5 Magazine welcomes Mark Farina back to Chicago this December 27 at SmartBar (Facebook page/tix here).
To warm up the room, Mark agreed to sit for our How I Play series, in which we talk to renown artists from around the world about the culture and craft of DJing.
I’ve read a lot of interviews with you over the years (and have done a few), but I don’t know if anyone’s asked if there was a person who inspired you when you were just starting to DJ.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this in an interview before, but the first DJ influence I had that helped me out in a face-to-face kind of way would be a guy named Terry Martin. This was back in the Medusa days, 1985ish. He was the first DJ to invite me into the booth to watch and observe. Medusa’s was definitely where I saw my first mixing instead of listening to it on the radio. Terry was also the first person I knew who had 1200s and let me use them outside of a club. Having access to 1200s to practice on was a crucial barrier to entry DJing back then. Terry lived down the block from me, across from the Vic. He’d let me come over any time and practice on his 1200s and getting a feel for those instruments was really important.
After Terry, my other influence of course would be Derrick Carter. And I’m sure I’ve mentioned his ass before!
How many tracks would you say you’ve listened to for the first time in the last month? This is new music, older music, everything — just stuff you haven’t heard before.
Looking at my iTunes, that would be somewhere around 200 to 250 songs this month so far, which isn’t over yet. I’d say that’s about the average. Maybe 300 tunes come in a month and I try to weed out the crap before I download stuff, so most of these are pretty damn good.
I’m sure your email address has found its way onto a bunch of promo lists. How many of those do you get per month? and how many do you actually listen to?
Yeah, I get a lot, especially after having had the same email for the last 15 years or so. I get about 300 to 400 promos a month. I try to weed out the junk before I download it. Maybe 50% of the stuff I get is quality stuff that I download.
Do you have a latest “discovery” (any music from any era), and how did you “discover” it?
Coming from what I guess you could call a “white” musical background in my school days – to this day I’m always discovering funk, soul and disco classics I wasn’t really privy when they were coming out. These were records I was either too young for or didn’t have the influences to guide me to them. Whereas with Derrick Carter, for example – he grew up with all of these old songs and they’re just in him, he was there for them. I have to re-discover stuff a little later, so there’s always some disco or funk that I missed out on or I just know from a sample. In the car I’ll listen to a lot of new tracks, but I’ll also listen to the Motown or Disco channels on SIRIUS Radio.
Actually, I also like the “’40s on 4” channel. I never listened to this prior to the last six or eight months. It’s a lot of really great songs and that big band swing era is really exciting.
How do you organize digital music? Do you use iTunes or Rekordbox?
Digitally, I organize tracks by artist, obviously, and when it’s released. I mainly use iTunes to organize music – I still haven’t gotten a good handle on Rekordbox yet. I know a lot of DJs that use Rekordbox but I just keep it simple in my iTunes.
I divide music between House vs. the Mushroom Jazz stuff that I play – and then there’s the whole Nu Disco vibe between the two, or “Mid-Tempo” as I call it. I have one big file called my “Recently Added” and from there I break everything down by USB and then by groups or labels. On the USB, everything is just divided by group and then with a date after it, because when you figure it, most artists only release one thing a month. And if I’m playing some classics I’ll make up a file for that on the spot, or one for disco edits or anything like that.
How often do you buy music online? From where?
I usually buy music every week from one site or another. My top sites would be Juno first, Stompy and Traxsource probably about the same and then Beatport. I’m fortunate in the Jackin’ and underground House I get as promos sent to me from people and labels so I’ll go on Traxsource and Stompy to see if I missed anything.
Juno I find is great for all the disco-y stuff, music from a lot of the UK guys and music that’s just a little more “off-kilter” from straight Jackin’ House. I’m always looking on SoundCloud too to find any bootlegs or limited free downloads from artists I like.
What headphones do you use for DJing? and what about for just personal listening?
For DJing I primarily use Pioneer HDJ-2000s. Those are my favorite for the club. They sound good and they’re flexible and strong. For travel, I tend to lean toward in-ear buds because I’m wearing headphones so many other times. I like the Amps by Sol Republic. My other ones I’ll use are the Master Track headphones from Sol Republic when I want to get down and listen to some bumpin’ stuff or when I’m working on a track on the plane.
I don’t know if you have a rider for clubs you play for, but what would be your absolute ideal/dream gear set-up at an out of town club?
Probably as close to the one I have at home as possible, really. Mixer-wise I like the Pioneer DJM-2000, I also like the Rane 2016, the two piece Rane, or the Allen & Heath:92. Of course, sometimes different mixers sound better in different environments.
The other thing I have at home that I really love is the Dope Real 3 Band crossover isolator, which is the one element missing in most clubs. I wish a lot more had them. Some clubs in Japan and a lot of European clubs have that 3 band crossover standard, but most places in America don’t have them. Some New York places do, I’m not sure if any place in Chicago has them in stock. I know Louie Vega travels with like three of those things wherever he goes! That’s one thing I miss live, but I like my unit too much to bring it on the road with me. So I guess I’d have to buy another one to carry around. But I also don’t like going early to a club and setting up audio gear too much. I like the stuff to be there and set up before I get there.
CDJ-wise, I like 3 CDJ2000s linked and optional would be a turntable or two. If the club knows how to set up properly for vinyl, one turntable is really nice to have to throw on various classic bits.
This question is a bit beyond technical talk, but I really would be interested to hear your opinion on it. Do you feel the state of DJing is better, worse, or more or less the same as it’s ever been? Is there anything that’s been lost, and is this mitigated by something we’ve gained?
So many things have changed over the years. Of course I think anybody who was around back in the record store days would miss certain elements for sure. There was a certain community. There was limited amount of records that were available at any given time. So Gramaphone, for instance, would have ten copies of a record come in on a Thursday or Friday and you’d personally know all ten people that had them and that was it. There would be Spencer Kincy (Gemini), Derrick Carter, DJ Heather, Diz, J-Dub – all these guys you’d be competing with for the same music. It would push you to mix those tracks in a different way because you knew someone you were playing with had them too. You had to play them differently, play dubs, play different versions. Now, you could be playing with a house person at a party and they might have a whole different selection. Today you have 25+ years of House to tap into, too. There are a lot more choices.
As far as mixing, there was just records. That was it. Maybe you’d bust something out off a pitch cassette if you were feeling like you wanted to drop that special cut that no one had. Now there’s more than one way to play at a club. There’s Traktor, live Ableton sets and all of these other options, so the lines sort of get blurred on what “DJing” is, you know? Whether it’s all good or bad, that’s a whole ’nother debate to have.
One thing I would say about digital music – when vinyl was big, geographically a lot of areas were excluded because they couldn’t get records or they were too expensive to ship there. I can remember DJ friends in Brazil and it was really hard for them to get records. If they could find them, they’d have to pay three times what the record cost in shipping. With digital files, the music is getting to places, kids, DJs. So it’s given an even board of play – you don’t have to be from Chicago or New York or London to get all the dope tracks these days. You can be almost anywhere in the world and get access to these tunes.
The same goes for production. In the late ‘80s or ‘90s you had to have the gear, you had to have the drum machines, you had to have a studio, you had to have a little more outboard knowledge. Now you can do everything on your laptop and it’s made making tunes more accessible than it was 20 years ago.
I guess there’s good and bad to everything, right? You take it all in and you move forward.
5 Magazine welcomes Mark Farina to SmartBar this Saturday, December 27 with Rees Urban and Czboogie. You can reach Mark via djmarkfarina.net, SoundCloud, Facebook and via dopedenproductions.com and (for booking) aptentertainment.com.