This week, Hercules and Love Affair will kick off a run of live shows with a gig at London’s Village Underground. The set list includes 19 tracks and each one will be accompanied by a different video. A trippy CG film by Bjork collaborator Andrew Thomas Huang shows a woman dancing in a nightclub bathroom while another by Johnny Chew features surreal animations created with found photographs.
The project was curated by director David Wilson and Hercules and Love Affair founder Andy Butler. Contributing artists include photographer Matilda Finn, multimedia artist Patrick Church and directing duo in/out as well as filmmaker Bertil Nilsson, Tel Aviv-based artist Ori Toor and sculptor Gary Card.
“All artists involved are not only friends but also creators that hugely inspire me,” says Wilson. “It was important to both myself and Andy that we didn’t just approach film makers: opening the brief up to artists … felt key to the experimental feel of the project.”
Each person was asked to choose two songs from the set list and once a song was selected, it was removed from the list. “I asked artists to choose songs they connected to the most,” explains Wilson. “On the whole I feel like most people were happy and the list fell quite nicely into place with only a small amount of overlap with choices.”
The brief was fairly open – creatives were given a quote from Butler, asking them to think about the thing or being that guides their ‘moral compass’, and a few guidelines from Wilson.
“We wanted to create the tone of a techno club. There’s a certain dark introspection that comes from dancing to techno music. The previous Hercules and Love Affair tour visuals were based around cartoons, and so there was a strict ‘no cartoon-y’ imagery on the brief,” he says.
“I also asked the artists to think about the visuals as a light source,” he adds. “It’s always worth acknowledging what the screen and visuals are there to do on the stage: Hercules and Love Affair are not a dance act where a DJ stand behinds a booth and the visuals are the only thing to engage an audience. [They] have two extraordinary lead singers when they perform live: Rouge Mary and Stef Gustaph. They blow your socks off with their vocal ability and with their stage presence. Therefore, although the visuals are a big part of the show, it was important that the films complement the show rather than battle for attention with the singers on the stage.”
For each video, artists were asked to write a short paragraph explaining their idea and provide some reference images for Butler to consider. Wilson says he and Butler made few changes – “we pretty much let them do their thing, approving the treatment and then only having minor adjustments to the edit at the end stage,” he explains. In most cases, artists were given funding to make their idea over two months before the final deadline. “Andy and myself both knew that the best results would come from allowing the artists to truly go for it,” says Wilson.
As well as creating a more varied show, Wilson believes commissioning a series of artists rather than an individual reflects the collaborative nature of Hercules and Love Affair. The musical project has a constantly changing line-up that includes Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, The Horrors’ Faris Badwan, Anthony Hegarty (aka Anohni) and John Grant.
Wilson worked on six videos for the live shows: two in collaboration with Gary Card, two with Patrick Church and another two on his own. Videos created with Patrick Church were filmed in a basement bar in Shoreditch and show dancer Ruben Jean painted from head to toe in a painted room. “Patrick spent three weeks painting murals of his work on the walls … and that space he created was mind blowing,” says Wilson.
He describes the project as liberating – not just because of the amount of freedom given to artists but because of the nature of Hercules and Love Affair’s music. Many of the group’s songs reflect on gender and sexuality – new album The Feast of the Broken Heart includes a track about Grant’s experience of becoming HIV positive (I Try to Talk to You) and a celebration of women and feminism (My Offence).
“Working with Hercules and Love Affair’s music is near therapeutic as the subject matter often refers to the unique damage and shame put on LGBT+ people, and gives the listener strength to push through that and be strong,” he says.
“I had already explored this in the creation of the music video for ‘Talk To You’ for Hercules and Love Affair back in 2014, but this shoot personally took my experience way further.
“The team that was assembled [for videos created with Patrick Church], coincidentally happened to consist of a gay Director of Photography (Brian Fawcett), artist (Church), dancer (Jean), and client (Hercules and Love Affair). I didn’t think too much of this until we were all in the same room, and when we started shooting something uniquely special happened, and for the first time I enjoyed the creation of work in film where I could explore an expression of gay film making without fear. Every expression from the way the camera moved, and the shots that were captured, to Patrick’s work had a language that was unapologetically from a gay, male perspective that I was excited about.”
“The majority of the artists that contributed to this project identify as being on the LGBT+ spectrum. It was so beautiful that all artists approached jumped head-over-heels to make their films happen. The importance of Hercules and Love Affair and the impact their music had on each of our lives was a big reason for these visuals being executed at the high level they are… I guess, it’s the epitome of a passion project.