the name Nini Nobless, died Monday of cancer at age 74, said former manager Yvon Lafrance.

While not exactly a household name, LePage's infectious synthesizer hooks made Lime's songs favourites at dance clubs around the world.

"He was a genius," explained Claude Chalifoux, who co-owned Lime Light, the bustling Montreal dance club that regularly spun Lime's dance tracks.

"All of the music that Denis did was a smash hit. People went crazy when they'd play Your Love, You're My Magician and Guilty."

Years before those electronic disco favourites, LePage was already chasing a music career.

As a teenager, they performed in the band the Persuaders, and by the mid-1970s had formed the jazz-fusion act Le Pouls with then-wife Denyse LePage, a singer-songwriter in her own right.

A few years later, LePage secured their first hit with the funky 1979 single The Break, released under the name Kat Mandu. The cowbell-fuelled song peaked at No. 3 on Billboard's U.S. disco chart.

The success put some wind into the sails of LePage's second project with Denyse, which caught the wave of the synthesizer revolution sweeping through the industry.

Inspired by the sounds of Giorgio Moroder and Kraftwerk, the LePage duo had recorded an electro-disco project together. But they hadn't settled on the title of their new act the night they walked into the Lime Light with a promotional copy of their first vinyl, said Chalifoux.

Lime Light, a downtown Montreal discotheque that welcomed gay and straight clubgoers alike, proved a fruitful inspiration in more ways than one. Opened in 1973, the venue began hosting an exclusive, fashion-forward patronage four years before New York's Studio 54 would cater to a similar crowd.

When in-house DJ Michel Simard played Lime's 1981 debut single Your Love on the turntables for the first time, he was instantly convinced they had a hit on their hands, remembered Chalifoux.

As the disco pair chatted with Simard, it became clear they were somehow connected to the venue in a special way.  "When the people came to the Lime Light, a lot of [them] said, 'We're going to the Lime tonight,"' added Chalifoux.

And so a shortened version of the club's name stuck to the couple.

A night at the Lime Light soon became synonymous with hearing Lime's hits over the sound systems on one of the venue's two levels of dance floors.

By the end of 1981, Your Love had spread beyond Canada's borders, landing atop the U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart for one week.

Lime delivered another floor filler with 1982's mirrorball booty shaker Babe, We're Gonna Love Tonight, which peaked at No. 6 on the dance chart.

Success outside Lime

The Lepage team also found success outside Lime when they wrote Dancin' the Night Away for the duo Voggue. The 1981 single held at No. 1 on the Billboard dance chart for three weeks.

They also continued making music as Lime into the 1990s, though friends say financial problems led to the sale of music copyrights to Unidisc, a Montreal record label that specializes in sounds of the era.

"My parents' relationship was not easy," said Claudine LePage, the couple's child.

"They continued making music together ... and then my dad continued producing music but used other singers. Or my mom would sing by herself on songs with other artists. The goal was just to continue making music."

Around the early 2010s, LePage began to publicly identify as a woman, taking the name Nini Nobless and recording new material. The music struggled to find an audience for a variety of reasons.

"I felt that the people didn't like that Denis went from a man to a lady," said Chalifoux.

"His music was good, he had the same voice as when he was singing with Lime, it was only a physical change ... [but] the sound was too much from the '80s."

Still, Lime's sound has reverberated in contemporary circles with the help of Unidisc. The company's ownership of Lime's catalogue meant the label could reissue and rework past recordings.

In recent years, that included recruiting Canadian dance producers Jacques Greene and Tiga to produce remixes of the duo's classic singles.

Francis Cucuzzella, who manages artist relations at Unidisc, said there was a documentary on Lime being made in co-operation with the late LePage. While the project is now in limbo, he hopes it will one day be completed and released.

A funeral is planned in Montreal for Sept. 4.

CP update: The Canadian Press consulted family and friends of Denis LePage, who also went by Nini Nobless, to determine which names and pronouns they believe they would have preferred for this story. The musician used their names and pronouns interchangeably in their later years.