Today we announced that Electronic Beats will be presenting a string of dates as part of the Hercules & Love Affair tour. With their hugely successful self-titled debut and their more subdued follow-up Blue Songs they proved that they could make fresh, contemporary disco and house music that’s fluent in the language of disco: sexual yearning and ecstasy extrapolated from the tradition of gospel release. That they position themselves on the fringes of gender and sexuality aligns them even more squarely with the blasphemous impulses of the dancefloor, and yet we dare you to accuse them of being stuck on nostalgia.
Andy Butler is Hercules & Love Affair. The project may have diversified to include an ever growing nexus of members and collaborators but the project moves in accordance to his particular vision. This week sees the release of Butler’s DJ-Kicks compilation, showcasing his storied taste in dance music. It was under that pretence that we went to speak with Andy at K7‘s headquarters, although our conversation quickly expanded to include all the usual topics: feminism, Diplo and ballroom.
You’ve just released a compilation for K7’s DJ Kicks series. With something like that, I imagine it’s hard to choose how you’re going to approach it. Did you have a plan?
I was really excited because my first exposure to the DJ Kicks series was the Kruder & Dorfmeister mix, that first DJ Kicks. I was 15 years old and I was super into it. When they asked me I didn’t know whether I should do something really smart or something really obscure. Also, there’s an intelligence factor in Hercules & Love Affair but there’s also a cheekiness, a sense of fun that I wanted to keep and play with. So I used the first twenty minutes of the compilation to display that sense of humor, that sense of the respect for the early 80s and 90s and then I wanted to go deep with it. I wanted to show the substantial side of dance music, the meaningful and the emotional side. And also the gay side, I wanted to keep the gay quota in; pianos and big sounds.
Where are H&LA at right now, you’re working on your third album right?
We’re working with John Grant, one of those singer songwriters who had a really great year last year. I’m working with a girl called Crystal Warren, she’s got a very interesting identity, also, I can confidently quote Antony [Hegarty] as saying “she’s one of the best singers on the planet right now.” Crystal’s coming from a totally different place when it comes to dance music or pop music—she’s full of gospel music, jazz, classic rock. The thing with Hercules & Love Affair is that we’re very attuned to the history of dance music, disco and house, and we want to make it relative. I’ve been taking people like Crystal and John out of their world and putting them in house music. Also people like Little Boots, The Two Bears perhaps and the singer from the Dirty Projectors.
Also, for the tour we’ve got someone who is a mindblower, a gender mindblower. He’s this gospel singer called Rouge, who grew up singing in churches in high heels and he preaches when he sings. It’s a trip. It’s so wrong in so many ways, but it’s so right. He has this deep voice, this baritone and he presses buttons because he comes out in high heels and he’s gorge. And working with other talented gay, straight, black, white artists.
It appears you’re still interested in playing in the margins of gender and identity.
Absolutely. There’s a bit of heavy feminism on the new record too.
You studied feminist theory didn’t you?
A bit—feminist anthropology and feminist theory. We’re applying it on this record in a pretty provocative way.
Using some pretty provocative words. I wanted to reappropriate them in the way that marginalised people tend to reappropriate words—by using them among their daily speech or flipping the meaning. Some of it’s pretty intense. It’s also quite personal, we always have people singing from a really personal place, so we have people singing about their identity.
Speaking of which, since the release of Blue Songs there’s been this sudden interest in the gay, queer house scene. What do you make of it? You used vogue dancers at the beginning of Hercules & Love Affair I remember.
I think it’s interesting that there’s a mainstream eye that’s about to take a look at that subculture again; the gay way of speaking, the gay language that has developed with different races, amongst Americans especially.
You know Diplo said “throwing shade” earlier this year. That seems wrong somehow.
Did he? Diplo’s so cute. I don’t know how I feel about the mainstream world getting into it. As long as it’s done with a lot of appreciation and respect then great. Even at the beginning of Hercules & Love Affair, when I started working with the first person from the ballroom scene, I was sort of surprised at how much that culture was still alive and thriving. I think a lot of people thought it had died after Paris is Burning, after Madonna doing “Vogue”. What actually was happening was that vogue was getting huge in Atlanta, it was getting huge in Chicago, it was getting big all over the country. The cash prizes that you would win in a vogue contest were getting bigger and bigger and bigger. People really put their lives into this dance form. YouTube has made all kinds of vogue available to watch, too. I can see how it would inspire all kinds of people. Do you remember the film about krumping? What was it called?
I think so. It was going into that cool circle of clowning and krumping and it was really enlightening. Everyone in the world got the chance to see something that was happening specifically in LA in this little part of town. I think the same thing is happening with vogue.
Vogue has developed since the 90s in terms of style as well.
There’s something called New Way—as opposed to Old Way—which is more lines, duckwalks and classic moves. New Way is very much about acrobatics and is much more influenced by hip hop, in particular the intensity and anger of hip hop. The whole crowd chants and creates the soundtrack for these people to dance to. It’s intense. I mean, I can see young hipsters being drawn to it. But a lot of them wouldn’t know what to do if they were thrown in that room. I’ve been to a ball before and I got smacked in the face by a tranny.
Oh my god, what happened?
A transgendered girl who didn’t like the way I was looking at her walked up to me and smacked me in the face! If you do actually go to the real events it could be pretty uncomfortable for a lot of people. I think it’s interesting that straight kids would be like, “I like that, I want to be a part of it” but then you actually put them in the room with a bunch of queens… Also this MC at the event I went to was talking about the ginger in the front row, they were talking about me! I was totally shy!
On the subject of making people uncomfortable… Your first record really chimed with a lot of people and many, many people bought that album. I wonder how it felt trying to maintain that fan base. I mean, your following isn’t just queer people, it can’t be, you’re too big. Are you up for taking the non-queers along for the ride?
I don’t think about it so much. It was a surprise when I first saw a lot of straight kids at the shows, I was kind of like “really?” But it’s so important that it reaches everyone and I try and keep the message pretty universal. It’s been cool that it’s reached so many different kinds of people. To be honest with you, I don’t think about alienating people, but I’m sure it happens. With the next record it’ll probably be a little bit more so. It has to question people, it loses its resonance when it doesn’t. ~