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Destined: Hercules and Love Affair

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Dusted's Brad LaBonte bows down before Brooklyn's Hercules and Love Affair.

Destined: Hercules and Love Affair

  • Download ”Hercules Theme” by Hercules and Love Affair

    “Some people say to me that 29 is a little old to be releasing your first record, and I’m like, ‘Really?’”

    Lacking context, one might find themselves agreeing with “some people,” that Andy Butler has gotten a relatively late start in the production game. In dance music circles, it’s common, if not expected, to see 22 and 23-year-old producers at the top of their game. It’s certainly not hard to tap into current trends – jack the equipment, ape the sound, stamp an image, contact the right people, and you’re in the rotation. Time will separate the one-offs from the artists who are worthy of career longevity, but, in the moment, such speculation is irrelevant. Journalists will attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff, but the scene is the scene, for better or for worse, and it’s there for the taking. When Burial’s debut album came out in 2006, what was most intriguing to me wasn’t the mysterious personality or even how different and groundbreaking the record sounded, but the fact that it was created over a five year period, which means that in 2001, amongst rave hangover and minimal glitch, this guy was crafting the kind of dark soundscapes that would only be properly contextualized years in the future. This is several lifetimes in dance music culture, which only goes to show that those who transcend the zeitgeist necessarily exist outside of it, or, simply put, create singular product that could only come from within them.

    Like the Burial album, “debut” doesn’t seem to be the right word to describe Andy’s first Hercules & Love Affair album, due out this March in Europe on DFA/EMI, with a stateside release to follow soon thereafter. If, after hearing Antony and the Johnson’s breakthrough I am a Bird Now in 2005, you thought that Antony’s voice might fit in perfectly with a disco revival that was still bubbling under the radar at the time, you would’ve had a great idea, but Andy was two steps ahead of you: he recorded Antony’s vocals for Hercules & Love Affair’s impossibly rich lead single “Blind” four years ago. Friends before he found out about Antony’s gorgeously distinctive pipes, Andy asked Antony to work on the track with him (“I really wanted to hear his voice against electronic textures”); later, during the whirlwind of press that accompanied I am a Bird Now, Antony inquired about the track that they had cut. “Antony said, ‘You should really do something with the track…take it to a label!’ He was [in many ways] the impetus for the album,” says Andy.

    Though Antony is partly responsible for pushing Andy into the final stages of producing an album, Mr. Butler has been writing and performing music since he was five years old, trained in composing and playing the piano. When he was 15, he received his first pair of turntables, sparking an interest in the musicology of mixing. “I was kind of shocked at how involved in the musical process mixing is, where you have one song mixing into another of an entirely different key, and beat-matching and creating a new song out of that.” This sparked an interest in the club and dance scene in Denver. “You think of Denver as like a resort town, but there’s a scene there…there were a lot of DJs visiting from San Francisco, and also from Chicago, so there was a West Coast thing, and a Chicago house thing happening…it was actually a really healthy scene.”

    Andy then moved to New York to study music at Sarah Lawrence, where he had access to the college’s vintage electronic equipment, albeit in an entirely academic setting. Though not working on the dance music that’s “in [his] blood,” the environment allowed Andy to learn about physical properties of sound and how to manipulate the electronics, which is a major part of why Hercules and Love Affair sounds so developed. Those with such technical knowledge and compositional training tend to skew towards complicated production or overly conceptualized ideas – not a failing so much as a desire to utilize knowledge or technology in ways that only the instruction manual can lead one to. Like others in this environment, Andy was a bit frustrated by the framework, but his achievement is that he’s escaped the academic ‘stamp’ while holding on to its advantages.

    Listening to his unreleased album, one can pick up on textures and sounds that are remarkably unique. Though there are hallmarks of modern disco production, they are juxtaposed against elements that sound imported from seemingly disparate eras. Pronounced horn sections mingle with electronics straight out of the mid-’90s Instinct or Warp catalogs, with disco diva harmonies riding Chicago house beats.

    After graduating, Andy worked odd jobs and DJ’d in New York, throwing parties with fellow DJ Kim Ann, who also contributes vocals to Hercules & Love Affair. While composing and recording what would become the basis for the album, Andy got in touch with producer Daniel Wang. Andy excitedly recalls, “I had sent him a mix CD I had made, and he sent me back a handwritten letter pointing out what he liked about it. What was so exciting was that I had bought my first Daniel Wang record when I was 19, and he was just immediately accessible to me in New York – it was amazing…he was very encouraging, listening to my tracks and giving feedback.” Daniel eventually put Andy in touch with DFA, and proper work on the album begun.

    Besides its technical wizardry, Hercules & Love Affair’s real coup is that the tracks manage to sound personal. Though Andy unmistakably has the dance floor in mind, there’s a songwriter aspect present that most dance music glosses over. All music can be argued to be functional, but beat-oriented music is demonstrably so, and the best of it avoids frivolity through true emotion. This isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking, but where some might be content to hide behind obscured tropes and hint at wellsprings of sadness (see: Burial’s sophomore release), Andy lays everything out in the open. While dance music is the vein he operates in, he’s drawn to “emotional music…music that has emotional extremes.” In particular, Judee Sill is an inspiration: “Discovering someone like Judee Sill had a huge effect…With all of the apocalyptic imagery, there’s a huge contradiction between how beautiful it is and how unsettling and eerie it can be…Antony was also very encouraging. He told me to ‘write from yourself,’ to ‘write about you.’” Though Andy describes the album as being “entirely collaborative,” he wrote all of the lyrics save for two tracks by himself. Being intimately familiar with the tracks by the time they were replayed and reproduced at DFA, he was able to instruct all the contributors to play what he specifically had in mind (including vocalist Nomi, pictured in the above graphic with Andy). In this sense, he’s more arranger/composer than straight-up producer.

    Andy’s also been trying his hand at remixing, recently doing a take on Goldfrapp’s “A & E”; remixes of Aeroplane for the Eskimo record label and of dance music legend Chaz Jankel are forthcoming. Also, remixes of “Blind” courtesy of Serge Santiago and another legend, Frankie Knuckles, will accompany the single upon its release, slated for February. Andy’s also working on future B-sides, which he says will be “more minimal,” hinting that “I wanted to see [for example] what five voices would sound like.” And a live show is in the works, tentatively set to start in Europe in two months, which will take “certain liberties” with the recorded versions of the songs: “It’s really fun…we’re having horns playing synth lines and stuff like that. Songs that might sound like a classic Detroit techno song on the album are sounding like a P-Funk song live. You’re going to get something different in the live show.”

    As if that wasn’t enough, Andy’s been working on some side projects, as well. After finally releasing music that was years in the works, it seems like he’s just getting warmed up.

    By Brad LaBonte

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