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
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. ~