Phra Barbaglia, an Italian electronic producer better known as Crookers, is set to release his third album Sixteen Chapel later this spring, but before that he’s bringing a genre-bending party to Temple this Saturday.
We spoke to Phra about his evolution from turntablist to producer, his love for San Francisco and why he joined Dim Mak.
How did Italian hip hop as a genre inspire you to pursue a DJ career?
I started listening to hip hop when I was really young, like 11 years old. I was really into turntablists at that time. I spent my whole teenage years stuck in my room trying new techniques, which is good, but if I could do it again, I probably wouldn’t do that.
I was listening to mainly U.S. rap. I was producing and rapping in Italian with my best friends. At that time there wasn’t really computers to do music. We were doing sampling and recording on tape cassette. After that I wanted to go from being a turntablist to being a producer. I started digging into record shops and trying to find the best thing to sample.
I did my first gig when I was 12, probably. I played at my first club because I was living next to a club, so it was easy for me to ask if I could play day after day. I tried and tried to play rap music in this club.
Eventually, when I got my car, I could listen to music in a better way. I used to have a super ghetto studio with super shit speakers. In my car I could listen to better quality music so I could like bossanova and electronic music like lounge—I hate that term, but whatever. I listened to jazzy stuff mashed up with Brazilian sounds and then electronic bass and two-step. I started to produce house music because of that.
It’s just a weird coincidence, one after the other, that made me start to make the Crookers sounds that people know. When I play, I can literally play whatever type of music. My bag of music in the past years goes from zero to 100. I’m not stuck listening to just one genre.
What artists and sounds are most inspiring to you these days?
I really like Madlib and some of the J Dilla work he did before he died is still some of the most amazing production work that I know. It’s my reference in mixing in the way he was just fucking around with ideas. It was great.
What is the most important thing to have with you while on the road?
My girlfriend, 100 percent, she’s always with me. She’s working with me. She’s on my left and right hand, literally. I cannot do anything without her. I’ve been seeing her for five years and she’s always been with me on tour.
She’s going crazy though because this life is really tiring, and she’s working with me, too. She’s the one doing the boring part of the job. All the mediation between the promoters is the tough job, but it’s the important part. I DJ and I take flights. Thank you, sir. That’s my life.
Has the recent shows exceeded your expectations?
So far I’ve done two gigs, and until now everything has been great. I am slowing down a bit to play old, old Crookers stuff and I’m playing more of the new album. It’s not even out yet in the U.S. and people already really know the songs.
What do you enjoy most about coming to San Francisco?
First, it’s a sick city. Second, it’s a sick city. Third, it’s a super sick city.
I always go to Delfina. That’s the best pizza outside of Italy I’ve ever had. The only bad part is that they don’t take reservations. You end being drunk at the end because every five minutes you drink a beer. When it’s time to eat pizza, you’re full of beer, but the pizza is really good.
Also, I really respect that shine San Francisco has right now because of the Dirtybird crew, and the people from there. I love the music they’re putting out on that label. I used to buy Dirtybird vinyls in 2002 or 2001. I don’t remember the exact year, but it was more than 10 years ago. Vinyls! So good!
What new techniques did you use on the new album, Sixteen Chapel?
After Dr. Gonzo, this is the first album I can say I did alone. It still has the same randomness in the production technique—the same weird way to approach the editing of the songs.
Everything started with the new album because moving from one house to another, I found a hard drive from 2003, when I was clever enough to save my stuff on hard drives. I spent a couple of nights listening to mp3s on that hard drive. There were some really crazy ideas—like 20 or 30 second loops, drums—and I loved it. I started dragging all these loops into the sequencer and starting making songs.
I didn’t want to do an EDM album or something like electronic dance that sounds so clean. I wanted to do something that sounds really dirty, not clean, not perfect, with human errors inside. Making a perfect EDM record takes like 15 minutes, so where’s the fun?
At some point, the old people know how to produce a record. Any 13 or 12 year old with a computer can produce better than me. So it’s about style, and with style you have to know music.
What’s the best thing about being part of the Dim Mak family?
We were talking about the record with a lot of labels. Dim Mak is the one that made me feel more comfortably on giving them the whole album in the U.S.
It looked like they really wanted to work the album. They didn’t want the record like people want the pussy of your girlfriend. They really wanted to work the record. Others wanted it just because of the hype.
We were in LA for three days with my manager going around to different meetings. The guys from Dim Mak were the only ones following me for three days and waiting outside of each office saying they really want the record. You could really see they were really passionate about the record.
You can talk about your record with a major label, they can give you a shit ton of money and you can see your record never come out. It’s better to go with people clearly loving the record that you did. They want to put their passion and their force behind it and go ahead with that mood of working on something, which is great.
Crookers performs at Temple on March 28. More info.