Originally based in New York City, Hercules and Love Affair were founded following Butler's collaboration with Antony Hegarty to produce the song "Blind", which was a hit single. Signing to DFA Records, early members include Butler, Kim Ann Foxman, Mark Pistel, Aérea Negrot, Shaun Wright and Nellyphant. In 2008 they released their self-titled debut album, which received critical praise and charted in the top 40 in several countries.
A second album, Blue Songs, followed in 2011. Butler subsequently moved to Vienna, Austria, and in 2014 the band's third album, The Feast of Broken Hearts, was released, featuring guest vocals from John Grant as well as new primary vocalists Rouge Mary and Gustaph.
In August 2012, Hercules and Love Affair played at the Meltdown Festival at London's Southbank Centre, which was curated by Hegarty. For their performance of "Blind", Hegarty joined them onstage to provide the vocals; the first time that he had performed the song live with the band. At that performance, they were also joined onstage by singer John Grant, who publicly stated for the first time that he was HIV+; Butler later stated that "I thought it was one of the bravest things I've ever seen a person do".
The band's third album, The Feast of the Broken Heart, was released by Moshi Moshi in May 2014. Describing the album, Butler stated that "I wanted nasty basslines, stormy, bleary-eyed sounds, fiery, rough, tough and ragged old school house productions that sounded almost techno. I didn't want polite, I wanted aggressive". In a conscious change from the previous two albums, he did not make use of organic instrumentation. When recording the first songs for the album, Butler had stated his intention not to use any well-known vocalists for the album, because he believed that – as with Hegarty and Okereke – they would be too busy to tour with the band. However, when the album was released it received guest vocals from star singer John Grant, who sang on "Liberty" and "I Try To Talk To You", in which he dealt with the issue of being HIV+. Also singing on the album were Rouge Mary, Gustaph, and Krystle Warren, with Butler informing The New York Times that that line-up constituted "the best ensemble of vocalists I've had."
In July 2014 the band performed at East London's Lovebox Festival. In August, the band generated some controversy with the release of the video for their song "My Offence" which featured excerpts of conversation with figures from the New York City gay scene like Honey Dijon, Juliana Huxtable, and Contessa Stuto. Butler described the song and its video as an examination of his "relationship to taboo words and the use of 'cunt' amongst NYC's gay community to relay flattery, empowerment and strength"