Hercules & Love Affair

'I Try to Talk to You"

Gay love stories from ancient myth

Same-sex relationships aren’t a recent invention – they’ve been around for as long as there have been two sexes. Three tales from the ancient world show how these love stories remain as timeless as any from the modern day.


Ancient Greece’s ultimate hero had too many lovers to count, but Hylas was Hercules’ favorite. The beautiful boy with curly hair was his lifelong companion: he even accompanied Hercules when all of Greece's heroes sailed in search of a magical golden fleece. But when Hylas went ashore to fetch water from a stream on the island of Mysia, water nymphs entranced by his beauty dragged him underwater. Hearing his screams, Hercules rushed to save him. The nymphs turned them into echoes, so Hercules only heard his own voice calling as he searched long after their ship had sailed without them. Thousands of years later, the hero’s despair would inspire Andy Butler to name his group Hercules & Love Affair.


The two Hindu deities of intimate male friendship are Mitra and Varuna, water gods frequently shown riding on a shark or crocodile who share a bond as deep as the oceans they preside over. On nights of the new moon, they unite and plant the seeds for the lunar phases: Mitra the moon as it waxes, Varuna as it wanes. Their story is a beautiful metaphor for intimacy and eternity: two lovers, similar but distinct, as closely connected as the tides are to the pull of the moon.


Ancient Chinese Emperor Ai slept in the same bed as his lover Dong Xian, an official in his court. When the emperor woke from a nap one afternoon, the sleeve of his robe was pinned under Dong’s head. Rather than waking him, the emperor cut his sleeve off and let Dong keep sleeping. To this day, a Chinese expression for homosexual love is 斷袖之癖: “the passion of the cut sleeve.”

Illustrations by Mike Rinaldi

Andy Butler’s Top Ten Tracks

Andy Butler grew up a club kid. Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, he began experimenting with DJing before he relocated to New York to attend Sarah Lawrence College – a move that would expose him to voguing and ballroom culture and change his life forever. New York club culture influenced everything from his music to his style to his language, and helped Andy find a community where he could accept his own identity. Hercules & Love Affair, the multi-artist project he launched in 2008, remains a product of the house scene he grew up in. For his playlist, he selects ten uplifting house and techno tracks: the memories of his teenage years.

Frankie Knuckles - The Whistle Song

“I always loved the way this song evokes an individual strolling down the street whistling a song to themselves… almost a reminder to keep a smile on your face. Frankie brought smiles to so many faces, and seemed to always have one on.”

Inner City - Pennies from Heaven

“A song about erasing poverty. Hell yes, that is house music I can sign up for!”

Orbital - Belfast

“This is the song that defines the techno tear jerker for me.”

Aly-Us - Follow Me

“While it might be cheesy to some ears, and the vocals are definitely out of tune at moments, this remains one of the songs that converted me.”

Transformer 2 - Fruit of Love

“I listened to this song as a 15-year-old riding the rides in Epcot Center on headphones with my parent sitting next to me thinking I was so antisocial. Meanwhile, I was reliving moments of community and acceptance I was experiencing on weekends sneaking out of the house.”

Renegade Soundwave - Phantom

“Another exotic vocal sample, at a time when any hint of Eastern spirituality would send your listener to that next psychedelic dimension.”

Heavy emotion in a dancefloor setting

A heart-to-heart with Hercules & Love Affair’s Andy Butler

"I like my dance music quite meaningful," Andy Butler tells us over Skype from his recording studio in Vienna, "I like to offer something of a contradiction: heavy emotion in a dancefloor setting." Hercules & Love Affair, the multi-artist disco house project that Andy has led since 2008, has mastered this balance: their latest effort, The Feast of the Broken Heart, is an exploration of love, relationships, identity, growth, and heartbreak. We talked to Andy about working with songwriter John Grant on the album’s second single, "I Try To Talk To You," how to feed a broken heart, and the first time he fell in love.

Tell us a bit about what went into the creation of “I Try to Talk to You.”

That song was born out of mine and John Grant's first creative meeting together. He was like, "I'm gonna talk about contracting HIV, and what I wish I had told myself before, and…" I was like, "What?! Are you sure?!" But he was so into it. And if I have someone who is so open and so willing to dive in and be that brave, and bear their soul so much, I've found the best possible collaborator I could dream of.

Even though it was written by John, how do the song and its lyrics speak to you?

One of the things that John and I share is this self-destructive bend. John was the first person I reached out to about that. It must have clicked that there is someone who deals with his demons so head-on... I reached out to him at what was really the biggest moment of crisis for me the past couple years. So, the content in the song speaks to me very, very directly.

How did it work to partner up with David Wilson for the video?

I had so much respect and admiration for David even before I walked into the situation. In the past, with my videos, I lead with the concept. There have been a couple experiences where I've just been like, "Okay, go for it!" And this was one of those times.

It must have been hard to take this thing you’d been working on for so long and hand the video over to David.

This is a real learning experience, letting things go like that. But you don't ask someone to rework or interpret something you've done and then come in and say "I want it to look like this or sound like this."

The Feast of the Broken Heart comes out at the end of May. Tell us a bit about the record?

The sonic quality or sound signature of the record was really found in the studio with these guys called Ha-Ze Factory, who contributed to the album. The title came because I've accumulated so much. My life has been quite exciting. There's been moments of tragedy and sadness as well. While this record has an outward exuberance, there were a lot of broken hearts that went into this.

Do you think those hardships are necessary to your creative process?

I try to live by this saying that goes, "Just because you're an artist, does not mean you have to go to bed hungry." I want to believe that! That said, suffering is part of art, definitely... but happiness makes a good song too.

What’s your favorite way to feed a broken heart?

I think the thing that's most helpful for me is to go to the mountaintop, and be alone. Be with yourself for a while. It's like what I mentioned about John earlier... the person that I'm running from is me. But in a moment of weakness, I might just turn on Ru Paul's Drag Race!

If you compare the process of creating music to the act of making love, what kind sexual experience would The Feast of the Broken Heart be?

It would be... all-out acceptance. The kind of thing where you're able to—okay, I'm gonna give you way more details than you probably want!

No, I want all the details!

Okay, okay. That moment where you're like, "I don't care what my body looks like, I'm here in this moment and I feel accepted, and free." It's this moment of acceptance not only by another person, but by yourself.

That's such a rare thing. And that kind of emotion really shows in your music. How do you achieve that?

The voice has this really amazing way of conveying emotion. But you don't always need words – you need rhythms. When your body starts moving, it inevitably also creates an emotional response. Dancing doesn't happen unless you're having an emotional experience. I operate often off of history, and music from the past, from memory.

That's one of the most special things about music, it can take you anywhere.

Exactly. Tapping into people's memories. Playing with memory transports you.

When was the first time you fell in love?

I was 17 and he was a bit older, he was 33. And I just didn't understand much, I didn't have many references. Especially with gay relationships. It was a really difficult, painful experience. Meeting this guy that was a strong, proud gay man was really special for me. He was also HIV positive, and I was very young to be dating someone who was positive. Ultimately, I held on to it much too tightly. But I learned a lot from it.

What’s the best relationship advice you’ve ever received?

That's something that came about more recently from reading the words of Marianne Williamson: "Why is instinct so often to just close the door and walk away when things don't seem right?" I think it's not about staying in something that's toxic. But you shouldn't leave until you've really seen things through. When you commit, commit to the end.

The Making of 'I Try to Talk to You'