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As Crookers, the Italian-born Francesco “Phra” Barbaglia travels the world playing body-moving music composed of a particular blend of house, hip-hop and quirk. He is currently in the middle of a North American tour, and his new single “I Just Can’t” was just released via Dim Mak and features vocals by in-demand R&B singer Jeremih.

Here, Barbaglia tells the story of the night he fell in love with dance music.

It seems like everyone in the dance music community can remember one transcendent night when they were won over by electronic music and nothing was the same after. Can you recall such a night? 
There was one particular moment for me that ended up being a crucial turning point in my career, retrospectively. When I was around 20 years old, I was DJing hip-hop in one of the rooms of a huge house club in Italy; it was known that I was the resident hip-hop kid. One weekend, a big house DJ scheduled to play in the main room cancelled three hours before his set, and I was asked to fill in and work the main room. I had never played house music ever before in my life—my legs were actually shaking. This was THE club that people actually came to for house music, and I was just, as I said before, the hip-hop guy playing original records I had sampled, mixed with rap, R&B and two-step.

After a bit of thought and a lot of panicking, I made the decision to mix the two genres, and people started to seriously freak out. It was major, and I was seriously buzzing after. It reaffirmed that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Sounds lame, but so true.

What did you have to do to get to that point?
Well, I had to learn to DJ first, didn’t I! That all started when I was around 11 and on one of those huge cruise ships with my parents. It was there that I first ever saw a DJ and fell in love with what he was doing and his whole presence. He was literally touching the music with his vinyls and controlling it with my his hands, making everyone dance. When I went back to my room that night, I couldn’t sleep; I made it my mission the next day to hunt him down and speak to him. When I found him, I begged him to teach me how to DJ. He wasn’t particularly welcoming at first, but I managed to get him to cave in. It was him that taught me the basics of how to use Technics, DJ mixers and match BPMs together. From there, I pretty much became a DJ and worked my way up the ranks!

What were your experiences with electronic music before that? Had you been into it? 
I had always been around electronic music; I had just never DJed it. As you can see, I was and still am a huge rap fanatic and started my DJ career as a turntablist—it’s still one of my main influences today.

What effect did that night have on you and your career?
Well, if we’re chatting about the night I had to fill in for the last-minute cancellation, it had a monumental effect on my career! A few years later, Crookers was born. The project’s sound is built on the foundation of the music I experimented with in the DJ booth that night—playing house music in a total hip-hop way.

What song sums up that night for you?
Without any doubt, Chicken Lips’ “He Not In.”

Obviously, now you’re a really well-established artist. Do you still get the same excitement when you play out as you did at the start of your career? 
I’m just super fortunate and happy that I still get to do what I do, and people still want listen to my music and come see my shows. I can’t say every show has the same excitement as the first one, as it would be an awkward thing to say politically, but let’s just say 75 percent of the time.

Anything else you want to add?
Yes. In general, being a douchebag sucks. So please, if you’re reading this and you are a douche… please, please, please change your style and start your new cool life ASAP.

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