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Credit: @_imsquid

Joseph Capriati: do it for love

Joseph Capriati is considered one of the world’s foremost techno technicians — but the veteran artist is much more than that, with the sounds of deep house, tech-house and more running through his sets and productions. With a newfound creative energy and sense of musical freedom, he’s as happy as he’s ever been — but if it wasn’t for a twist of fate, he wouldn’t have a career at all, as he explains in a wide-ranging conversation

Let’s jump into a time machine and travel back a decade or so, to a massive warehouse on the Brooklyn waterfront. You find yourself at the New York edition of the traveling techno-fest Time Warp. Nestled among the big-name roster — Villalobos and Väth, Liebing and Luciano, and the rest — sits the Italian DJ and producer Joseph Capriati. Taking control of the booth midway through the night, his selections are steely and propulsive — not quite minimal, not quite maximal, but in this darkened and echoing setting, they feel appropriately cavernous. The crowd is primed and fully committed, as is Capriati himself — save for the occasional fist pump, he’s the picture of intense concentration as he builds the set’s tension, echoing kick by echoing kick, the very picture of techno rigour. It’s serious business, both in sound and attitude. 

But back in the present, sitting at home and fully relaxed, Capriati’s vibe is far from the cliché of the austere ebon-clad techno titan, rigid and unsmiling. He’s cordial and welcoming, funny and downright chatty. In reality, of course, that shouldn’t have come as a surprise — he’s never really been the techno puritan that some people seem to regard him as. “I don’t like to play only techno,” he says, his English thickly accented with the sounds of his native southern Italy. “and I don’t like to play only house — I like to play both. And this is what keeps me alive. I cannot be doing only one style. I can’t.”

He came into electronic music via the warm sounds of American deep house; his productions are full of subtle swing, and his later work, like the 2020 LP ‘Metamorfosi’, veer far from the typical warehouse techno blueprint. (That album boasts collaborations with the decidedly non-techno likes of Louie Vega, keyboardist/studio whiz Eric Kupper, and the veteran house vocalist Byron Stingily). Particularly in his post-pandemic sets, it’s obvious that he’s having a blast, bobbing and weaving to the music, beaming with joy as he sprinkles his meticulously programmed selections with the occasional pop-tinged nugget like Patrick Topping’s ‘Keep On Moving’ and Matt Guy’s ‘Set My Mind Free’. Which is not to say that he doesn’t get tired of the grind now and then.

“I just got back here after four weeks of touring, which sometimes I don’t realise,” he says. “I just look at the calendar and say, ‘OK, I have this weekend here, and that weekend there.’ But then, at the end of the day, I realise, ‘Oh, wow, it’s been one month!’ It can be a lot. But it’s been a really good month.”

Photo of Joseph Capriati wearing a blue denim shirt under a large spotlight
Credit: @_imsquid

“I had never even heard about house music before this party. I was like, ‘oh, I like this!’... something happened in myself, like a light. I don’t know how to explain it, but from that moment, my life was changing.”

From the outside, it would seem to have been a really good couple of decades for Capriati. It was only a few short years between his start as a local DJ in the mid-’00s until he became a regular on the international touring circuit; he’s been a member in the top tier of that contingent ever since, both via his solo sets and occasional back-to-backs with the likes of Carl Cox and Danny Tenaglia. He’s a DJ first and foremost, but he also possesses an impressive discography, with lots more music in the pipeline. He’s reactivating his Redimension label, and launching a new imprint as well. And he’s making a return to the Ibizan megaclub Amnesia, where he’ll be holding it down in the Terrace at his Metamorfosi party. Things are looking good.

But in the world of electronic music, as it is in almost any field, the arc of a career is never smooth, and Capriati’s had his share of ups and downs, of pure happiness and of self-doubt. In some ways, it’s down to luck — or fate, or providence, or whatever you’d like to call it — that he has a career at all.

Capriati grew up in Caserta, a small city about 25 miles north of Naples. His home was a few minutes from the town’s center, just off of a square, in what sounds like an idyllic start to life. “It was a kind of small village within the city,” as he describes it. “Everybody there knew each other. I have such beautiful memories.”

Right in front of his family’s house, there was a building that housed Americans — US Navy and NATO personnel, along with their families — who worked at a military base in Naples. He would try to speak English to the kids who lived there, and they would reply in rudimentary Italian. It was through them, just shy of his 11th birthday, that he first found out what a DJ even was.

“They were celebrating on the Fourth of July of 1998, and the gates of the American building were right on the square, and so they were celebrating in that square,” Capriati recalls. “I was walking with my friends, going to play football around seven in the evening, and I saw this group of people, the American teenagers dancing. I was like, ‘What’s going on there?’ I went back home after playing, and with two or three of my friends, we were like, ‘OK, let’s go see this!’”

Photo of Joseph Capriati with an orange beam of light across his eyes
Credit: @_imsquid

The party’s music was coming via something that was a mystery to young Capriati — a figure behind a pair of decks. His grandmother had a hi-fi, so he was familiar with the idea of turntables — but what on earth was this kid doing with two of them? He cornered one of the teens at the party to find out just what was happening, and was informed what he was seeing was a DJ. Still in the dark, he dug a bit deeper, and was told that it was a simple process — you just mix two records together.

“I said, ‘OK, my grandma has vinyl,’” Capriati says. “‘Is this the same?’ And he said, ‘No, these are Technics.’” Not only was DJing new to him, but so was the music he was hearing. “I had never even heard about house music before that party,” he admits. “I was like, ‘Oh, I like this!’ Both the music and the figure of the DJ — something happened in me, like a light. I don’t know how to explain it, but from that moment, my life was changing.”

The next day, Capriati told his father that he wanted to become a DJ. It didn’t go well. “He was like, ‘What is a DJ?’ He asked a friend who knew about music, ‘Do you know how much it costs to be a DJ?’ And when my father found out how much money it would cost for turntables and a mixer, he was like, ‘Forget about it!’”

Capriati was undeterred. He got a summertime job helping out at his uncle’s construction business, basically just assisting with menial tasks: “Oh, can you pass me the hammer?” At summer’s end, he was rewarded with the sum of five hundred euros, and with some of those riches, he bought a belt-drive Gemini turntable and a third-hand mixer. “And for the other turntable, I used my grandmother’s turntable, which had no pitch control — so I was using my finger to help me to go in time,” he says. “I played maybe one year with just that.”

He got his hands on two records to practice with, Eddie Amador’s ‘House Music’ and another by the Italian duo House Of Glass, and invited his friends over to show off his burgeoning mixing skills. At this point, though, he still didn’t have much of a clue as to what house music was all about, even with the explanation offered by the Amador track: “It’s a spiritual thing. A body thing. A soul thing.” Instead, he was getting his education from the Italian dance radio at the time, where Eurodance acts like Eiffel 65 and Gigi D’Agostino reigned supreme. It wasn’t until the next year, again via an encounter in the square, that the next phase in Capriati’s education began.

“There were older guys there,” he recalls, “and they were listening in the car, something very loud. And I was like, ‘Hey, guys, hi! Can I listen to this with you?’ They were like, ‘What? You’re a kid. Come on, you don’t understand.’ I said, ‘I’m a DJ!’ And they were laughing, like, ‘Yeah, yeah, you’re a DJ — you’ve never even been to a club. Go home.’ But I was like, ‘Can you please show me what we are listening to?’”

Vintage sepia-style photo of Joseph Capriati standing in front of a door
Credit: @_imsquid

“I don’t like to play only techno, and I don’t like to play only house — I like to play both. And this is what keeps me alive. I cannot be doing only one style. I can’t.”

It was a cassette, with a name unknown to Capriati written on the side: Little Louie Vega. They explained that was the kind of music he should really be listening to, and taking pity on him, gave him the tape, a live set recorded at an Angels Of Love party in Naples. “I was listening to this cassette every day,” Capriati says. “Every single day.”

He didn’t have the cash to buy much vinyl, but Capriati frequented the local record shop anyway, largely to pick up a magazine called Discoid. “It had pictures and interviews with international DJs, the most important ones like Louie Vega and Tony Humphries and David Morales, and also Italian DJs like Claudio Coccoluto, DJ Ralf, Mauro Picotto — all the Italian legends, but I didn’t even know who they were yet. And on the last pages, there was the technical stuff. I would look at the different types of turntables and the prices. I still have them in my family house, a big collection of them.”

At the time, around the end of the ’90s, Discoid and record-shop banter was the only way to delve deeper into dance music — his family wasn’t hooked up to the internet until 2004, and the family’s sole computer was a gift for his younger brother’s first communion. Soon, though, Capriati was commandeering that computer to tinker around with production, already thinking big. “I was dreaming, always,” he says. “With closed eyes and high volume, I was dreaming of being in front of thousands of people.”

In 2006, Capriati made his vinyl debut with the ‘Formaldehyde’ EP, with the title track and its flip, ‘Microbiotik’ (along with a remix from Massi DL) released on Globox, a label run by Sasha Carassi. These weren’t house tracks — they were techno, with a minimal style that slotted in perfectly with the era.

And then... nothing. Capriati was 18, he’d just finished high school, and though he still had hopes of becoming a working DJ, his parents were putting pressure on him to find another direction. To appease them, he signed on for military duty. “I was very sad,” he says, “but at the same time, I thought that music was not going anywhere, because nothing changed in the first months after the record came out.”

That spring, Capriati got his check-ups, prepared the required documents, boxed them up, and dropped them off at the military office. The call to duty was scheduled for the autumn. “During that summer,” Capriati says, “friends of mine in Ibiza were sending me texts on Messenger. They were like, ‘Hey, Joseph are you there?’ ‘Yeah, bro, I’m here!’ ‘Hey, you can’t believe this bro. Look at this video. It’s your track!’ I was like ‘What?’ ‘Yeah, Richie Hawtin is playing your track in Amnesia!’ I was crying. And then another guy: ‘Hey bro, Sven Väth is playing your track!’ And then another: ‘Carl Cox is playing your track!’ And then another: ‘Marco Carola is playing your track!’ My track was going viral. I still have goosebumps.”

Photo of Joseph Capriati wearing a blue denim shirt under a large spotlight
Credit: @_imsquid

The record sold its initial run of 2,000 copies and was repressed, and Capriati was becoming embedded in the scene, meeting successful Naples techno DJs like Rino Cerrone and Markantonio. “They were saying, ‘Joseph, are you sure you want to go to do military? Your career is just starting — your record is everywhere,’” Capriati says. “So I spoke to my mom and said, ‘Mom, there is this possibility...’ And my mom was like, ‘Are you crazy? You will kill me!’ I said, ‘OK, OK.’ My dream was over.”

Or so he thought. One day that autumn, he was sleeping in late when his mother awoke him with a knock on the bedroom door — the papers had arrived from the military. They sat down at the kitchen table. “I was like, Jesus, no, I don’t want this,” Capriati says. “but then I still remember the face of my mother, screaming, ‘No, I cannot believe this!’ She gave me the paper and it said, ‘Mr. Capriati, we are very sorry but we cannot accept your request because one of the papers is not included.” We had given them the paper, but for some reason, somebody lost it.”

Capriati had never believed in destiny before, but took the rejection as a sign and tore into DJing with full force. He built a fanbase gig by gig. The break, which he describes as a “life-changing moment,” came via a gig in Naples, opening for Monika Kruse and Alex Under. “When I finished playing,” he says, “I got a big standing ovation. I mean, they were already standing, but everybody was clapping, and then everyone in Napoli was talking about it. And from the south of Italy, then slowly getting to the north of Italy — and then the first flight that I ever took was to go to Sardinia. I had never even been in an airplane!” By the following year, he was amassing frequent flyer miles, playing around the world. His dream had come to pass.

For the next decade-plus, Capriati’s career seemed to be on cruise control. A datebook stuffed with appearances at some of the world’s major festivals, club dates galore, and a string of tightly-coiled releases, many of them on Drumcode — he was unstoppable. Until he wasn’t, that is.

In 2016, Capriati launched his own label, Redimension, with a collaborative effort with Adam Beyer, ‘Parallels / External Links’ — two slices of grinding prime-time warehouse techno. 2017 saw another collab, this one with Flavio Folco, ‘Prospective Journeys’, a deeper, relatively subdued affair. And then, for the next three years, silence, at least in terms of production. He blames his relentless DJing schedule on that period’s quietude. “I was putting all my energy into the DJ sets,” he explains. “Even when I go on holiday, the maximum is three weeks off — otherwise I go crazy. But because of that, I was not able to create.”

Soon, though, he would need to find a way to adapt. First, his US visa expired in early 2020. He tried to get it renewed, but it proved difficult, he says, because the State Department was prioritising other countries, with Italy far down the list. “I was really affected by this,” he says, “because a lot of friends and colleagues were playing in America in that period, and America was the best place to play.”

Photo of Joseph Capriati wearing a blue denim shirt in front of a white background
Credit: @_imsquid

“There are professionals out there, ready to help. And don’t give up right away — I had to change three or four people to find my comfort zone, to find someone who fit with me. And I feel much, much better.”

And then, of course, Covid put a stop to DJing anywhere at all. “The pandemic hit me hard,” Capriati says. “It was really serious for me. I just stayed home for two years. It was during the pandemic that I realised how important it is to speak with somebody. I went to a psychotherapist for a long time, and I’m still with the psychotherapist, and I love to speak with my psychotherapist every week.”

If it were up to him, more of his peers would do the same. “Mind health is super important,” he says, “and I’m trying to always spread this word to my friends and colleagues, when I can see maybe they are having a really down moment or mood. There are professionals out there, ready to help. And don’t give up right away — I had to change three or four people to find my comfort zone, to find someone who fit with me. And I feel much, much better. I feel like I’m a better person and a better artist, because I realise more than ever how important what I do is for me. It’s been a process of growing up.”

Even at his darkest, in the depths of the pandemic, and though his creative flow had seemingly run dry, Capriati wasn’t exactly idle — and in September of 2020, he released ‘Metamorfosi’ on Redimension. The album was something of a departure — he wasn’t entirely forsaking his minimal-tinged brand of electronic music by any means, but the LP marked his maturation as an artist, with a wider selection of colours to paint with than he had ever used before. The fractured rhythms of ‘Improvvisazione’, the sunrise optimism of ‘Beautiful Morning’, the slow-grind electrofunk of ‘New Horizons’, the smooth house rapture of ‘Love Changed Me’ — these were sounds that Capriati had rarely, if ever, produced in the past. Reviews were favourable, though some of his fans were left scratching their heads.

“Yeah, people were expecting something for the big rooms or main festival stages,” he admits, “especially in that period. I mean, in 2019, I was on fire. I was going everywhere, playing everywhere — Ibiza, America, South America, all the main festivals. But that album was not related to the scene, of what was happening around me in that period. It is the total opposite of that. I wanted to produce something that was very free and artistic.”

And whatever the techno purists thought, to hear Capriati tell it, it certainly got a lot of love from his fellow DJs and producers. “I got so much feedback from some incredible artists — people from Detroit and Berlin, people I respect, legends like Laurent Garnier and Carl Cox,” he says, still excited by the thought. “I hadn’t listened to it for a while, but I’ve started to listen to it again, in the car or on the plane, a few times in the last month — and I found that I still believe in what I have done with that album.”

And now he feels that his creative juices are fully flowing again. “The creativity, and being excited to create, that’s a blessing. And honestly, since I got my creativity back, it’s improved my DJ sets. It’s insane — I feel like I play better than ever before.”

Photo of Joseph Capriati DJing under bright pink lights
Credit: @louisnesbitt

The most recent result of Capriati’s rejuvenation was just released on the none-more-classic house label Nervous called, fittingly, ‘Peace & Blessings’. It’s a beautifully subdued song, dripping with the kind of aching grace that serves as real-deal deep house’s stock in trade. With vocals from Arnold Jarvis, the singer who’s worked with the likes of Kerri Chandler and Frankie Knuckles, it shares the DNA of those tracks that got Capriati into electronic music in the first place.

“It’s a proper classic house record, the New York house which I come from since childhood,” he says, a hint of justified pride in his work.  And there’s more. He’s got a techno-oriented record coming out on his newly resuscitated Redimension label, and is launching another label called, like his 2020 album, Metamorfosi. And there’s the Metamorfosi party, which he’ll be bringing to Amnesia every Friday from July 19th till September 6th, with the ascendant Spanish DJ Indira Paganotto invited to serve as the resident in the Club room, and Capriati holding it down in the Terrace, with “grooves and melodies and tech-house and house.” (The pairing gave Paganotto and Capriati a good excuse to team up in a studio as well, with a techno/psytrance hybrid out now).

“I love the name,” Capriati says of the Metamorfosi brand. “It expresses what happened to me in the last few years through to where I am right now. It’s all about reality, and all about expressing what’s happening to me, and what’s happening around me — to the scene, and to Ibiza, and to everything — and about what I want to share to the crowd. And that’s a proper metamorphosis.”

Capriati is known for playing long sets — some of them extended to ironman lengths, like his all-day sets at Amsterdam’s BRET. Lately, though, he’s found the wisdom to pull back a bit. “It doesn’t matter how many hours you play,” he says. “It’s how you play, and this is called maturity. But those long sets really gave me a lot of experience, going through loads of different styles and creating long journeys. Now, even in two or three hours, I can create a journey.”

Similarly, he aims to play fewer gigs overall — though he’s still DJing a hell of a lot. “The plan is to play 90, 100 shows at the max, and stay more in the studio. I used to play 150! I’m on a different step of my career, which is less is more.”

There’s another adjustment as well, another step in his journey— about a year ago, Capriati stopped drinking. “I’ve done the rock star life, and I don’t regret anything, but I love the way I’m living now,” he says. “I mean, life is so incredible! And my career — I really enjoy what I’m doing, like if I was back in ’98. And it’s from the incredible power of music.”

Close-up photo of Joseph Capriati DJing under circular purple and red lights
Credit: @_imsquid

“The creativity, and being excited to create, that’s a blessing. And honestly, since I got my creativity back, it’s improved my DJ sets. It’s insane — I feel like I play better than ever before.”

And there’s one more step in his current metamorphosis. After having spent the past dozen years living in Barcelona, Capriati and his girlfriend have just made a move to Lisbon, an increasingly popular city on the electronic music map. He’s in the midst of setting up his studio in his new hometown. “I really like Lisbon, the way the city is growing,” he says.” A lot of artists have been moving there for a while, and DJ friends were asking me why I haven’t moved there, too. I feel the change will be inspiring for me. Honestly, this is a really good period of life for me, and this is something that is going to improve my feelings even more.”

Toward the end of the conversation, Capriati takes time to give thanks to those who have been key to his career. From the early days, there’s Rino Cerrone, Markantonio and Sasha Carassi. There’s Louie Vega, “who made me understand how much I love house music and to understand what it means — and now we make music together.” There’s Marco Carola, Danny Tenaglia and François K, Jeff Mills and Dave Clarke. But there’s one ally who’s been absolutely fundamental to his trajectory — Carl Cox. “Carl has been there since the day we met 12 years ago,” Capriati says. “He made me feel protected — he was like a father for me, the father I didn’t have on tour, the person who could always give me advice.”

Capriati recounts a story of staying with Cox at his home in Melbourne, Australia, in 2015. He had recently left a previous residency at Amnesia — “there were some big issues, and then I really suffered in that period,” he admits — and was feeling a bit down. Both he and Cox were up pre-dawn, which Capriati attributes to jetlag, and Cox thanks to... well, Cox is a machine. “We were outside watching the sunrise on his balcony,” Capriati recalls, “and we started to talk. ‘How are you, Joseph?’ ‘Carl, I’m a little sad and I’m kind of insecure. I don’t know what to do. All these new artists coming in’... kind of like that.

“And he said, ‘Joseph, don’t even think about that. You have a gift. You have the gift to play music, express yourself with the music, and make the people happy. I know you left Amnesia for some reason, I know you’re suffering, but don’t think about who might be causing your troubles. Put your head down, work hard and you will see —  in five or 10 years, you’re still going to be there, not from fighting anyone but because of the appreciation from the crowd. You started doing this because of the crowd, and you’re going to continue because of the crowd.’

“I got very emotional and started to cry,” he continues, “and I hugged him like a father. It was the most important discussion I ever had in my life. And Carl was right! Instead of changing anything for hype, I am working with passion.” Those words of encouragement, along with his acceptance of change — of metamorphosis — have helped fuel Capriati’s approach to what he does, and to how he keeps the passion alive, after dozens of releases and thousands of gigs.

“Yes, things do change in terms of the music — more tech-house, more house, kind of going back to my roots — but that is just evolution of my sound,” he says. “Sometimes I like to play in the light, playing groovy — but I also like to be in the darkness, playing techno. This is me, and this is a long-term career. When you DJ, when you produce, you want to have something that reflects your vision, that you want to share with the crowd. You want to do it with love.”

And with that, Capriati says goodbye. He’s got new moves to make, new parties to play, and new paths to follow.