Hercules and Love Affair get serious about disco music.
“People are just so used to escapism when it comes to dance music, not so much content that makes them think,” says Hercules and Love Affair’s Andy Butler. But the nu-disco band’s debut album, released in the U.S. to great acclaim this July, has the kind of substance that few dance producers consider possible these days in songs inspired by Greek mythology and growing up gay. Emotions are delivered by magnetic vocals set to driving beats in a subtle synthesis of heartfelt disco and angular dance-punk with analog-era sonics. Still, it’s dance-friendly enough that it requires no brain power to properly appreciate.
Butler’s brief discography—one housey single “Classique #2” in 2007—doesn’t let on that he’s been planning his music career for years. He began composing on piano as a kid and fell for electronic dance beats in Denver, where the giants of second-generation Chicago house—Derrick Carter, Mark Farina, Cajmere and Sneak passed through. “I got the bug,” he says, and began spinning straight-up house music in leather bars.
Relocating to New York in ’97, Butler says he turned a corner when he bought an entire DJ collection—over a hundred Italo and American disco records—and started playing them out with post-punk and postdisco records. “In hindsight, I think I was doing what DJs were doing in the ’80s. Cosmic DJs were playing rock records, playing traditional African music, playing punk music, everything got kind of blurry,” he says. That fascination with the experimental ’80s downtown scene of ESG, Liquid Liquid and Arthur Russell still guides him in Hercules.
Butler was recording solely for his own pleasure until his friend and collaborator Antony Hegarty, the vocalist on “Blind,” told him he had to “really do something with this music; don’t just keep it to yourself.” DJ Daniel Wang suggested he bring his demos to the punky-dance label DFA. Soon, he had a deal.
Butler’s aesthetic proved a perfect match with the label: “I knew that they were really actively trying to convincingly fuse live music with electronic music and do a really good job of bringing together punk and rock music with dance music.” DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy coproduced Hercules and Love Affair.
On the album, Butler tapped his chums hip-hop singer Nomi Ruiz and fellow underground clubber Kim Ann Foxman as vocalists—and along with sessioners brought in to complete the album, they’re now part of an eight-piece touring band. In the meantime, Butler has made the transition from home-studio producer to band leader. “It’s very important to me that the vision isn’t diluted,” he says. “So much of the creative content comes from my personal world that I’m the one that has to convey what this is about.”
So, inspired by an intimate, music-focused downtown scene, Butler has made the big lovable personal record he always thought he might. Meanwhile, he’s learned that being a scenester and an artist don’t always click: “I really don’t like to boss my friends around but I’ve gotten used to it.”
Hercules and Love Affair play live at the Metro, Fri 17.