It’s all too easy for nostalgia to tip into something negative. At its best it’s a celebration of the best the past has to offer while putting it balanceinto a contemporary context; at its worst it’s moaning that things aren’t as good as they used to be. Hercules & Love Affair have always been firmly in the first category. Main man Andy Butler takes classic house and disco sounds and uses them to craft dance music that has one foot in the past, the other cutting a rug on dancefloors right now. It’s a well-judged and expertly executed balance.
The same applies to Hercules & Love Affair’s DJ Kicks set, which ranges from proto house, through New York’s golden years in the ’90s, to Chicago jack tracks and modern takes on house music’s halcyon days. It’s a mix that includes a lot of old music, but it’s not outmoded. It’s there for a reason. “It’s fun to remind myself why I like old records,” says Butler. “I’m naturally drawn to a more classic sound. When it comes to dancing I’m more inspired to get on up and shake it if feels like there’s a lot of substance and depth to a record.”
The mix opens with ‘Don’t Keep Me Waiting’ by Mankind, a disco groove that sounds like it was made in 1982, but which, in fact, dates from 1997. “I discovered that track when I was 17 and it has a proto disco early house feel to it. It was the first time I heard people authentically hit that old sound on the head. I came back to Denver and I started playing all this music that blended electronic disco and early house. It had a big impact on me.”
Next up are a trio of late ’80s/early ’90s tracks that mash-up house, new beat and early sampling technology – see ‘Strut Your Techno Stuff’ by Fax Yourself. “It’s just crazy really roughly and rudely sampled,” says Butler. “That track has a lot of quirkiness and a lot of body and beef. I love playing that style. It’s hyper referential.” However, one of this quartet of retro cuts is actually Hercules & Love Affair’s exclusive track for the mix, titled ‘Release Me’. “It features this LA DJ called Whitney Fierce singing. Great name. She has a Bananarama thing going on with her voice. I decided to do something akin to that early ’90s mash-up thing. We pulled out old gear, early samplers, so we could get that low bit rate quality. It has that really rough sound. It’s very authentic of the period, kind of Stock Aitken Waterman production meets the Hacienda.”
Butler’s current fascination is ’90s house producers such as Victor Simonelli and DJ Duke. “There are three songs from Victor Simonelli on there,” says Butler. They include the last track, ‘Africa Freedom (Cape Town Club Mix)’ under the name Z.A.M. “That song is something that has meant something for so long to me, ever since I was going to warehouse parties. It was always our after party anthem. I thought it would be really fun to throw it on there as a reference to my teenage years running around warehouse parties and clubs. All that stuff that was in the early days of the Sound Factory. That was before my time, but I still knew about it. I was 15 when it was right about to end. I was buying early Junior Vasquez records from the age of 15, so I knew that Sound Factory sound. I knew the Zanzibar sound shortly thereafter, that New Jersey garage thing. All that stuff from that region is interesting to me. The Duke and Simonelli tracks have so much energy, but are super minimal and super deep. The contrast between the banging almost brutal beats and the really deep, substantial vibes is so powerful.”
Throughout the mix there are vocal overlays inspired by Butler’s yoga guru Parahamansa Yogananda. “I’ve been learning meditation techniques and yoga,” says Butler. “I wanted to include a spiritual aspect because nightclubs, as silly as they are in some ways, there is a religious experience to it for a lot of people, and that’s the way it was for me when I was young. When I was listening to people like Francois Kevorkian he would literally take me to another place. I’ve had nights when I’ve danced for hours until I was a mess of sweat at Body & Soul and people would come up to me and ask, What are you on? And I was like, I’m not on anything, I’m just having a spiritual moment. So I wanted a bit of that in the mix.”
As much as anything, this album is an education, not just about sounds of the past, but what dance music is all about: music that you have to move to, but which connects with you on a deep level as well. Classic stuff indeed.