Crookers is on the move. He’s just wrapped up his North American tour, and now he’s preparing to go another colossal venture through Australia. During his previous two records, he’d slid under the radar, pumping underground beats into clubs all over the world; but following the release his newest album, Sixteen Chapel, Francesco “Phra” Barbaglia’s star is blowing up – and it’s about time.
“Heavy” was a heavy hitter last summer, creeping into the climaxes of tech-house mixes by other DJ’s. Its reception was a richly deserved success for the Italian producer and DJ, whose entire discography is filled with viable chart-toppers, including “Ghetto Guetta” and perhaps most notably, his remix of Kid Cudi’s “Day ‘n’ Nite.” “I Just Can’t (feat. Jeremih)” is the lead single from Sixteen Chapel and it mixes just the right amount of polish and grit, all with that unmistakable Crookers groove. (Stream Sixteen Chapel in full here.)
Before Phra’s show at Pacha in New York, we had a brief chat about the current state of the dance music scene while reminiscing over his musical beginnings on a cruise ship.
DB: So you’ll be touring Australia in June? That’s awesome news.
Yeah, I did a tour in Australia in December. It was Stereosonic Festival. Now I’m gonna be coming back for the Stereosonic club tour… It’s pretty good because what they told me there is that festivals are starting to become “quiet,” and clubs are coming back.
Do you prefer the wild, massive festival crowd, or do you prefer nightclubs, where it’s a little more intimate?
The first time I ever played in a club was when I was 13. So I definitely prefer clubs. A festival is just something you have to do, and sometimes you feel awkward.
And your music is better-suited for a club environment.
Yeah. Or in a house! [Laughs]
You were inspired to start DJ-ing as a child, when you were on a cruise ship. You played on Holy Ship! in 2014. How did it feel to actually be the one DJ-ing on a cruise ship?
It was not the same! Basically, Holy Ship! just shows how far the DJ thing went in recent years. I saw my first DJ during a cruise with my parents when I was eleven. It was twenty-three years ago. In twenty-three years everything changes so much. Now there’s a festival cruise for DJs, which is something that I never would have thought about in my wildest dreams.
You constantly blend hip-hop samples into your music. When you hear a rap or R&B song, what inspires you to take it and turn it into something new?
I have no idea. I have no clue of what I’m doing with my music in general. There isn’t really a formula that I’m following, or anything that I like or don’t like. The moment that I listen to something and I’m like, “Cool, I love it,” I’m gonna do something. If it’s working, cool; if it’s not working, it’s cool anyway.
How did your recent collaboration with Jeremih (“I Just Can’t”) get started?
I’ve just been listening to his stuff forever, and I’ve always been a bit of a fan. At some point, I wanted to do a collab with someone cool, and I said, “Let’s try it with this guy.” I really like his music and vocals… It happened really fast.
You’ve been producing your style of house for quite some time. What do you think of the direction house music is taking now?
I’m not sure what the direction is gonna be. What I’m doing now is literally just going back to house music – the proper stuff that I was playing in the beginning. And when I say the beginning, I mean ’97, ’98. I’m trying to change that kind of groove into something that I like now.
Just high-energy, upbeat dance music.
[Nods] Less high-energy. I believe after the “big, festival, EDM” shit, high-energy is kind of overdone already. There’s way too much high-energy now. I think that my style is less square, more groovy.
What do you have to say to young producers who are trying to get into the industry?
Don’t try to get into the industry. Right now, there’s too much saturation. Try something else, because it’s gonna be too hard for you. [Laughs]