Any casual glance through the pages of a glossy fashion rag leaves no doubt that big, bad 1990s style is gradually clawing its way back to the mainstream. Lipstick is ever darker, clothes are fluorescent and hems are slightly wider. But in Brooklyn, taste-making DJs are looking further back in time for inspiration, toward the heady disco and proto-house pioneered at New York’s storied Paradise Garage.
Every now and then New York’s disco revivalists spin in Toronto thanks to a few intrepid indie promoters. This month’s edition of Seventh Heaven, a mixed affair sporadically thrown by DJs Jaime Sin and Will Munro, hosts Andy Butler, a disco-loving DJ and gay party promoter who is set to make the jump into the live arena next year when DFA Records releases the debut album by his new project, Hercules and Love Affair.
“There was a moment when disco music and ’80s music was really considered tasteless and tacky,” says Butler. “But I think people are coming around. Disco music is something more than what wedding bands play — it’s a real, legitimate musical form.
“I would go to warehouse parties or clubs and I’d be listening to sampled disco songs put to house beats. When I started hearing the original versions of those songs it was just so exciting to me. These sounds had meant so much and now they meant more.”
Butler’s love for disco sprung from his years spinning classic house and techno in Denver’s gay clubs. At 15 he landed his first DJ gig at a local leather bar, spinning “less eclectic” west coast house music. “It was the opening set which was the worst because you’re playing to no one. I’m sure it was slightly frightening,” he says. “I just remember the police came and I had to hide in the bathroom with the door hostess whose name was Chocolate Thunder Pussy.”
Eventually he found his way to New York and, lured by a dance party featuring DJs cutting alongside jazz musicians on the Sarah Lawrence College campus, he opted to study music and art history at the private liberal arts school. The first inkling of Hercules and Love Affair might be traced back to 2002 when he formed the collective DanceHomosDance with artist and jewellery designer Kim Ann Foxman to promote the weekly mixer Mad Clams at The Hole, a graffiti-covered East Village dive with a shitty sound system. Though the party and bar names pretty much screamed the word “vagina,” gay boys and straight folk also flocked to dance to new wave electro disco.
“We used to make theme songs for the events, so that’s when I first started collaborating with Kim Ann,” he says. “I was always up for exercising my musical chops so she’d say, ‘Oh we’re doing this thing tonight. You want to write a song for it?'”
Concurrently, he started the monthly Cazzo Pazzo at a West Village lounge. Modelled after Horse Meat Disco, a weekly queer party in London, UK that hosts big-name DJs in an intimate setting, Butler invited well-known house DJs to “dig deep into their crates” and indulge their nerdish tendencies by playing disco records they might not spin at a mainstream club gig.
In 2003 he wrote “Blind” and asked his friend Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons) to sing on the track. The song is now set to become the first single off Hercules and Love Affair’s self-titled debut album, which also features vocals by Foxman and R’n’B singer Nomi. Produced by DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy, the record is an artful pop disco affair, more suited to headphones than the dancefloor. “Athene,” now playing on his MySpace page, hints at what’s to come: It’s a catchy, below-the-belt-leaning number with Foxman singing coolly overtop a tumbling baseline.
These days Butler is busy rehearsing for Hercules’ upcoming tour with a seven-piece band, lining up remixers and explaining the story behind his romantic band name to reporters: “Growing up I was excited by Greek mythology and as I got older I found out that Hercules happened to have a number of homosexual love affairs,” he says.” The name refers to one of his lovers that he lost during some adventure. He’s left wandering an island, desperately looking for him. And I just like that image: The strongest man on earth, vulnerable and looking for his lost love.”