Hercules and Love Affair, Koko, London
Too much a slave to the disco rhythm
Monday 08 September 2008
About halfway through their set Hercules and Love Affair really hit their stride and you could be forgiven for thinking that the last days of disco are a long way off. They play "Blind", their best-known song. The stage is filled with arty New Yorkers giving their all and the good looking crowd is dancing with gusto.
A large mirror ball hangs from the roof contrasting with Koko's opulent, old interior. It twinkles blue light against dark red drapes, creating something of a purple hue. For a moment there, it could be one of those New York underground disco nights from the Seventies that you've read about.
This, however, also points to a problem with the gig, and perhaps the band. A couple of songs done in a disco style are all fine and dandy, but after a while it gets a little repetitive, and occasionally just dull.
It is something of a disservice to paint the band as merely disco revivalists, though. Their music amounts to a trawl through the past few decades of electronic music; taking in disco, obviously, along with elements of more recent electro, early Chicago house, snippets of Kraftwerk and healthy doses of Eighties and Nineties New York dance culture.
The band is the project of New York-based DJ Andy Butler, with an assorted cast of extras. On their highly regarded self-titled debut album, Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons pitched in with his distinctive vocals but he doesn't appear in the live set up. Other vocals are provided by two performers, Nomi and Kim Ann Foxmann.
The pair trade singing duties throughout the gig. The former is a statuesque transsexual whose energetic performance is all snake hips and loose limbs. The latter, reportedly a Hawaiian lesbian jewellery designer and club promoter, is a bit more sedate, preferring mainly to bang out some percussive noises and shimmy around while singing. On stage the sound is fleshed out with Butler working various drum machines and programmers, alongside a keyboard player, a drummer, bass and a horn section.
Their aim, it seems, is to recapture some of the maverick spirit of the underground gay music scene of the late Seventies and early Eighties. In a live setting, though, some of the nuance is lost in a mélange of all too similar sounding repetitive beats and rhythms. Several songs blur into each other.
The band kicks off with "Classique", a fairly drawn out affair. The horn section here recalls sections of LCD Soundsystem's 45.33. This is apt as the band emerged from the DFA production/ record label stable run by James Murphy, the brains behind LCD Soundsystem, and Tim Goldsworthy, who co-produced Hercules and Love Affair's debut album.
When the song ends, Butler informs the crowd that the gig is being recorded for a live album and that their opening effort didn't quite work. They are going to play it again, he says. The audience doesn't seem to mind. The band attacks the song with greater vigour, but it is a long song to play twice. Yet if Butler had not drawn attention to the fact they were going to start all over again, some less attentive members of the crowd may not have noticed.
The band are at their best in the latter half of the gig when they play the aforementioned "Blind", followed by "Athene" and "Raise Me Up". A new song, "Wonder Woman", suggests they aren't about to change their formula any time soon.
The real stand out of the show, however, is the two-man horn section – a trumpeter and trombone player. They sound great picking out clean melodies, augmenting rhythms and punching out beats.
The final song, "Hercules Theme", showcases them best, as they dance off on tangents that aren't entirely disco. With the other musicians slowly coming to a halt attention falls on the horns blowing to a clattering finale in cacophonous noise. Good times.
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