While poking a plate of vegetables, a man looks thoughtful. "In the long run," he says, "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."WAIT... THERE'S MORE STUFF
Andy Butler is entertaining us in Village Natural, a deserted health food restaurant in a West Village basement which has been here since before it was fashionable to be healthy. The place is quiet and cute. Andy, himself fairly quiet and reasonably cute but happy to hold forth on his designated dancing zones concept, is well placed to be calling the shots on dance laws because he happens to be the driving force behind 2008's first great dance single. Blind is an emotionally-charged and retro-futuristically danceable slice of modern pop music. And along with the rest of Andy's debut album, it's music that looks back to Greek mythology, throws its toga to the ground and waves its bits around, providing a snapshot of the last 30 years in electronic music. Andy's releasing the whole thing under the name Hercules and Love Affair, which is a much more exciting name than Andy Butler Who You Might Know As A Disco DJ From New York Plus An Assorted Cast Of Extras Including Antony Hegarty From Antony And The Johnsons. Andy's brought us for lunch today with some of those bandmates. There's Kim Ann, an NYC club promoter and jewellery designer with a brilliant tattoo of Ms Pac-Man on her arm. There's 24-year-old Nomi, a performer who boasts the spookily effortless air of a future pop icon. And, of course, there's Antony, who pops up on several of the album's key tracks, including Blind.
Like portions of Nomi's lunch, the origins of Hercules and Love Affair are totally organic and somewhat saucy. Kim Ann booked Andy his first DJ residency at her "notorious" (more people talk about them than actually attended) Mad Clams parties at a grafitti strewn dive called The Hole. Mad Clams would host heavily themed nights, sometimes the themed nights would need theme songs, one day Kim Ann asked Andy if he'd write some... you can fill in the blanks.
While all this was happening, Antony was prodding Andy and Nomi towards each other. And although he's taking a back seat as the Hercules machine rumbles into action, his role is far more than just matchmaker and occasional warbler. He originally recorded Blind - Andy's first proper Hercules song - four years ago, long before his success at the Mercurys. "I think I was a muse of the project as it was developing," he acknowledges. "But now it has taken on a life of its own." This life-of-its-own business has included Andy hooking up with DFA, a record label with a good logo and a varied roster taking in acts as diverse as the supremely amazing LCD Soundsystem and the tumultuously unlistenable Prinzhorn Dance School.
Obsessed with Greek mythology as a kid growing up in Washington and then Colorado, Andy's favourite story was of Hercules, the strongest man on earth whose Achilles heel, to mix our Greek myths, was his love affair with another man. "There's an image where he just wanders the island looking for his lost love who's been dragged into the sea by nymphs," Andy says. "The Hercules love affair represents the strongest man at his most vulnerable." Ironically, the Hercules and Love Affair album represents disco, one of pop's most vulnerable genres, at the strongest its sounded for years. "Even within the gay community there was a backlash to disco in the 80s," Andy says. "It was almost a self-hatred with the expressiveness and flamboyance of disco perceived to be attached to Aids. 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." Since the 1980s "disco" has become synonymous with some of pop's more dodgy mainstream output, but this is of no concern to Hegarty. "Great music can wear many masks," Antony says. "I'm not that bothered about genres, more about the spirit inside the thing, so I wouldn't really defend the disco genre. Plus, I love Boney M and Abba."
In truth, this Hercules debut is a fairly arty and clever affair not overly preoccupied with provoking perilously wild dancefloor manouevres. But it is still, at its heart, an affectionate trawl through the last few decades of nightclub action. One of the killer tracks is Time Will, with Antony's haunting moan of "be true to me, be true to me my love" skimming the surface of a hypnotic bassline niftily pinched from Frankie Knuckles' Your Love. It's a winning formula - Mr Knuckles himself has popped up to remix Blind. A question about what Antony is like to go out dancing with prompts some laughter around the lunch table. That is not the sort of thing Antony does. "We have been out," Nomi insists while Antony is not at the table. "Often, at The Hole, he'd show up at 3.30am. The night's winding down and Antony walks in, sits in the back and 'observes'. He's a total creature of the night."
Of course if we're going to bang on about NYC disco dancing from the olden days, thoughts inevitably turn to the Paradise Garage, a venue whose punters attended not to get drunk, take drugs or get up to no good in the toilets but just to enjoy the music. Is that part of the Hercules philosophy? "I think this straight edge fantasy is not realistic, or helpful, or even that glamorous," Antony says. "Some of the greatest achievements in culture have been masterminded by people who were taking lots of drugs and having copious sex. And many of the absolute best clubs in the world have been filled with both."
Antony's something of a serial collaborator. Has the singer, declining most promotional duties for Hercules while he works on his new album, found his perfect match this time? Andy has certainly inspired Antony's best vocal work, and he's already immersed himself in Hercules' enigmatic, glamour-of-the-Gods mythology. Antony imagines himself as "Medusa The Gorgon. My statues would be made of snow and schoolchildren would be taught the moral of my story: take your fluoride tablets", but he insists that this project is all about letting the spotlight fall on his friend's talents. "It is Andy's vision; he loves dance music with all his heart. The attention is rightly focusing on Andy, and I think he will work with many people as his career develops. I suspect I am among the first of many." There's a certain sadness to these words, as if Antony has raised Andy and prepared him for a life in music and must now watch him wander off in search of his destiny.
Right now that destiny involves watching Blind storm the clubs while the band perfect their live show which, by all accounts, will be something of a production.
"We want to make it impossible for people not to respond," Kim Ann says, and these are the true politics of Hercules And Love Affair: everyone should dance.
"Well, dance if you feel like it," says Andy.
"No!" screams Kim Ann, suddenly animated. "They HAVE to!"
"Yes," Andy concedes, eventually. "The people have to dance."
· Blind is out Mar 3, Hercules and Love Affair is out Mar 10
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