It is also a favorite among birthday celebrants, as evidenced when, during an interview with New Times at the restaurant — which famously appeared in the Oscar-winning 2016 flick Moonlight — guests, not once, not twice, but three times, erupted into singing "Happy Birthday."
“God, I love this place. This is the best,” said the Miami native, soaking up the familiar song and surroundings.
The music producer and cofounder of local online radio station Jolt Radio recently dropped his debut EP, Spooks & Apparitions, on Veridian Club, the label he shares with his younger brother Pedro, AKA Kid Bougie. (Vinyl copies can be preordered via Bandcamp and will be available locally on Record Store Day on June 12.)
While Caignet did what seems compulsory for Miami creatives — a two-semester stint in New York City — he always felt the magnetic pull of the Magic City, and its airwaves.
The latter, in fact, is in his blood.
His great-granduncle, Félix Benjamín Caignet, was a pioneer of radio broadcasting in Cuba in the 1930s. As a creator of Latin American soap operas, he made it his habit to sit and eavesdrop on conversations at his local café in search of new material.
“When I was growing up in Coral Gables, my family would tell us stories about him," Caignet says. "My mother would make us record these cassette tapes for our grandmother, and we would talk into the mike, and we’d really get into it.”
Reflecting on his family history, Caignet acknowledges a certain sense of fatefulness surrounding his journey into the world of music and radio. His debut EP is a sort of ode to this experience, a declaration that Miami is far more supernatural than superficial.
While studying psychology at Miami Dade College, Caignet passed through the Kendall campus one day and caught sight of the school’s radio station.
“I stepped in and immediately felt like I was at home,” he says.
Following that encounter, Caignet began to focus on all things music, radio, and engineering. He spent every spare hour he had at the station, hoping that through osmosis, he could soak up every deep cut out there. The station's music director began to hand over the reins while he went on breaks before finally suggesting that the young enthusiast start his own endeavor.
From creating DIY radio skits as kids to making music together as teens, Caignet always found a kindred spirit in his brother, which led them to start the boogie-, instrumental-, and synth-pop-focused label Veridian in 2007, and the online nonprofit radio station Jolt Radio in 2010. Located in Allapattah, Jolt acts as much as a community hub as it does the nucleus for countless original programs.
It was also Pedro Caignet who pushed John to put together Spooks & Apparitions, a conceptual four-track voyage that investigates Miami’s mystical side while simultaneously acting as an insider’s guide to the minutiae of Miami etiquette. It's a nod to the city's transient nature and a love letter to the people who stick it out here.
The EP is half well-thought-out 1980s thriller soundtrack and half sci-fi Miami boogie dream. All the tracks stand out as stylish productions in their own right, regardless of their fun, in-the-know narrative elements — which certainly help make the listening experience that much more enjoyable.
The title track, "Spooks & Apparitions," is an uncanny synth-laden composition that speaks in a tongue-in-cheek way to the friends who suddenly reappear after having ditched the city, popping up at neighborhood bars like ghosts from past lives. The closing track, "Seance at the Graveyard Inn," is an ode to the Liberty City convenience store located across fro, a graveyard. Caignet and his friend Mikey Ramirez, owner of Technique Records, have long suspected it to be a spot for spooky happenings.
“Conceptually speaking, I think of the record like a charm, a physical manifestation that the [third track] 'Midnight Society' conjured during ‘Seance at the Graveyard Inn,’” he explains.
Caignet’s hopes eventually to produce a visual counterpart for the record, a short film that tells the entire four-track story from start to finish. A script is in place, with only the production details yet to be worked out.
Adding to the “meant to be” element, it was a happy accident that led mastering engineer Dietrich Schoenemann (Philip Glass, Aphex Twins, the Cranes) to hop on the project at the last minute, after the original plans for mastering fell through. Caignet credits friend Ramiro Jeancarlo (AKA Staccato Du Mal) for making it all fall into place. Also hopping on the project was local artist Richard Vergez, who designed the EP's artwork.
“It all felt serendipitous,” Caignet says.
As the record began to take form, an unexpected renaissance was percolating on the sidelines.
While Jolt Radio's open-door policy was put on hold during the pandemic, several programs carried on remotely, as did Caignet’s efforts to keep content flowing. With everyone's collective urge to connect, Jolt Radio’s numbers began to skyrocket.
“I started noticing that the listenership was going through the roof, right around the time Italy went into lockdown. And it was, in fact, those countries, Italy and Spain, that started tuning in," he explains. "I knew I had to start programming the hell out of it. I started recording skits and polishing the hell out of it.”
Around that same time, Caignet’s web designer reached out to set up a Twitch stream, which is now a fully incorporated element of the Jolt Radio experience.
Whether following in the footsteps of his great-granduncle at Jolt Radio or carving out his own niche in the world of proto-house and Miami boogie, the creative juices of John Caignet seem to be flowing like the free refills at Jimmy's Diner.