We are proud to introduce ‘Poppa Zesque’, the debut album from Josh Caffé, out now digitally. Taking its name from Caffé’s hedonistic, liberated alter-ego and a distillation of influences from raw Chicago house to sensual RnB, ‘Poppa Zesque’ is an eleven-track exploration of nocturnal pleasure, co-produced with Quinn Whalley of Paranoid London and featuring Al White of Fat White Family.
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Accompanied by a new video for the scintillating lead track, ‘Mania’. Conceived and co-directed by BAFTA-nominated creative Dawn Shadforth (Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’, HBO’s ‘I Hate Suzy’) working alongside Jay Oliver Green, ‘Mania’ pairs captures Caffe in spectacular motion with dancer Jeanie Crystal, who also serves as choreographer. Shot after several months of intense training by Caffe, ‘Mania’ pays tribute to the the work of influential choreographers such as Paula Abdul and performers like Janet Jackson.
For the already initiated, this might come as something of a surprise. 'Poppa Zesque' follows a temperature-raising run of singles for Phantasy Sound, beginning with sophisticated club filth of ‘According To Jacqueline’, through to the underground house hit ‘Do You Want To Take Me Home?”, and most recently, ‘You’, remixed by Phantasy’s own Erol Alkan and immediately championed by LSDXOXO.
These records, each bolder and more confident than the last, are the result of a breathless ten year trip through the fringes of London’s shifting house and techno continuum. As a DJ, vocalist and activist of British-Ugandan descent, Caffé’s influence has been felt everywhere from institutions such as Dalston Superstore and Adonis to his own Love Child party at Fabric. Collaborating with international icons of dance music and fashion such as Honey Dijon, he has become an even more visible and respected presence in recent years, appearing with frequency at Panorama Bar and commanding the legendary Genosys soundsystem within the hedonistic confines of Glastonbury’s Block 9.
On his debut album, once again in collaboration with Quinn Whalley and featuring additional production from saxophonist and vocalist Alex White of Fat White Family, Caffé offers the most undistilled representation of himself yet. But, in order to embrace Josh Caffé, we too must first spend a night with 'Poppa Zesque'.
“Poppa Zesque is a fictional character, but it’s also me”, explains Caffé of his alter-ego, a hard-partying, hedonism-positive trouble magnate navigating East London’s darkest corners. “It’s like this voodooesque being or entity, what I wish I could have been in my twenties; an extroverted, mythical, into-the-night kind of person.”
“Writing this record was a way for me to step out of a previous version of myself and into sexual liberation, and especially sexual queer liberation”, Caffé elaborates. “I grew up listening to artists like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown, who were so vocal about sex, especially for the time. I listened to those records to death and they remain an inspiration. With previous singles, I’ve been told they wouldn’t get played on the radio, and that pissed me off. Why can’t I discuss my sexuality?”
'Poppa Zesque' wastes little time in transporting listeners into the dark, fast-beating heart of the dancefloors on which Caffé has often found that liberation. Timeless, Chicago indebted house music offers the appropriate background for his witty vocal play, paying tribute and pushing forward a sound that both he and Whalley have long been obsessed with. Wiithin minutes of opening track ‘Justify My Sex’, as White commands his saxophone to conjure a dissonant, orgasmic accompaniment to the hypnotic 303s and Caffe himself, it becomes clear that ‘Poppa Zesque’ is no standard-issue, throwback acid LP.
Instead, Josh Caffé mines the fluid facets of his sexuality to manifest his own brand of jack. On ‘Meine Leaderjean’s, the role is that of a performatively cheeky hero in denim chaps, a tongue-in-cheek Germanic voice flirting with a parallel vocal that pays tribute to one of Caffé’s major heroes, Prince. In contrast, ‘Do You Wanna Take Me Home?’ flips the dynamic, leaving Caffé pleading sensually for resolution from an unrequited club crush. Despite the confidence Caffé exudes throughout, it was once a typical story.
“This record is based on my experiences developing my sexual confidence and gaining experience”, explains Caffé. “Because I didn’t have a lot of Black queer friends when I was first going out, but also because the queer community can be quite racist in itself, I felt put in a box. I also came out quite late, in my twenties to myself, and then to my family in my thirties. Like most younger gay people, there was a lot of shame to deal with, especially if you grow up in a more conservative environment. And I am lucky enough to have quite an open-minded family, but at the same time, they are quite religious.”
Josh Caffé’s father was a DJ in Uganda, specializing in congolese and funk music. Just as the record collection he grew up alongside bears influence on his work, the echo of the Church is reappropriated throughout. A preacher is juxtaposed over an unwieldy synth on the album’s title track, whereas ‘Sermon’ finds Caffé referencing his lifelong OCD and racing thoughts across the spiritual organ sounds of the belief systems that failed to provide solace.
Caffé himself preaches a different kind of healing. 'Poppa Zesque' is a visceral explosion of high-energy, high-pleasure sensations. On ‘Mania’, the tempo suddenly rises to mimic the breathless, addictive sensation of scrolling through dating and sex apps, looking for the next human-chemical high (“I’m a sexual maniac, give me what I want”.) ‘The Rent Boys Want Their Money Back’, initially redolent of Kraftwerk on poppers, reveals a wistful melody and a tender backstory.
“When I was growing up, I used to hang out a lot in Soho and knew a lot of trans sex workers and gay sex workers”, recalls Josh Caffé. “We used to have just the most fun at clubs like Ghetto and Astoria. One of these guys got found to be doing sex work, and people were bitching about it. It was taboo, but it was so common, I’m surprised I didn’t end up doing it myself.”
“The idea persists that gay sex is ‘dirty’”, underscores Caffé. “But there shouldn’t be any shame about it.”
As a producer, performer and DJ, Josh Caffé effortlessly captures and documents the energy of queer, Black life in London. With the completion of 'Poppa Zesque', he delivers a potent and personal reminder that no pleasure should remain guilty.