Words: James Frostick
Artist image: Margarita Strateas

Nicolaas Oogjes is stepping away from the heat-beat release of NO ZU – donning a Stetson and a pair of Cuban heels, thereby transforming into his outsized cowboy-electronica and synth-sleaze persona Cong Josie. Today marks a formal introduction to the artist’s enigmatic sonic persona via new digital single ‘Leather Whip’. This rodeo is a throbbing piece of sweat-drenched hedonism and peacocking virility that cloaks a tongue-in-cheek self-awareness and earnest critique. It’s a striking and unpredictable turn for a figure who has built a career out of creative artistic pivots.

It’s hard to put into words just who Cong Josie is, exactly. He’s an amalgam of eras, a clashing of styles, a contradiction of ideologies and a hybrid of personas. His music is even harder to pin down – picture a synth wearing spurs, snakeskin boots bathed in neon light, bolo ties over mesh singlets. What’s known is that Cong Josie is an identity born in the cranial recesses of one Nicolaas Oogjes – known to many as the frontman of sonic conglomerate NO ZU. Separate from the heat-beat hydra, this alter-ego has manifested as a rootin’ tootin’, sweet-talkin’, ten-gallon-hat-wearin’ cowboy – a fellow as likely to greet you with a genial “Howdy” as he is a grimy “How you doin'”. He’s ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ without the stars in his eyes. He’s wearing the hell out of Nudie Cohn suit, but he hasn’t washed it in weeks. You could find him at a dusty saloon or a seedy nightclub  –wherever the disco ball spins brightest. He’s a character too larger-than-life to be real, but too familiar to be just a figment of fancy. With this persona Nicolaas seems to be interrogating masculine identity, revelling in ostentation borne out of a study in bravado. Humour and playfulness seem critical to the very concept of Cong Josie, an aspect that adds levity to the project’s interpretation of the cultural relic that is chest-thumping machismo. This I know for sure: Cong Josie is infinitely more nuanced a concept than his outlandish sound and aesthetic would have you believe. As proof, here is ‘Leather Whip’.

‘Leather Whip’ marks Cong Josie’s first foray into the recorded realm after a series of live-streamed performances. It is the A-side of a digital single being released today via It Records. Splicing in elements of 80s-tinged electro-pop, industrial synth-punk and post-punk, the track boasts a palpable heat discernible from the first bursts of what sounds like compressed air. A beefy and vascular bass throb forms the bulk of the track’s structure, with glistening flashes of synth and some curly guitar noodles adding flair and flavour. All the while Cong Josie croons and hollers over the mix, strutting back and forth as part of his trademark blood-pumping histrionics. It’s in his lyrics that you catch a hint of Nicolaas’ intent and the reflective tenderness couched within Cong Josie’s aural ooze. The track itself grapples with animal rights, reflecting on his family’s ties to the harness-racing industry and the overt and ignorant winner’s mentality that goes hand-in-hand with toxic masculinity. Cong, and by extension Nicolaas, lashes at his past, bucking history and putting the boot to incompatible ideals by hyping up just how ridiculous it is.

The song visual accompaniment is best summarised by Nic himself:

The ‘Leather Whip’ music video was shot in Mani, Greece. It’s an intense and expansive road trip through the Peloponnese mountains and villages. Cong explores the fortified towers that dot the rugged landscape, weaves among the trademarked olive trees and prickly pear, performs on a yiayia’s rooftop and at a very special show in a local kafenio. He’s either on a one-eyed mission, running away from somewhere/something or we, the viewers, are bearing witness to an otherworldly fever dream.

Although a solo project on paper, Cong Josie’s sound is constructed with help from Johnny Cayn (Cayn Borthwick, also of NO ZU) and Simone Galassi (who contributed guitars), while Cassandra Capri (Cassandra Kiely of Pearls fame), Mona Rêves (aka Simone Page-Jones), Kate Bishop and Margarita Strateas assisted with backing vocals.

‘Leather Whip’ is out today via , accompanied by B-side track ‘Maxine’. Buy it digitally below: