If this magazine has made it into your House Music-loving hands, an introduction to Mark Farina is probably unnecessary. From the creation of the Mushroom Jazz series to winding up on Top DJs of the World lists by URB, MUZIK and BPM, Farina has risen as one of the most recognizable names in American House Music.
But you knew all that. So we’ll skip the intros that usually refer to him being a “traveling minstrel,” or describe his music as “chunky-funky” and just jump into the questions that usually fall to the wayside. From his part-time relocation to LA, choice of production tools, thoughts on Serato and his philosophy of the revolving evolutionary scale, we invite you to get to know the famed Farina on a deeper note.
It seems as though there are a lot of musicians moving to LA right now and I read that you actually have made it a second home as of late. What’s happening out there?
Ya, LA has been a second home for the past year. There is a really big club scene – bigger than most places in the States. It’s a city where you can play for different promoters and no one has any beefs with it. For producers, you have access to doing music for film, TV, video games and other media based projects. Plus people can live there and you don’t really know they live there. Usually they just assume you’re visiting, so it’s a discreet town in a way.
There’s also a big rave scene that doesn’t seem to exist in other US towns from what I can tell. When you leave a party, you’ll have 12 flyers on your car window. Of course it’s not as big as it was around Y2K, but it doesn’t seem like the rave scene actually ever went away.
What are your primary tools for production?
I’m old fashioned, you could say. I haven’t fully incorporated the bridge, whereas Derrick Carter – he’s fully incorporated into the digital world. I use the MPC 4000, Jomox drum machines, MP7, midi up 3 or 4 units together, I record to DAT and I use Logic or Peak for editing. I like old style drum machines that incorporate new technology through compressors and effects.
My label, Great Lakes Audio, is going digital in February with my EP, Geograffiti. And I’ve been working with Gene Farris lately on remixes, some of which will be out on his label, Farris Wheel Recordings.
I remember you being one of the first big names to switch to CDJs in your travels. Why haven’t you picked up on using your laptop?
I don’t like looking at a laptop and DJing. I never put the two together and it never excited me. Unless it’s a situation like back in the day when you would play all night from like 9pm to 4am, you don’t need your entire music collection wherever you go. I don’t want to clutter my brain with my whole catalog. Plus I don’t like the glow of the screen in a club, your head being tucked away and I never felt comfortable with bringing a laptop to such a rowdy place as a club. In fact, someone gave me Serato and I just ended up giving it to my friend – like, I’m not going to use this. I think CDs sound better than Serato or Traktor.
I prefer WAVs if I can get them. Most digital services that exist only put out MP3s, but the stuff sent from artists is usually WAVs. Usually though it’s not gonna matter because there isn’t enough nuance in the venue’s sound system in the more bar’ish places. I still find a lot of the sound discrepancies have to do with a DJ’s EQ’ing. But places like Yellow in Tokyo, Fabric in London and Stereo in Montreal – the sound is always spot on and those WAVs shine through.
Do you think vinyl will ever make a big comeback?
I don’t know. It has its niche. There’s so much stuff these days that you can’t get on vinyl but aesthetically it will always hold its place in the clubs. Pulling out records always looks the best. I’ve seen people play classics on a computer and it’s definitely not as exciting. And it’s amazing that after all this time, some people still don’t know how to set up decks properly.
Do you buy music anymore?
I do. Stompy is the site I get the most on. You never know when promos are going to be released so I like to see what’s out and what other people are playing. I still buy records from Juno, though. I get a lot of Japanese acid jazz/hip hop stuff on vinyl and then I just record and convert to digital. The way I see it, I carried records around for ten years – I served my vinyl duty.
What’s your process for acquiring and organizing the massive amounts of music you go through?
Since people don’t have to release through labels anymore, there’s a bulk load of music out there, so I’m always searching. I get a couple promos a day in my inbox, so I burn music everyday. Organizing digitally takes extra leg work to discern from other tunes. With records you just see the color or design and remember as opposed to looking at a bunch of names on j-card sheets. I use iTunes to burn and print the playlist. I put seven songs on each disc and name them geographically based upon wherever I’ll be traveling to that week. It gives me a trigger to remember exactly when I made the disc and a reference point to what new music I’ve acquired since I’ve been in that city. I like to know what I played in a certain city the last time I was there so I don’t overlap.
Can you describe how your music selection in your sets has changed over the years?
One thing I didn’t have ten years ago was the amount of House classics. I wasn’t into playing out disco or funk classics, so after 20 years of House history, there’s a lot to choose from. I’ve always been into getting new stuff since the Gramaphone days. I’d vulture around the new shipment, knowing there’s only going to be three copies of that imprint, and try to nab one. I still have that same mentality – what new goodies can I bust out tonight?
Being booked the world over, in your opinion, what do you think it is about your music that people dig so much?
You can have all the greatest tunes but if you can’t put them together, you’re at a loss. I feel I have a knack for layering, EQ’ing and rocking parties and being spontaneous. I can remember going to hear Frankie back in the day and people would be so amped to go and ready to be rocked – as opposed to just “being out”. I try to shoot for that same sort of thing: when people come out to a Farina show, they’ve got their dancing shoes on and ready to go.
Do you have any predictions for the direction of House Music in the future?
I feel lucky coming from the Chicago House background because there’s lots of sub-genres in there that always cycle back through. It’s like a revolving evolution scale – no matter the cycle, I think it always comes back to House.
For example, Australia was big into House before it transitioned into electro and now it’s back. Same thing with Germany going techy and now back to House. The Chicago perspective of House encompasses them all. Sometimes the title that people give it will change – “I don’t like House” – but they just call it something else.
I see a lot more people performing live with Ableton and blurring the lines between mixing and live performance. But I wish there were more House bands. I hope the live element will make a comeback.
Do you see new people getting into House Music or is it an aging demographic?
It changes from city to city. For most of the parties, it’s based on the promoter. In America, I find sometimes that club life over 21 is a hindrance. I’m concerned about the younger kids getting their House on. In Europe and Canada, you don’t have those problems. In LA, there is still a rave scene. And my last gig in Denver was a 16 and up affair, although it didn’t seem overtly young – mostly in their mid-20s.
Thoughts on WMC?
I still like going as long as the clubs stay nice. Sometimes the demise of WMC is the overuse of a venue’s sound system and artists’ lack of control. You always have to deal with angry security guards. But Florida needs to be Housed as much as possible. There’s not much of a House scene – it’s either hip hop or techno, progressive or electro. Ultimately I still like seeing all the different people in one week and chatting with friends and other DJs you might only see once or twice a year.
Mark Farina was interviewed by Brent Crampton