Mark Farina has been voted in the "Top DJ's in the World" by BPM, DJ and MUZIK magazines. He consistently tours year round playing to over 300,000 club goers a year. He is known around the globe for performing his two legendary DJ styles: hip-hop mixed with jazzy soul known as "mushroom jazz" (featured on his Mushroom Jazz series) and funky Chicago style house found on his San Francisco Session compilations and Connect.
On October 7th, on OM Records he will debut his first album of all original material, called, Air Farina. Air Farina is designed with a transcontinental flight concept and incorporates a variety of travel themes into Mark's productions. Mark spoke with us about his upcoming CD just prior to leaving for his next transcontinental adventure.
Jen Katz: Are you familiar with JamBase?
Mark Farina: Yeah, a little bit. I've checked it out a couple times.
Jen Katz: Is it surprising for you to be interviewed by a Jamband focused source?
Mark Farina: A little bit. It's still music. It's cool that there's interest in other genres. It's cool to cross over to other listeners that might not be so familiar with the electronica side of things.
Jen Katz: Given our audience can you give us some background about where and how you got started as a DJ?
Mark Farina: I started in Chicago in the mid '80s. That's where I grew up – born and raised in Chicago. I was into Wax Trax as an early teenager. I was into a lot of bands of the record store I used to frequent growing up – Ministry, Front 242... a lot of that industrial stuff, around '84 thereabouts. Being in Chicago at that time there was a lot of DJ culture going on already (in the mid '80s) and then eventually got into Detroit techno and early Chicago acid tracks were kind of my bridge from industrial music into house and such.
Did you see yourself going into the music industry as a child and while growing up?
No, not really. I didn't really have a plan of that. My parents were always waiting for me to get a real job. I was still a sophomore in high school when I was playing and started to have club gigs when I was a junior. I was even playing 21 and over clubs when I was underage. I didn't really see it as a career. Even a lot of the DJ's you would hear on the radio weren't that old as well. It was still a young thing then – we never foresaw how far it would go.
You have two distinct playing styles – your mushroom jazz and house style. Can you describe the two for us?
One style is my older style – Chicago, SF deep dubby, underground house. The other side is a mushroom jazz style which is similar to an acid jazz feel, lower tempo. The main difference between the two is house is generally in the 120 beats per minute range and the mushroom jazz I play tends to be closer to 100 BPM, anywhere from 95-105 BPM, kind of a hip-hop, jazzy combo. It's mixed into a housey flowing style as opposed to a lot of scratching.
That style started from a B room and a series of tapes. Back in the day, I used to make a lot of tapes - sort of like a chill out tape - which eventually turned into a club. That was in Chicago and then I started playing a B room in Chicago that has a lot of couches. This was around '88 or so, '89, '90 – playing a lot of UK stuff, acid jazzy stuff coming out at the time, like Young Disciples, early Soul II Soul, De La Soul, Tribe called Quest, that style of hip-hop. When I moved to SF, Chicago was always predominately people just dancing to house music, but SF people would dance to varying tempos so it turned into a dance night, it went on for seven years on Mondays. It would be 500-700 people on Monday night dancing until 4 AM.
You have a new CD coming on October 7th on OM records called, Air Farina. Tell me about it.
It's my first full-length CD. A lot of house people tend to get sidetracked doing re-mixes which is sometimes hard to follow if you're not in the mix of things because there is always someone remixing something. So, I decided to do this album with what is sort of an airline-ish feel to sort of bring a little bit of the humor and fun back into flying. It goes back to my early interest in airlines as a kid. I grew up by O'Hare airport in Chicago and we used to go watch the airplanes. I love the weather channel as well.
I love the retro feel of airlines, too – like Catch Me If You Can style. Back when airlines were a little more glamorous. And also the concept of taking over the airwaves on the airplane and my own airline. There might be a couple of European airlines, maybe British Airways, that may have good music on there, occasionally. But I find at least on the electronica end American Airlines doesn't always have a wide variety. I always end up listening to the banter of the pilots on the channel they make available.
Listening to the new CD I was trying to figure out where it fit in with your musical style. It seems to be a real merging of both of your styles. What do you think? Do you agree?
Yeah, I tried to mix it up and include different tempos. I almost could have added more mushroom jazz tracks and always want to throw in more after the fact. I just wanted to show some different tempos and not have it be a straightforward house album. And I also ended up mixing it together, as you noticed. I also decided that sometimes in an electronica format there are bits of songs that are made for just DJ's and sometimes your average person doesn't really have a use for long intros that are made for mixing tools. So, that came after the fact, the concept of mixing it together. It was a post production realization and I was also hoping it would give it some continuity and sort of a clubby set mix.
It is like listening to a straight set.
Yeah, I thought that might be interesting to try. I've had other full length house CD's and a lot of them have songs that end and start and stop... Like an eight minute track. It's cool for club people, like DJ's, a lot of it's made to be user-friendly mixing tools. I thought the continuity thing would be a little bit different. Hopefully it will expose people to electronic style music that don't go out to clubs at midnight. Trying to access day people to good electronic music, too.
How do you handle the 8-12 hour sets, playing well into the next day?
I think it's fun. I used to be in a cover band in high school and always found it hard as a band trying to make the same songs interesting, which I would assume is a problem with bands that tour all the time. Even though I love my tracks I would think that playing them every night I would have to be doing something to make it fresh which is something I love about DJing — I can play whatever I want. The range is so open as long as you structure things to a dance format but that leaves a lot of variables – you can throw anything at any tempo, do an on-the-spot remix, some old tracks. Like today I was looping some Steely Dan stuff off an album making a house dub with one of the tracks – it's just so open. You can play whatever.
Do you create a setlist before you play?
No, I am more of a freestyler. I usually don't even know what I am going to play until I hear what I am left with. I usually don't start with any dramatic intro unless I am coming out of a dead air space for some reason, maybe after a band or sometimes some DJ's have a set ending. But, generally, I just start mixing out of the genre from the other DJ.
I imagine you have to adjust your playing style according to your audience?
There are always tons of variables – sound system, time of night, geographic location. If I am playing in some city where I've played more than others I might know there are certain tendencies that a certain region might be more into than another or a little tempo difference that I can jump into. Some areas like things a little faster – like when I go back to Chicago, some of the same songs I play here they play a little faster there just because its their style.
Can you give me your take on the SF house scene?
SF is pretty vibrant if you're 21 and up. In the U.S. if you're under 21 it leaves you out of a lot of music options in terms of DJing events nowadays. The days of all age events are fewer in numbers than they used to be. I found SF is more of a smaller bar feel town with DJ's in bar type venues. But you can go hear different genres on any given night – there's still a good deep house scene, lots of big local DJ's, Miguel Migs, Joshua – goes by the name DJ IZ, Kaskade (On OM), various other crews of house people that do nights as well. There's still a popular turntablist crew in the Bay Area that do nights at different places where they'll do all classic nights where they're playing 45's. There's hip-hop nights as well, there's more techie-progressive house nights. There's the whole gay club scene as well that's kind of separate. The gay house scene in SF has been around longer than the regular house scene.
Tell me about the role of corporate involvement in the electronic music scene.
It doesn't seem as connection based as rock and roll. Some of the smaller cities can only pull in bigger things with corporate sponsors. In Canada they'll do Benson and Hedges sponsorship and Smirnoff for some of the bigger club parties. Before the rave system was abolished you could do a party and have longer hours in a bigger venue and afford multiple DJ's. But nowadays you can't get a lot of the bigger venues in some places so you need sponsorship to afford some of the bigger names. The nice thing about going to hear a DJ, you usually don't have service charges for tickets.
How much are basic concerts nowadays?
Depends on the band. For a big name, with service charges you can easily pay around $40-$45. For even a big name DJ, $15-20 is probably what you'd pay at the most. There are still some bigger produced shows. But of course, if a show is sold out you have security guards saying, "Ill get you in for 50 bucks."
What are you listening to now?
Derrick Carter's new 12" on Classic Promo, Square Dancing in a Round House. Derrick Carter's triple album is coming out called, Nearest Hits and Greatest Misses, which is all his unreleased remixes, which is good. There's a new Fred Everything called, For Your Pleasure on 20/20 Vision. I'm lucky because I get promo CD's from labels of all their fall releases. These guys Slater Hogan and John Weiner from Chicago, up and coming producers that I like that have this Chicago swing style of house, like Al Capone gangster house, cotton club, vaudeville style deep house very swingy, old mobster, roaring 20s sounding house – swing piano samples, Louis Armstrong type vocals.
What are your plans for the future?
I am working on a couple more remixes... trying to get involved in some video game type stuff. I was going to do stuff for the 13 games but I was working on my album. I am interested in video games. Possible soundtracks... music for strange commercials.
You have a big tour coming up. Is that still fun? Or is it work?
Its fun. Ibiza is a strange place. It's interesting... its own unique thing. It's so far and they always notoriously lose your luggage — it happens 80% of the time, I think. I am trying to pack my records to carry them on this time. Last time I went my stuff was gone until ten minutes before my set and I got there three days before. But then I go to Portugal – Portugal's great. They party really late out there, like Montreal... things don't start till like, 3 AM.
Where else do you love to play?
Portugal. I haven't played there in a while. I love Tokyo – it's amazing. The Japanese culture and their clubs are great. Montreal is great. There are some really top-notch clubs. I still find SF to be lacking on the little bit bigger, like over 800 person style, like CLUB, that's on a global standard like Fabric in London which is really nice. This place Stereo in Montreal and Aria both are two really nice places that will stay open to 11 AM the next day. Long 8 hour sets, play until people leave—which is good and bad sometimes. You try to stop and they're like, "more, more."
Thank you, Mark. Good luck with the new album.
Interviewed by: Jen Katz
JamBase | San Francisco
Go See Live Music!
Catch Mark Farina on tour in support of Air Farina starting with a very special Record Release Boat Party in San Francisco on Sunday October 5th. The Bay Area's premier yacht The San Francisco Spirit will tour the bay as Mark Farina, DJ IZ, Triple Threat DJ's Apollo and Vinroc as well as J Boogie and People Under the Stairs keep the party movin'. Tickets available here.
Air Farina Tour Dates:
10.03 | Minc | Dallas, TX
10.05 | OM Records / Air Farina Record Release Boat Party | San Francisco, CA
10.09 | The Avalon | Los Angeles, CA
10.10 | Club Ohm | Portland, OR
10.11 | Chop Suey | Seattle, WA
10.16 | Necto | Ann Arbor, MI
10.17 | Zentra | Chicago, IL
10.18 | Escape Ultra Lounge | Minneapolis, MN
10.24 | Avalon Nightclub | New York, NY
10.25 | Cresent Room | Atlanta, GA
10.29 | Paramount Theater | Santa Fe, NM
10.30 | Boulder Theater | Boulder, CO
10.31| The Abbey | San Diego, CA
Make sure to check www.om-records.com for the upcoming Canadian and European Dates.
Stream Air Farina on JamBaseRhapsody! (subscription & software required)