Few developments in history can top the moment when humans stopped using music to exalt god and started to use it to exalt the body. Disco and house was, of course, built upon soul music’s divergence into the secular—and few contemporary acts manage to preserve this message in a way that still feels vital. Hercules and Love Affair have consistently been one of them. Ever since 2008’s self-titled debut, they have consistently proved fluent the language of yearning, heartache and release; reverent purists worshipful at the altar of dance music history, who, unlike the 2012 crop of DIY house outsiders, don’t feel the need to piss in the holy water just yet. A band whose Otherness is worn like a birthright. That the post-industrial setting for tonight’s stripped back Hercules and Love Affair Soundsystem (note: Soundsystem) gig in Amsterdam is called Trouw—Dutch for “faithfulness”—seems strangely apt because, if anything, they seem more protective of their roots than ever.
Opening their set with the baggy shirted strut of “My House” ensures the attending crowd’s blood is pumping to all the right places. The musky baritone of Rouge—one of two vocalists cum hype-people charged with leading the congregation for tonight’s stripped back affair—does a fine job of keeping it there. When the second guest vocalist, Gustaph, dressed in a monochrome Prada-style trackie, begins recanting “I Feel Love” over an undulating, disarmingly bodily arpeggio the crowd offers up vocal exhortation in concert and, for a moment, we all wish we could pull off knee-length shorts and a gold bootlace tie. Edging into a reinforced reworking of Tiga’s “You Gonna Want Me” sees the crowd lose their voice: “SING!” screams Rouge, and still the crowd’s in-depth knowledge of 2006 falls short. Awk. After an unexpected tract of heads down, eyes-up techno, a window is cracked and “You Belong” offers all the primal comfort of flesh upon flesh, the insinuatingly visceral synth vamps setting the stage for a scene stealing turn by Andy Butler. Hitherto remaining wizard-like in the shadows, he relishes his time in the spotlight with an impeccably executed duckwalk. This is the second gig in so two months which has descended into a vogue down (the last being Zebra Katz in Berlin), and the granite-flecked, Masters at Work timbres that Butler frequently recourses to tonight feel both timely and timeless. When a member of the crowd clambers onstage to do battle it’s hardly surprising. Vogue, after all, was one of the things EB and Andy Butler discussed at length in our interview this Autumn. A fine development, we say, even if the outbreak of vogue limbs in the audience leaves something to be desired.
If, after two hours, the throng of sweat-slicked and loyal struggle to keep their energy up it perhaps isn’t all that surprising. This is tough, muscular, music that demands a purely corporeal response. The heartsick torch songs that Hercules and Love Affair did and still do so well are banished in this functional Soundsystem setup, or else reworked into unholy basement club bangers that taste of sweat and metal. Still, Rouge and Gustaph are hard taskmasters who have little truck with tired Friday night legs: we’re kept on our feet until the bitter end where we’re invited onstage to wring out the last of our adrenaline in the company of Rouge and a now shirtless Butler. Just when we feel our bodies crashing— for bed, for respite, for the love of god, Rouge poses the one question that surely echoes through the ages: “Come on, people! Are you tired? Don’t you want to come to the after party?” Remember to say a prayer for us. ~
Photos: Jos Kottmann