5 Questions with: Andy Butler from Hercules And Love Affair
"The Spirit Of 09" New Year's party featuring
Hercules And Love Affair (DJ set)
Hercules And Love Affair is probably the most exciting (and inarguably, gay) thing to happen to dance music in years, it's freshness a strange thing considering it takes a startlingly upfront cue from the earliest days of old man disco. Even stranger, though: The group is a hodge podge of New York misfits ranging from ex party-kid Andy Butler to the sweetly androgynous Kim Ann Foxman to glam transsexual Nomi to one of the most unique voices in music -- period -- vocalist Antony (of Antony & The Johnsons). While the latter singer's vibrato is what makes H&LA pop, Butler's branchild spawned from his beats and was signed to LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy's DFA label almost from the jump. We talked to the enigmatic producer from his Brooklyn apartment about disco music and why it's more than (and maybe now anything but) goldfish platforms, 1 a.m. coke binges and nauseating dress shirts.
City Pages: Everyone has a story about how they found their favorite genre -- so explain how you met disco.
Andy Butler: My first exposure to disco music -- aside from things like Saturday Night Fever and Sesame Street disco you heard as a little kid -- was through house msuic, which was sampling it a lot. The first time I got to hear a contemporary DJs play all disco music, I was 17 years old when I heard DJ Garth of Tonka Soundsystem play play. He would play disco sometimes and I actually bought a mixtape where he played all disco for four hours and didn't play anything newer than 1983. I was like, wow, there is a whole world of dance music outside of house music made by people coming together and recording tons of instruments. I had been listening to all the house records that were sampling the originals disco records, so I started sniffing out all the originals.
Was disco ever really subcultural?
To be honest, I feel like it's still subcultural. It's underground still, but I think it's great that people are becoming aware that there is more to this sound of music than just the Beegees and Abba -- even though I think they are great. There was so much excellent musicanship coming out at the time and so many adventurous artists. I think there's a real spirit there - real love and real talent.
So why do you think there was such a blacklash against disco in the late 70s and early 80s?
It was so overdone. We were oversaturated. My own theory is that with the onset of AIDS and so much overindulgence and drug use that disco represented, people pushed it away. In some ways, white mainstream America could only get on board so much. Even in the gay community, there was a moment where gay men started rejecting the sound of disco. I was recently looking through old gay culture mags from the 70s, and in 1980s you started seeing advertisements that said "No Disco! No Disco Played ! Macho Only!"
Wow - a music history lesson. Tell me your favorite story about disco.
I love the Fire Island stories. Really early on, disco music started to evolve out of deep funk music. Fire Island was a gay retreat in NY where disco freaks went to and threw parties, so a real disco culture developed. I was really lucky, 2 years ago, I got to play out at these really legendary clubs there. I was playing nights of all disco music and would have these 55-year-old gay men coming up to me and telling me what records I was playing and how they would much prefer it if I play the B side. It was amazing to have these older gay men who lived through it all, say to me, 'God, I haven't heard this on the island since 1978!' A lot of the men who partied then are gone, and I was thinking the other day about how I probably have many of their records.
Do you think about who might have owned a record when you buy it used?
As a DJ or record collector, you're looking through old collections - sometimes you realize you are looking through records that probably only belonged to one person. Maybe this person died of AIDS. Who was this DJ who had all these records? I love feeling the link to history.