My love of Fabriclive.36 has got me into trouble before – apparently it’s not appropriate to like both Gang of Four and also Daniel Wang. This hasn’t put me off owning up to being unabashedly besotted with Hercules and Love Affair, a disco-revivalist collective who I tipped for wider fame back in 2007, when I first heard their debut single, “Classique #2”. It was b/w “Roar”, and I almost instantly recognised the vocal stylings of Antony Hegarty, which were woven into the fabric of the track. A year later, their self-titled debut hit the shelves and I think I was proved right. Shame that my other tip from that season (Syclops, if you’re interested) never came to much.
Anyway, I hear there’s a new H&LA album coming out in January, entitled Blue Songs, which is close enough for me to start raving on about them all over again. So gently close your bedroom door, put on your dancing shoes, and play the video above, which sees the troupe blaze through “Hercules Theme” in front of a staggeringly beautiful Chicago dusk.
Alongside the glamour and divahood, what attracted me to H&LA’s music was the unmissable waft of tragedy buried in it. Cleverly dressing songs up in Greek mythology is one way of alluding to “how horribly it [the disco scene that the music references] all ended”, to quote Alexis Petridis. Just as the image of Hercules wandering the island in search of his lost love proves upsetting for H&LA main man Andrew Butler, to me, their music is infused with a gentle yet irrevocable descent into sadness and miasma (in the ancient Greek sense of the word).
“Facilis descensus Averni”
Easy is the descent into hell, says Virgil, and Hercules and Love Affair is a lush and dancefloor-ready document of this descent. The album begins almost in torch-song mode, with Antony wailing “I cannot hold half a life / I cannot be half a wife” – a stark warning to those on the path of hedonism and debauchery. Following this prelude, the first half of the album has an overwhelming feeling of pleasure to it, from the refracted mantra of “You Belong”, to the decadent horns and clavinet in “Hercules Theme”. The bridging point is undoubtedly “Blind”, in which Antony reminds us once again of what will befall our protagonist, and, by implication, his history, over the top of strings, horns, and rattling electronics.
In his June 2008 interview with Heiko Hoffman, Andrew Butler recalled talking to the owner of “bizarre” clothes shop Smylon Nylon, who also made mixtapes containing Arthur Russell, Cerrone and Telex, among others. Butler quotes the owner, Chris Brick, as taking him aside and saying,
“Listen, you’re gay, right? This is your music. This is your history. You should go find this music and play it for people!”
Hercules and Love Affair sees Butler bringing to fruition the task that Brick bestowed upon him.
From there on in, the music takes a queasier, more unsettling turn. To quote Petridis again, “Aids brought the disco era’s freewheeling hedonism to a terrible close”, and songs like “Easy” and “This Is My Love” bear testament to these latter days. The former track is an exercise in rawness, as an unnaturally low-pitched Antony intones a mournful lullaby amidst a collage of detuned synths and clattering percussion that sounds like tennis shoes squeaking off the court. This is closer to the territory of Hegarty’s day job of fronting Antony and the Johnsons, albeit with an electronic slant.
The album closes with the uncharacteristically goofy “True/False, Fake/Real”, but there’s truly no escaping the alluring tragedy that the rest of the record deals in. It’s like the history lesson you always wanted to hear.