Hit and myth

Hercules and Love Affair's Andrew Butler celebrates the success of his debut LP.

PANTHEON OF THE ODDS Butler, Foxman, Nomi and Hegerty, clockwise from top, make beautifully bent music together.

PANTHEON OF THE ODDS Butler, Foxman, Nomi and Hegerty, clockwise from top, make beautifully bent music together. Photograph: Jason Nocito

In the world of gods and demigods, it’s not unusual for characters to appear fully formed out of the ether. Take Aphrodite: Kronos castrated his father Ouranos and chucked the offending member into the sea; a bunch of foam rose up, and out she popped. Or, for a slightly less gruesome example, look at Hercules and Love Affair, which is celebrating the release of a self-titled debut LP at Studio B on Saturday 17. “Basically, I just had a handful of songs,” Andrew Butler, the man behind the project, recalls. “I took them to DFA; they were interested, and all of a sudden there was an album. Even the release is happening sooner than I expected, so I haven’t even had time to consider what people would think about it. It’s all been a bit of a shock.”

Shock is probably putting it mildly. The album, a collection of electronic disco, rife with lyrics about love lost and paradise regained, has been greeted by over-the-top reviews, the kind that include terms like album of the year when it’s only May. A lot of that has to do with the music itself—as with the best disco and synth-pop, there’s plenty of longing and melancholy lurking within the loping bass and swooping horns. “Dance music is too often tossed off to the side as some kind of illegitimate fluff that has no substance,” Butler, 30, says. “But of house music and disco can really tap into a lot of emotion, especially of the heartbreak variety.”

Another reason for the acolades is the disc’s charming let’s-put-on-a-show feel, with DFA maestro Tim Goldsworthy coproducing; !!!’s Tyler Pope playing bass on a number of songs (including standout leadoff single “Blind”); and old pal Kim Anne Foxman, new friend Nomi and Butler himself wandering in and out of the vocal booth.

But it’s another of the album’s emoting singers who’s raising the most eyebrows: Antony Hegarty, of dark-cabaret combo Antony and the Johnsons. Like many outsize personalities, Antony is a love-him-or-hate-him figure, but in this context, his quivering near-falsetto fits perfectly; it’s like Sylvester belting out “I Who Have Nothing,” or, even closer, Bronski Beat’s Jimmy Sommerville despondently crooning “run away, turn away” on “Small Town Boy.”

“Ant and I are really close,” Butler explains. “We were just hanging out all the time anyway, and I was always playing him stuff I was working on, so it was natural to have him so involved. Sonically and emotionally, it really works. And anyway, if I could have someone like Antony sing on my album, I’d be crazy not to.”

Antony won’t be at Studio B, which is Hercules and Love Affair’s first public live date; instead, Foxman and Nomi will be sharing vocal duties. But there will be more than enough to entertain the crowd. “I’m really excited about having the Horse Meat Disco guys come over,” Butler says, referring to DJs James Hillard and Jim Stanton from the acclaimed London soiree. “I was at the very first party they did five or six years ago, and I admire them for both their staying power and the imagination they put into the parties. They’re really focused on the music—their knowledge is so deep—but the parties are also so much fun. Straight people and gay people all together—it just feels so real.”

But back to mythology—specifically, where the hell did the act’s name come from? “As I was getting the songs together,” Butler recalls, “this one myth about Hercules popped into my head. He was on this crazy adventure, and he took along his lover, this younger guy, and lost the guy somewhere along the journey. It ended up so that Hercules wouldn’t leave some island unless his lover was with him. There’s this image of Hercules, the strongest man on earth, wandering around this island completely crushed; it seemed like a really romantic idea, so the name fit the project. Plus, of course, it sounds very disco!”

The Hercules and Love Affair Release Party is at Studio B Sat, May 17.