Hercules and Love Affair is a dance music project created by American DJ Andy Butler in 2008. Consisting of a rotating cast of performers and musicians, the band work within the genres of house music, disco, and nu-disco.
Originally based in New York City, Hercules and Love Affair were founded following Butler's collaboration with Antony Hegarty to produce the song "Blind", which was a hit single. Signing to DFA Records, early members include Butler, Kim Ann Foxman, Mark Pistel, Aérea Negrot, Shaun Wright and Nellyphant. In 2008 they released their self-titled debut album, which received critical praise and charted in the top 40 in several countries.
A second album, Blue Songs, followed in 2011. Butler subsequently moved to Vienna, Austria, and in 2014 the band's third album, The Feast of Broken Hearts, was released, featuring guest vocals from John Grant as well as new primary vocalists Rouge Mary and Gustaph.
Andrew Butler was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, and has described growing up in "a violent household without any role models". He developed an early love for Greek mythology, which later inspired him to name his band after the mythological hero of Hercules. Interested in music, he played the piano, and began composing classical pieces from the age of thirteen. Butler's interest switched to focus on dance music after buying a record by the band Yazoo. He went on to give his first DJ set aged fifteen, in a Denver leather bar run by a hostess called Chocolate Thunder Pussy; on that occasion, the club was raided by police, leading him to hide from them in the toilets. As he later related: "I started DJing because I needed to get out of the house. I was, like, 'Take me to the club or there's going to be a really ugly situation at home today!' I found a lot of freedom in the nightclub to express myself and not be judged as harshly as I was at home. I am a gay man and I grew up with a certain struggle and because of that, I have a story to tell." According to Butler: "I've been writing songs since childhood. I made music for dance performances in college (where he studied under Martin Goldray), like a remake of Gino Soccio's 'Runaway' done in the style of Kraftwerk."
In the late 1990s, Butler moved to New York City to attend Sarah Lawrence College. In the city he befriended the musician Antony Hegarty and in 2004 convinced Hegarty to perform vocals for a song he had written, titled "Blind". At the time, Hegarty simply described it as "curious", but Butler continued to make adjustments to the demo.
Foundation and debut album: 2007-2011:
"'Blind' was about growing up a gay kid, my immediate family and social group rejecting me, and asking why I was born into this situation. But knowing that as soon as I could escape, I would, and that I would find freedom and solace. As an adult, however, I found a life full of excess and other wounded people and confusion. Thus, I felt blind."
In 2007, after Hegarty had won the Mercury Prize for her work with Antony and the Johnsons, Butler approached her with the "Blind" demo, and they agreed to release it. Butler decided to do so under the name of Hercules and Love Affair because it reflected his interest in Greco-Roman mythology; it referenced Hercules and his "love affair" with Hylas. According to Butler, "Hercules stayed on the island, looking for his boyfriend. I just thought this was super-beautiful: the strongest man on earth looking for his lost love, at his most vulnerable. Strong men can have strong feelings. And they can experience those feelings and experience pain and express pain -- and be gay."DFA Records agreed to release the song, with DFA founder Tim Goldsworthy stating that "We had slight reservations that 'Blind' would be a one-hit wonder. But then he played us some bits he had been playing around with at home." The single was first released in the United Kingdom in March 2007, where it made the Top 40. It was awarded Best Song of 2008 by Pitchfork Media and came in at sixth place in Resident Advisor's Top 30 tracks of that year.
At this point, Butler decided to establish Hercules and Love Affair as a continuing musical project, stating his intent to release music with a rotating cast of performers and musicians. The band's debut album, Hercules and Love Affair, was released in Europe through DFA's parent company, EMI, in March 2008. For the album, Butler assembled a mixed line-up; Morgan Wiley and Andrew Raposo, both formerly of Automato, joined the backing band, while Nomi Ruiz, CocoRosie, Kim Ann Foxman, and Hegarty took up vocals. However, although Hegarty would appear on five of the album's tracks, he did not participate in the band's live performances. The band made its live debut on May 17, 2008, at the Studio B venue in Brooklyn, New York, before going on a European and North American tour. Appearing at London's Lovebox Festival in 2010, it was there that they were interviewed by Vogue TV. After touring for a year, Butler split with his record company and returned to Denver.
Blue Songs and The Feast of the Broken Heart: 2011-2014:
2011 saw the release of Hercules and Love Affair's second album, Blue Songs, brought out by independent British label Moshi Moshi. Butler remained in control, joined by Mark Pistel, and Kim Ann Foxman returned, however it also featured two new main vocalists, Shaun Wright and Aerea Negrot. One of the songs, "Step Up", contained guest vocals from Kele Okereke, the lead singer of indie rock band Bloc Party. The album's title was chosen by Butler to reflect his own "blue period" during adolescence, before he discovered the existence of like-minded people through music.
Shortly after the album's release, Butler attracted the attention of the music press when he informed Out magazine that Madonna should "make an age-appropriate record that still appeals to young people" while being scathing of Lady Gaga, asserting that she was producing "children's music... It's middle-aged gay men dancing around to music for 11-year-old girls." As a result of the stress and pressure of the band's success, Butler began making increased use of drugs, and in an attempt to get clean he moved from New York City to Vienna in Austria. As he told a journalist from The Guardian: "It was a need, because I was going way too fast and I was going to self-destruct. It had to get really bad before it got OK."
In August 2012, Hercules and Love Affair played at the Meltdown Festival at London's Southbank Centre, which was curated by Hegarty. For their performance of "Blind", Hegarty joined them onstage to provide the vocals; the first time that she had performed the song live with the band. At that performance, they were also joined onstage by singer John Grant, who publicly stated for the first time that he was HIV+; Butler later stated that "I thought it was one of the bravest things I've ever seen a person do".
The band's third album, The Feast of the Broken Heart, was released by Moshi Moshi in May 2014. Describing the album, Butler stated that "I wanted nasty basslines, stormy, bleary-eyed sounds, fiery, rough, tough and ragged old school house productions that sounded almost techno. I didn't want polite, I wanted aggressive". In a conscious change from the previous two albums, he did not make use of organic instrumentation. When recording the first songs for the album, Butler had stated his intention not to use any well-known vocalists for the album, because he believed that - as with Hegarty and Okereke - they would be too busy to tour with the band. However, when the album was released it received guest vocals from star singer John Grant, who sang on "Liberty" and "I Try To Talk To You", in which he dealt with the issue of being HIV+. Also singing on the album were Rouge Mary, Gustaph, and Krystle Warren, with Butler informing The New York Times that that line-up constituted "the best ensemble of vocalists I've had."
In July 2014 the band performed at East London's Lovebox Festival. In August, the band generated some controversy with the release of the video for their song "My Offence" which featured excerpts of conversation with figures from the New York City gay scene like Honey Dijon, Juliana Huxtable, and Contessa Stuto. Butler described the song and its video as an examination of his "relationship to taboo words and the use of 'cunt' amongst NYC's gay community to relay flattery, empowerment and strength".
Image and sound:
Describing the band's 2011 lineup, Elizabeth Day of The Observer described Hercules and Love Affair as "possibly the most disparate bunch ever to come together, call themselves a band and release an album. The five members walk into the room in a blaze of colour and mismatched clothes like a pick'n'mix bag of sweets."
Rob Ledonne of The New York Times asserted that Hercules and Love Affair have a "distinctly Continental sound" in that they are influenced by European dance music.
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