Hercules and Love Affair -Qualia Folk

Hercules and Love Affair is a band founded in 2007 by openly Gay DJ-musician Andrew Butler, who has worked with various collaborators to produce music ranging from electronica to disco. The band is iconic not only for the affirmative tone expressed by Butler and his crew toward the LGBTQ community, but also for the artists’ frank expressions of gender and sexual orientation. In its 2008 iteration, the group included Andrew Butler, Trans-identified male vocalist Antony Hegarty, Lesbian vocalist-DJ Kim Ann Foxman, and Trans (transwoman) vocalist Nomi Ruiz.

Ruiz, Hegarty, Foxman (sitting), and Butler (standing, soundonsight.org/track-of-the-day-blind-by-hercules-and-love-affair, February 2012)

The Name

A fan of Greek mythology from boyhood, Butler named the band after the story of Hercules and Hylas. While sailing on a quest, Hercules and his companions went ashore at Mysia in what is now northwest Turkey. Hercules’ beloved younger companion Hylas took a pitcher to a nearby spring for fresh water. A nymph at the spring was so smitten by Hylas’ beauty that she dragged him into the water. When Hercules discovered that Hylas was missing, he wandered about Mysia calling Hylas’ name, but to no avail. “The Hercules love affair represents the strongest man at his most vulnerable,” said Butler in an interview with Peter Robinson.


Butler grew up in Denver and identified as Gay early in his life. He began his career as a DJ in a Leather bar at the age of fifteen, and described his initial experience in an interview with Amanda Trickett: “The [first] night I was there, the bar was raided. I ended up hiding in the back with the hostess, a fabulous woman called Chocolate Thunder Pussy.” Butler’s early on-the-job DJ training before college kept him from regarding disco and house music as inferior musical genres. While studying music at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, just north of New York City, he learned that his professors did not have the same opinion, but did not let their biases influence him. He also experienced the “feedback loop,” a phenomenon that sometimes happens when a mix of live performers and DJs connects with a dancing crowd, during his days as a college student.

Butler and Foxman. Photo: WMA (www.starpulse.com/Music/Hercules_&_Love_Affair /gallery/Hercules-Love-Affair-g04, February 2012)

Kim Ann Foxman hired Butler as a DJ for her Mad Clams parties in The Hole, a graffiti-covered bar in the East Village, Manhattan. According to Foxman, “There were no lights, it was really dark, the walls were covered with graffiti. Anyone could write on the wall, pee in the corner, have sex, whatever.” Butler and Foxman collaborated on Mad Clams theme songs and Foxman made humorous videos, such as “Nightmare on Clam Street” — about vampires whose bite turns their victims Gay — and “Exercise Your Clam.” These projects, along with exercise videos of all kinds, were featured during Mad Clam events. “Dry humping [simulated sex while fully clothed] is a recurring theme in all my films,” observed Foxman.

Featured artist Antony Hegarty came out of Manhattan’s alternative cabaret scene with a group named Antony and the Johnsons (after Marsha P. Johnson, the transwoman activist and icon who participated in the Stonewall Riots). With the addition of Ruiz and other musicians, Hercules and Love Affair came into existence in 2007. Butler and Hegarty collaborated on music for several years before the group’s debut album, Hercules and Love Affair, was released the following year. A second album followed in 2011 with Foxman and a new lineup featuring Aerea Negrot, Shaun Wright, and Kele Okereke.

The first album (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Herculesandloveaffairalbumcover.jpeg, February 2012)

Second album, released in 2011 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hla_blue_songs.jpg, February 2012)

Hercules and Love Affair, Blue Songs (aheartisaspade.com/2011/03/01/hercules-love-affair-cover-the-xx, February 2012)

Disco and Wonkiness

Hercules and Love Affair’s body of work reflects many different musical genres, with special emphasis on disco and house music. Butler finds sophistication and artistic integrity in disco, and favors the intersection of imperfect raw recordings with precisely remixed beats.

I just wanted to learn, learn, learn and collect all of it and learn the history of dance music. So, it sort of manifested itself in my own songwriting. I became more interested in this kind of classic sound and the sound of older instruments, rather than the sound of today’s newest drum machine or today’s newest synth.

He attributes a prevailing negative attitude toward disco largely to a combination of oversaturation in the late 1970s and the rise of AIDS in the 1980s. “Even within the gay community there was a backlash to disco in the 80s,” Butler said in the Robinson interview.

It was almost a self-hatred with the expressiveness and flamboyance of disco perceived to be attached to Aids [sic]. If you look through gay magazines around the time in the early 80s, in advertisements for clubs they’d say “no disco music played, rock only.” Well, now it feels like a legitimate form of music, although it always has been a legitimate form of music.

Photo: Emma Hardy (out.com/entertainment/music/2011/08/16/catching-andy-butler-and-kim-ann-foxman, February 2012)

The elements of early disco – horns, strings, erotic sighs, percussion, and non-digitized imperfections – are important to Butler. “I don’t think music should ever be perfect,” he said in an interview with Mickey Weems, stating that music should always have an element of “wonkiness,” flaws or glitches that allow listeners to glimpse something unexpected, giving insight into “the cryptic nature of things.” Butler envisioned disco as an indigenous form of American electronic folk music. “I do think I play American music,” he said. He is open to the idea that disco is Gay folk music as well. Butler’s knowledge of post-Stonewall dance music history and of the role played by Gay artists inspired him to enlist the help and counsel of Gay American DJ icons such as Frankie Knuckles and Bobby Viteritti.

2010 Moscow concert (concertandco.com/critique/concert-mumiy-troll-the-editors-roots-manuva/kolomenskoe-park-moscou/35495.htm, February 2012)

Melding DJ Folkways and Live Performance

When Butler assembled Hercules and Love Affair, it was not to simply create a studio band. The group went on tour (without Hegarty), and eventually began moving seamlessly from one live song to the next, an appropriation of the basic strategy of DJ performance in which the pulse of the music never stops. The goal, to keep the audience dancing, involves a collective emotional build-up that when done adroitly, lifts performers and audience into progressively higher levels of ecstatic pleasure. In an interview with Eddy Lawrence, Butler said,

Sometimes it’s about taking risks and seeing how the audience reacts. And it’s generally those moments that – at least for me – have always been the most bonding. When you’re both taken by a certain groove, and it really lifts you. And you look at someone else and they’re really lifted, and you’re really excited. And you’re dancing together, you’re going through something together. You’re rejoicing; essentially it’s kinda like celebrating together.

2010 Moscow concert (concertandco.com/critique/concert-mumiy-troll-the-editors-roots-manuva/kolomenskoe-park-moscou/35495.htm, February 2012)

For Butler, dancing is crucial, and he expressed this sentiment in the Robinson interview:

I want to set up public meeting points where people can dance. It’s important that you dance in front of people. I think to do a little interpretive dance to express yourself in front of 20 people every day would change the way people approach each other. It’s a good wholesome thing to do. It lets your guard down and communicates so much to other people without saying a word.

– Mickey Weems
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Further reading:

Lawrence, Eddy. “Hercules and Love Affair: Interview.” Time Out London, March 3, 2008. www.timeout.com/london/music/features/4342/Hercules_And_Love_Affair-interview/html, accessed March 2010.

“OMG, A Q&A: Kim Ann Foxman!” www.omgblog.com/2009/04/ omg_a_qa_kim_ ann_foxman.php, accessed March 2010.

Robinson, Peter. “Groove Is in the Art.” The Guardian. 23 February 2008. www.guardian.co.uk/music/2008/feb/23/electronicmusic.culture, accessed July 2010.

Shapiro, Peter. Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco. New York: Faber and Faber, 2005.

Trickett, Amanda. “Five Questions for… Andrew Butler.” www.metro.co.uk/metrolife/288982-five-questions-for-andrew-butler, accessed July 2010.

Weems, Mickey. Interview at Winter Music Conference, Miami, March 2009.

Zipf, Jen. “Hercules and Love Affair: Interview.” Prefix. December 14, 2008. www.prefixmag.com/features/hercules-love-affair/interview/24407/, accessed March 2010.

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