Disco in­ferno

A dol­lop of disco, an ear­ful of elec­tron­ica and a sprin­kle of star­dust in the form of Antony “and the John­sons” Hegarty. Her­cules & Love Af­fair founder Andrew But­ler tells Jim Car­roll how he nailed an old-new sound

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

A SK Andrew But­ler about the first time he fell in love with syn­th­pop and he’ll talk the legs off you. You see, But­ler, the main man be­hind the de­light­ful, eu­phoric disco an­thems of Her­cules & Love Af­fair, caught the elec­tronic mu­sic bug a long time ago.

The mem­o­ries flow. He re­mem­bers Yazoo and Sit­u­a­tion, and how Vince Clarke’s pro­duc­tion and Alison Moyet’s voice made per­fect sense to­gether. But­ler knows it’s not cool to ad­mit to the next one but . . . Ah, to hell with cool, he says. It made so much sense at the time, he says, and he talks away about the ex­cite­ment of see­ing a video clip for Tech­notronic do­ing Pump Up the Jam.

When you’re a 12-year-old kid from Wash­ing­ton DC get­ting hooked on synths, th­ese are your mark­ers. With­out those mark­ers, he wouldn’t have Her­cules & Love Af­fair.

But­ler is the king­pin, the one who brought to­gether a bunch of New York scen­esters and mu­sic-mak­ers (in­clud­ing Antony Hegarty of Antony & The John­sons do­ing his best Moyet im­per­son­ation) to set the glit­ter­balls spin­ning.

Their self-ti­tled album is a back-to-the-fu­ture ride that will you fin­ger-pop­pin’ and hip­shakin’. It re­cap­tures disco’s in­no­cent he­do­nism and prom­ise of bet­ter days, mates it with the var­i­ous strains of elec­tronic mu­sic that have emerged since, and rec­on­ciles them all with the re­al­i­ties of the big, bad world. The grooves are glo­ri­ous and the ar­range­ments divine.

But But­ler is still re­mem­ber­ing the old days. “When I moved to Den­ver as a teenager, I re­mem­ber hear­ing Frankie Knuck­les’s The Whis­tle Song and Or­bital’s Belfast and see­ing clips of In­ner City on MTV. Th­ese were for­ma­tive mo­ments and I got re­ally ex­cited about what I was hear­ing and started hang­ing out with DJs and picked up on a bunch of stuff.”

All this time, young Andrew was hit­ting but­tons on his tiny Ca­sio synth. “Get­ting that syn­the­siser was a big mo­ment for me. It was the tone which did it, it sounded so pure. That de­layed synth hook, the Vince Clarke sound, just sent me into rap­tures.” But­ler and his dad spent two weeks driv­ing up and down the US east coast check­ing out col­leges. When he turned up at the Sarah Lawrence Col­lege in New York, he quickly clicked that he’d found the per­fect fit.

“The night I went to check it out, there was a bunch of mu­si­cians play­ing live with a load of DJs scratch­ing and peo­ple danc­ing like crazy. I thought that was cool. Then I went to the Roxy to see Ar­mand Van Helden spin­ning that night and moved to New York right away to study mu­sic and art his­tory.”

But­ler was im­me­di­ately hooked on the Big Ap­ple’s buzz. “Right away, I was buy­ing records and go­ing to clubs and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the scene.” He be­gan to spin new-wave elec­tro disco at house par­ties be­fore mov­ing to clubs and bars.

“When I came to New York, I was ex­pect­ing one thing, but the club­bing land­scape had changed a lot. The fo­cus was chang­ing from the big clubs to more of a lounge scene be­cause changes in li­cenc­ing laws made it very dif­fi­cult to get a proper club go­ing. The lounge scene was a lit­tle ster­ile, to be hon­est. Peo­ple were more likely to go mad in some­one’s liv­ing room than in one of th­ese lounge set­tings.”

When But­ler wasn’t play­ing other peo­ple’s mu­sic, he was mak­ing his own. “Col­lege was my first time to work with se­quencers and sam­plers and with other mu­si­cians.” One night, he was hav­ing din­ner with friends and one of them brought along this big strap­ping fel­low called Antony.

“I didn’t know he was a singer but af­ter­wards my friend played me his first record. I ran into him a few days later and was gush­ing about how amaz­ing and beau­ti­ful his voice was and how much he re­minded me of Liz Frazer from the Cocteau Twins and Alison Moyet and Yazz.”

When But­ler fin­ished the mu­sic for a track called Blind, he thought he’d ask Antony to sing on it. “I re­ally wanted to hear what Antony’s voice would sound like against elec­tronic tex­tures and he said sure, he’d do it.”

Four years on, the most re­cent ver­sion of Blind is the cen­tre­piece of the Her­cules & Love Af­fair album. Antony croons and Her­cules swings to make it the most soul­ful and funkysound­ing torch song you’ll find this side of the Sal­soul back-cat­a­logue.

The rest of the album is just as fun. But­ler and his var­i­ous ac­com­plices (Kim Ann Fox­mann, Nomi and the DFA folks) sprin­kle star­dust on a be­guil­ing bunch of melodies.

“Most of the peo­ple who worked with me on the album are friends. It re­ally was a case of me say­ing coyly, ‘will you come and play on my record?’ and thank­fully, they all said yes. It was very ca­sual and came out of an in­ter­est in par­tic­i­pat­ing and col­lab­o­rat­ing rather than ‘we’re go­ing to record this album and re­lease it’.”

Best of all, the sound of the album is what he wanted right out of the box. “There’s noth­ing wrong with disco – it’s still as ex­cit­ing as ever. I re­mem­ber go­ing to clubs and hear­ing sam­pled disco songs put to house beats. But when I heard the orig­i­nal ver­sions of those songs, they just sounded so much bet­ter. That was the ef­fect I was af­ter, and I think and hope I got it.”

Her­cules & Love Af­fair (left to right): Nomi, Antony Hegarty. Kim Ann Fox­man and Andy But­ler

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