The Italian purveyors of fine bass music played a pivotal role in bringing club music and hip-hop together. Now you know who to blame.
If you’ve kept even one ear trained on the dance music scene lately, chances are you are extremely familiar with Italian DJ duo Crookers. Members Bot and Phra have been remixing tracks for everybody from Major Lazer to Lady Gaga and Miike Snow, bringing an eclectic and heavy-hitting style with elements of house, so-called “global bass” and hip-hop wherever they go.
But it wasn’t always so. Not long ago, Crookers were two unknown dudes in Milan participating in Italy’s underground hip-hop culture and dabbling in Brazilian baile funk around the time that Diplo and MIA were pushing the favela sound in 2007. Then the unlikely happened. In 2009, their wavy club remix of Kid Cudi’s “Day ‘N’ Night” – you know the one — went absolutely viral, becoming a hit with house and hip-hop heads alike and shooting Crookers to the top of the game.
Luckily for our eardrums, Crookers didn’t wind up a one-remix wonder. Since then, they’ve made a boatload of top-notch remixes and put out two albums of original productions, including a 2011 Mad Decent release called Dr. Gonzo. And as we’re about to find out, there’s plenty more in the oven.
We spoke with Bot over the phone in London, where he is residing these days, and talked about his love for hummus, his scorn for Las Vegas, and whether or not Crookers accidentally changed the sound of hip-hop forever.
Hello Bot. What is Crookers up to these days?
Well, we’ve been spending a lot of time working in the studio. We have a new EP coming out on Fool’s Gold Records in August. And we’re starting a new label. We’re going to put out an EP with three different artists every so often of young people who are cool, who we think deserve to get some attention without big PR or stuff like that. Just a label for fun to do the music we do in an easy way. And also to have a place to release people who we think are going to be big and who are doing good tracks.
So, you guys have a close connection to Mad Decent and have been around the “global bass” scene for a while now. How did you get into those sounds?
Well it started with baile funk was kind of big for us for some unknown reason in Europe in 2006 and 2007. We really loved it and got into it. It was really exciting because it felt like hip-hop in the 80s – people just doing for their parties and not worrying about world domination or getting millions of dollars – it wasn’t about that. It was just for fun, to listen to music or play at a block party next Saturday, that kind of energy.
Is there anything you are listening to nowadays that has that kind of vibe? What have you been interested in?
I recently just discovered New Orleans bounce, which has exactly the same vibe but is not super new. What I’m really into right now also is that kind of newer juke that also comes from the US. It’s an evolution of ghetto house from Chicago, and it’s really fast, like 160-170bpm. I think that’s one of the most exciting things around right now. And it feels more spontaneous because it’s a very small scene but very active and people do tracks out of passion.
You guys have always been into very eclectic stuff. You’re not one of those DJs that’s like “I spin electro-house and nothing else.”
Yeah, no our stuff is not like following a vibe and just playing the same stuff at festivals. We are in a way how it was in the ‘80s at the beginning of the house scene. People used to drop acid play all kinds of crazy music. A more eclectic DJ set like that is more fun for us. It’s the only way we can really have fun when we DJ.
Do you find there is a pressure to play a more mainstream set at certain parties? Or do the people that book you know they want to hear the Crookers sound?
We don’t have that expectation of the Las Vegas crowd that is frankly what we really don’t like about what’s going on right now. Most people are kind of just pleasing those people. You don’t have to have a big cheesy, never-ending build up and some nuclear bombs exploding to make people feel good.
What is your take on the kind of whole dubstep explosion? It’s very interesting to see how teenagers here in the US are crazy about it, in a way that never happened here before, as far as electronic music is concerned.
Yeah that is really surprising, it happened so fast. I remember we used to play dubstep during our set back in the first years when we came to the US it was a disaster; people would stop and watch you like ‘”what are you doing?” Now it’s like 2 years later and it’s the biggest thing. Probably it’s like how it was with Iron maiden in the 80s or something like that. Young people got really into and it kind of really fit the mood of the time — like very aggressive sounds, but really energetic and powerful.
I have to ask you, even though I bet every reporter who interviewed you in your life as asked: How did that “Day ‘N’ Night” Kid Cudi remix, which really put both you and Kid Cudi on the map, explode the way it did?
My only explanation is that it was perfect timing. It was right at the beginning where you could see fast hip-hop beats mixing with pop and dance sounds. If you look now at American pop that’s what you hear basically, with Niki Minaj and things like that. Everything has a straight beat, something you would never have expected before in the US. But I guess Day ‘N’ Night came when people were really ready to listen to music like that, so it was a bit of luck I guess.
Do you ever think that you are partially responsible for helping to create this kind of merger between hip- hop and dance music that we’re seeing more and more of?
I think we might have, and I’m really sad if we did because I really used to like American pop way more when it wasn’t like it. But seriously, I don’t think one person or one song that can change a whole genre. It’s like the conditions are set already to that make things happen. It just happened naturally.
“Hummus” was another big track for you. Why is the world did you name a dance track after a middle-eastern chickpea spread?
There is no very wild story about that, we just had to find a name and I was really into hummus at the time. So I proposed “Hey, why don’t we call it hummus?” And everyone seemed to like it.
And so you are not into hummus anymore?
I got a little bit overboard and so now I’m not so into it.
Without any disrespect to your great home country of Italy, I feel like the Italian music scene is famously… what’s the word…
[Laughs] Ok, yes, bad. How did you guys, who are not bad, emerge from that scene?
Well I guess it’s the internet. Italy’s music industry was a very closed system, where people tend to not really help newcomers. But on the Internet, you just do your stuff and put your stuff on MySpace, and if it’s good people will notice. Which is what happened to us actually, we tried to release stuff in Italy and it didn’t work and so we posted it on the blogs, and it gained attention pretty fast.
Do you see any signs of music getting better in Italy?
I think more things are coming, and it has gotten better really, especially the electronic world. I think it will continue to improve.
So you guys make dance music, but I keep reading that you came from the hip-hop side of things originally. Do you keep up with hip-hop today?
Definitely. In fact, on our upcoming EP there are three club tracks and the fourth track has a rapper featured on it, a guy named STS from Philadelphia who is 100% hip-hop. And also it maybe it’s not very well-known but we continue to make rap beats for people, mostly for Italian rappers that honestly no one knows about, but we do hip-hop beats all the time, we never stopped.
So tell me what are some Italian rappers we should listen too?
Speaking of hip-hop, do you prefer the old school or are you into the new, poppier sound as well? Do you get down with Drake?
Yeah I actually like Drake. I can’t talk bad about anybody to be honest. I just don’t really like when American hip-hop tries to do dance too much, I don’t think it’s produced a lot of good tunes. It seems like that want to jump on this thing but at the end they aren’t really feeling it, so what’s the point. Me, I’m more a fan of hip-hop influencing dance rather than the opposite.