03 Mar Josh Caffe Delivers his 10 Essential Vocal House Cuts
London’s revered artist Josh Caffe celebrates the arrival of his new Phantasy Sound single with a personal deep dive into the masterwork of his favorite house music vocalists.
An integral figure in London’s underground house and techno circuit, DJ/producer, activist, and highly sought-after vocalist Josh Caffe brings an element of raw charisma to his sets and songwriting that has the scene buzzing. His slick and debaucherous sonic attitude and stage presence make it clear that he’s a loyal student and scholar of queer club culture and old-school Chicago house sounds.
Josh Caffe’s seductive voice has led to collaborations with artists like Robert Owens, Honey Dijon, Posthuman, and Paranoid London, with records landing on labels like Crosstown Rebels, Classic Music Company, Dixon Avenue Basement Jams, as well as his own Night Sheen and Love Child imprints.
Last year saw the release of his wildly successful single “Do You Want To Take Me Home” on Erol Alkan’s mighty Phantasy Sound, which — in addition to its Steffi & Virginia remix — saw widespread support on dance floors across the globe. He’s now followed up the potent 2022 club weapon with another significant drop on Phantasy, “Meine Lederjeans” — produced alongside Al White and paired with a characteristically raw rendition of the tune from Paranoid London.
We asked Josh Caffe to outline some of his all-time favorite vocal house tracks to usher in this new single and remix. We ended up with a masterful deep dive and history lesson behind some of house music’s best and brightest storytellers. Get educated and enjoy!
Josh Caffe’s two-tracker Meine Lederjeans is out now via Phantasy Sound. Buy it on Beatport.
Jamie Principle – You’re All I’ve Waited 4
Jamie Principle and I are good friends and feel weirdly connected in that we share the same birthday. Even before I knew him, he was an inspiration to my approach to vocals and performances, to going your own way when it comes to house music. He’s an important figure in the development of the genre, a person who was different to a lot of the acts. I immediately connected with the way he dressed and the way he sounded, which was very androgynous.
His voice is featured on some of the most iconic house records ever made, like “Baby Wants To Ride” and “Your Love,” which are perhaps recognisable to even casual dancers, and have of course been remixed time and again over the years. But every remixer always keeps Jamie’s voice front and center, which says a lot about the power of his voice and how inseparable that is from house music culture.
Cassio – Riding On A Train In Brooklyn
This is originally taken from an EP called Roaches On The Dance Floor, so definitely not the most romantic release on the list. It has a really powerful bassline and lots of train sound effects reminiscent of the sort that Ron Hardy would mix across Music Box in Chicago, although this is obviously a very specifically New York, East Coast record. The vocalist is James Vincent Ware (aka Cassio), who was also in the group Blaze. The record is from the mid-nineties, when Brooklyn was a very different prospect to now, before it had begun to be gentrified. The vocals share stories of the residents and the ‘brick city’ architecture itself. It sounds so urgent and as if Ware is reflecting his own environment. A super authentic record that sums up about how house music can be about places, as well as people.
Risque III – Essence Of A Dream
The vocalist featured here is K’Alexi Shelby, who had met Chicago legends like Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles when he was just twelve years old, so he had a direct line to house music culture. He was clubbing at The Warehouse and Music Box as a teenager! He was also writing songs inspired by Prince, which is something we share in common, even if the parties I was going to as a kid weren’t quite as historically important. This was his first release in 1987, a record that somewhat faded into obscurity outside of DJ circles, until it was reissued recently by the wonderful Dark Entries label. There are some sleevenotes with the record now that reveal that the record nearly had no vocals due to limits on studio time, and this is the first take. The engineers couldn’t believe what they were hearing.
The sexuality and sensuality on this record are still really important to me and inform my songwriting and performances. It opened me up to how powerful the spoken word can be in dance music. Playing the record out to a dance floor is always a pleasure as its absolute deep confidence brings people together in a way that encourages them to let themselves go, especially if dropped at the right time of the night. I was lucky enough to have K Alexi come and play one of my parties at East Bloc years later, and it was a pleasure to hang out with him for some time in person.
Mr. Fingers – What About This Love
The first appearance from Larry Heard in this list, “What About This Love” is a gorgeous record, a subtle love song that was very relevant to the queer community upon its release in 1989, at the peak of the HIV crisis. It has a very warm pulse, and is sung so beautifully but the intent of the record is definitely club-focused and ultimately, celebratory, which I feel is why it was so appealing. It really manages to lift a crowd, and in this case, helped lift a community. From a DJ’s perspective, there is a Kenlou remix available on vinyl that is more jackin’, but the original is so deep and seductive that any crowd quickly comes to appreciate it. Reading the Youtube comments for this one, you can find accounts and stories from so many people who would be moved to tears on the dancefloor at classic NYC clubs like Zanzibar, and I think I would have been one of them. As it is, I still get lost in this track when playing or dancing to it so many decades later.
Fingers, Inc. – Music Take Me Up
I would recommend anybody with even a passing interest in house music, or just a passing interest in music, to listen to Another Side by Fingers, Inc. Not only is this a great example of a house album that works on a deeper level than simply a collection of tracks, but it is a foundational record for house history. Fingers, Inc. was a supergroup of Larry Heard producing tracks with Robert Owens and Ron Wilson on vocals. They weren’t a supergroup or legends at the time, just three guys trying to go deeper and be more ambitious with a sound they had helped establish, and this LP did just that. It’s still raw and a little DIY, but the sound is all their own and it is a great document of just how ambitious they were to prove how versatile and appealing the house sound was, beyond just club tracks, although there are plenty of those here too. The way Robert Owens applies his childhood background in gospel choirs to the instrumentals was really revolutionary at the time, and got this music to a much wider audience.
My personal favourite track for playing out is “Music Take Me Up,” which is more obscure. It’s drenched in delay and reverb, quite trippy and psychedelic compared to the rest of the LP, but despite being so jarring, it just works perfectly on the dance floor. Something interesting but still driven by that house spirit.
Frankie Knuckles, Adeva – Whadda U Want (From Me)
Adeva was introduced to me by my Aunt during my childhood. She had a great record collection and inadvertently tipped me off to a lot of the music that I still reach for in DJ sets even now, as well as artists who have perhaps been overshadowed in time. Adeva is a US vocalist who had a big hit in the UK with her pretty fierce house rework of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and then worked with Frankie Knuckles in the ’90s.
To me, she’s very much the Grace Jones of house, but with a much deeper vocal. Her voice is feminine but on video on record artwork she was a strong, androgynous presence. The possibilities of this in regards to gender and performance were really exciting to me as a kid and still seem full of possibilities in the current scene. I will always have respect for artists who refuse to be pigeonholed by expectations, whether in terms of their music or their personality.
Green Velvet – Stormy Weather
Green Velvet is the alias of Curtis A. Jones, who also records deeper, more straight-ahead house material as Cajmere. His fingerprints are all over the history of the genre, either as an instrumentalist, or using his own voice, which is what he does as Green Velvet. His records are very distinctive and sometimes quite menacing. “Flash” and “Stalker” are still played endlessly in clubs, and he has stayed very visible through being so prolific.
“Stormy Weather,” from 1997, is a personal favourite for me. When I discovered it, the record taught me a lot about telling stories with your voice, and how that can ultimately be more than just talking over a track. You can be abstract but also compelling. The performance from Green Velvet on this feels really emotional and a little bit challenging and alien. Even if the lyrics aren’t typical of house music, there’s a lot you can project onto them personally.
Kim English – Night Life (Sound Factory Version)
One of the most important house records in history, not just for myself, but for a whole generation of DJs, dancers, performer and clubbers who came long before. “Night Life” by Kim English makes me wish I was alive and dancing during the days of Sound Factory in New York, listening to Danny Tenaglia and watching house music evolve in front of me. This record symbolises just what the genre can do both physically and emotionally, although it has been through lots of different versions and remixes.
Armand Van Helden’s mix from 1995, a year after it was originally released, took the record further into the mainstream, but the earlier, deeper mixes from members of Ten City are the ones that encapsulate the power of nineties houses and feel special to the day. Kim English, unfortunately, passed away a few years ago, but her voice is still essential to the collection of any self-respecting house music collector.
Ride Committee – Guess Who (Boogie Balo Mix)
This is a secret weapon of mine, released on Batty Bass, the label founded by my close friend and collaborator, Hannah Holland. It’s been in my arsenal for a long while, a properly raw queer club record that was released at a time when queer club culture wasn’t as celebrated as it is at this point in time.
Ride Committee have been making underground club records since the early ’90s, and received a lot of play and support from DJs such as Todd Edwards. Roxy, who was always responsible for the vocals, was a drag performer and vocalist with a very authentically camp delivery that expanded on the template of drag and vogue that a lot of people might recognise from films like Paris Is Burning, but as you can hear on this track, throws in a lot of other popular culture and general oddness. Unfortunately, Roxy passed away in 2020, but this track is a weird and vivid reminder of how funny and commanding she was.
Azari & III – Lost In Time
The sole Azari & III album from 2011 is one of the few great modern house LPs and a record that manages to sound futuristic while also paying tributes to the roots of house. It is full of great songwriting and hooks, and there was a time when certain tracks like the Jamie Jones mix of “Hungry For The Power” had become inescapable on the UK club scene.
“Lost In Time” is still my pick. The vocalists here are Fritz Helder and Starving Yet Full, and the way their vocal elements intertwine not only with each other, but also with the fantastic synth and percussion makes it really easy to get lost in this track while dancing. There’s a lot going on here, but it’s all really well-measured and super classy while crowd-pleasing. Similar to Fingers, Inc., twenty years before, the band was only together for five years, but they created some timeless house music in a short period and still burn bright, in my estimation.