The Arrival: Crookers

Phra on mixing hip-hop and house together, Skrilly and not giving a what.

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Jun 14 2013, 2:00am

This is a series of interviews with our favorite electronic music artists, celebrating the Arrival of THUMP and made possible by the new Heineken Star Bottle. In this edition: Crookers. For more Arrivals, check here.

Back in 2003, two DJs with ridiculous nicknames ("Phra" and "Bot") got together over their love of hip-hop and house music—and their desire to make glitchy, "crooked" tracks that fused elements of both styles. Those DJs became Crookers. And Crookers remixed Kid Cudi's "Day 'N' Night," kicking it up ten notches by adding their signature kick-in-the-face basslines. And then…well, you know the rest. A deal with Interscope, a soundtrack for Grand Theft Auto, festivals with tens of thousands of fans screaming the lyrics of their hits. Typical celebrity DJ stuff.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Bot left the group in October 2012. "Exploring different directions" was the ambiguous excuse posted on their website. Neither really explained what happened. In any case, Phra soldiered on under the Crookers name, and has released a few singles on his own record label, Ciao Records, as well as a tongue-in-cheek track called "Ghetto Guetta" (no points for guessing who that's referring to), coming up on his buddy Skrillex's OWSLA label.

Whether it's two baseball hats bobbing behind the decks or just one, Crookers can be thanked for meshing together hip-hop and electro, bringing the two worlds together to the state of BFF-ness they occupy now. We talked to Phra about his "no speak English" early days, whether he has beef with David Guetta and Crookers will sound like now that he's riding solo.

THUMP: What kind of a community were you in when you were first starting out—before your first big release in 2007, the Funk Mundial #3 EP?
Crookers: At that time I was "living" between my old rap friends and some new guy who was really into house music. That's why I started to listen to some Todd Terry. I was inspired to mix the two different styles of rap and house together.

After you started experimenting with that "hybrid" style, at what point did you notice that things were going in the right direction?
It was 100% when the Chemical Brothers asked to remix their single "Salmon Dance." Actually, not just when they asked, but when they chose my version, the WOW mix. I worked so hard on that remix and have around 12 versions in my computer.

Your EPs Mad Kidz and Knobbers really put you on the map. Both of those were released by Southern Fried Records. How'd you get hooked up with them and label boss Norman Cook?
I actually don't remember how exactly. It was a management thing. At that time, I was a 200% "no speak English" guy, so I always needed someone to be in the middle between me and other people.

Tell me how your biggest hit, the remix of "Day 'N' Night," changed your life.
It showed me that sometimes the biggest hit of your life can come out of an "accident"... which is pretty f^%& amazing!

I know the Italian electro scene is pretty tight, but are there certain people who have been most influential to you?
I've always respected DJ Ralf. He taught me to always play one wrong song in the middle of a set, and not give a f%$^ about the reaction of the crowd.

What was your arrival at the top of the electro scene like? You were kind of the king of that sound back in its glory days, around 2008.
I think at that time was everything was "new" and "exciting." There was a community of producers, and a lot of competition between us to see who was going to make the best track with the best style in it. I'm really happy that I arrived during that particular period because it was the best boost for me to have my own sound and credibility.

Why did you also decide to put your upcoming single, "Ghetto Guetta," on Skrillex's label OWSLA, instead of your own? And are you making fun of David Guetta with that title?
I played a few parties with Skrillex and I always played the rough version of "Ghetto Guetta." He loved it and I was really happy about doing a release on OWSLA. I think it's the right home for that track and for the B-side ("Heavy"). And about the title, it's nothing against David Guetta. It's just a funny "word game." When you listen to it, you'll understand!

Where are you going to take the "Crookers sound" in the next few years, now that you're a one-man-act and have total control over its direction?
I'm producing a lot of new stuff and, as usual, I don't have a clear idea of where I'm going musically. In the last ten years the guide for my sound has always been "randomness"… the only thing I know is that I'm doing more and more music that reminds me of that old "Crookers style"—fat, dirty, weird sometimes… I'm bringing more and more of that back into my DJ sets and studio.

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