Forty years after its heyday, disco has become one of music's most mythologized subcultures -- especially among dance lovers who weren't old enough to experience its '70s golden era, when New York City's monolithic temples of nightlife worship, like The Loft and Paradise Garage, were home to Olympian DJ gods like David Mancuso and Larry Levan.
Unsurprisingly then, such lore is also woven through the story of Hercules & Love Affair.
"The band name] came from a lifelong interest in Greek mythology," explains Andy Butler, the neo-disco group's frontman and producer.
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"But the significance is its poetic image -- the idea that the strongest man on Earth is also so vulnerable, and his greatest weakness is his heart. Leading with that brokenness, and finding strength in it, is a reoccurring theme in Hercules & Love Affair. The specific myth it alludes to is Hercules' greatest love affair, which brought him to his tragic end, and which was a love affair with another man."
Gay culture and disco culture in America, of course, have always been practically inextricable. But disco was also the music of many other marginalized minority groups when it first started gaining momentum in NYC's underground dance clubs.
And now, nearly a decade since Hercules & Love Affair brought about a veritable renaissance in the late 2000s, alongside its DFA label cohorts, disco has become the music of us all, as a whole new generation of electronic dance music DJ-producers draw upon its funk- and soul-soaked sound.
"I think it makes sense that it is coming around again," Butler says. "Those songs work on the dance floor for good reason! And I think it's great that young people are finding inspiration from [disco and house].
"Though," he pauses to point out, in reference to dance music's current fetish for retro flair, "I think a lot of early '90s house music was 'filler' -- mediocre, with a lack of song structure. People need to challenge themselves more and make great songs, no matter the genre."
To that end, Butler and his Hercules compatriots continue to mine mythology, disco, and an insatiable desire to make timeless music, having just released a new full-length collection of great songs, The Feast of the Broken Hearts.
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Spanning ten exuberant numbers and featuring various guest vocalists like alt-folk singer John Grant, the record confirms Butler and company's status as heirs to the NYC disco-house legacy.
"It started as much more of an artsy record, but I had too much fun making house tracks, so it ended up being an uptempo house and techno record," Butler says. "The concept came out of remembering the great songs that defined my years as a teenager at house parties and night clubs."
He also notes that "this album was much more collaborative," mentioning the many standout singers who contributed to Feast. "John Grant's name kept coming up in conversations, so finally our managers got us in the studio together, and everything that people had imagined about us getting along, becoming really good friends, and writing great music together happened. It was one of those moments where people were like, 'You really should know this other person' -- and it was true!
"Then, one day, John played me a song called 'Circles' by Krystle Warren, and I found it superbeautiful -- I was taken by it. When I told him how much I loved it, he connected the dots and put us together. The other two [vocalists], Rouge Mary and Gustaph, I met naturally, per chance, at my gigs, and we stayed in touch."
A milestone of sorts, the new record, Hercules' third long player to date, marks the project's ten-year anniversary. And it's been quite the decade for Butler and the ever-shifting group of musicians and performers that's joined him for the ride. It's also been the decade that finally saw electronic dance music or "EDM" go mainstream in America, achieving that "breakthrough, mainstream, glorious moment," which Butler laments didn't arrive sooner, but now has come to be, and thanks in no small part to his own artistic contributions.
Looking back on his proudest moments with Hercules over the years, he says: "There have been so many. But I think one of the most exciting and rewarding was writing a piece of music for Chanel -- the song 'Painted Eyes' from my second album -- then performing it in Central Park.
"Also," he adds, "being onstage in so many different countries throughout the past eight years has been amazing. I've played on a mountaintop in Sochi, Russia, on a beach in Bali, for amazing crowds in Colombia, for brilliant audiences in Toronto. There are just too many to say! I feel completely blessed and grateful."
Of course, though, a decade isn't nearly enough to slow Butler down. In fact, he's already looking forward to future Hercules output. "I can't make any promises," he teases. "But I can say, I think there is more to be said with this whole project and there is definitely more to come. It's a very personal journey for me, so it will come when it comes, as time allows it to. It's not the kind of thing that can be forced, pushed, or rushed, but I think there will be a handful of new participants and more beautiful things to come."
As for the immediate future? Well, Hercules & Love Affair is among the most highly anticipated headlining acts at this year's III Points Festival. And fans can be sure that Butler and crew always deliver the disco party vibes, whether they're playing for an intimate dance floor or a sprawling festival arena.
"We have every intention of bringing so much love and fun and beauty and glamor," Butler promises. "But the idea is party -- it's about transmitting the party spirit we're feeling to the audience. As long as the people on stage are having fun, fun, fun, the people in the audience will have fun, fun, fun.
"The most important thing is to make people have an amazing time: dance, move, and enjoy themselves, all while looking flawless and beautiful the whole time."
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Hercules & Love Affair. As part of the III Points Festival 2014. Friday, October 10. Soho Studios, 2136 NW First Ave., Miami. Doors open at 7 p.m. and three-day general admission tickets cost $88 plus fees via iiipoints.com. Call 305-600-4785 or visit sohostudiosmiami.com.
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