Interview: Mark Farina
As one of the most ubiquitous DJs in Dance Music, Mark Farina is known for both his unique style of mixing Jazz, Downtempo and House Music as well as being the creator of Mushroom Jazz: West Coast jazzy, organic productions combined with East Coast Hip-Hop, Urban beats.
Drawing from his vibrant youth, Mark found his passion for the luscious world of vinyl, turntables and nightclubs. At 16, he began his career at Chicago’s Medusa’s while joining forces with emerging DJs Derrick Carter and Chris Nazuka.
Farina relocated to San Francisco in 1992 where, in 3 short years, he established a fanatical, cult-like following for his Mushroom Jazz sound. In 1996, OM Records released the first mixed comp CD of the concept, simply titled, “Mushroom Jazz”. Since then, Mark has released multiple volumes of of the compilation.
Now, Farina takes to the Los Angeles side of things for a special Minimal Effort Halloween performance tomorrow. Anticipating the gig, we caught up with the West Coast legend.
“It was just $5 at the door with a keg and House Music ’till the cops came”
Mushroom Jazz series has a distinct atmosphere, especially on a psychedelic aspect. I’ve noticed a surge in psychedelic dance music, particularly coming from the west coast as of late. I know mushroom jazz still is different than say desert hearts but what does this rise of psychedelia inspired news say about threads in the current scene?
I mean, I would say it’s an ongoing theme in music that kind of started in the 60s, especially in the Bay Area; the sort of connection between psychedelica and music, you know has gone on, maybe in different genres more than others. The modern Burning Man vibe kind of encompasses the meeting of that sort of psychedelic exploration in music and it’s only natural that that continues and even when you know I was going up, we would do House stuff as well, obviously big house head since day one and I started going to dead, late 80s, 87, 88. We weren’t necessarily big dead fans; we were electronic music people strongly at the time. But just that atmosphere that was going on back then, the openness of it was great for the arts and sharing things and just creating a nice side that didn’t exist and other genres of music are clubbing, the same vibe was going on at rock shows and punk shows so there was always a certain feeling going on at a dead show, in terms of just kindness and things like that, that we gravitated to. We just like different music so we just sort of hang out at the dead show and then we’d go to our car and listen to our house mix tapes and find those little treats we had been searching for. And that’s an ongoing theme for those kids and older people alike. Mushroom jazz kind of stemmed from that exploration of that time and that was something I was interested in early on. We would do research about creating a nice environment to explore, if that makes sense. Now I think with burning with that whole culture but not just burning man but all those kind of festivals that have that vibe and incorporates yoga, eating well, exploring your own mind, and connecting with people in different ways than you know just dancing with them. I think there’s a theme that goes on at some of these festivals that there’s a bit more. For a while that even some of rave culture had that for a little bit and for a while there wasn’t a lot of festivals that existed like that and now I’m seeing an up-surgance of events that have that mentality of self-journeying and exploration and sharing and getting that community concept.
Makes sense, it’s funny cuz when we talk to a lot of festival producers they talk about creating these ‘containers for exploration’ you know? And I think a lot of what you said speaks to that. Creating these environments, creating these vibes for people to explore in psychedelic ways and beyond.
Yeah, starting like a scene you can give people these ingredients where they can explore their own adventures at their own pace. That’s the thing we’ve been pursuing with the Mushroom Jazz series, that you don’t really want to tell people how to explore, you just want to set a little stage, for people start their own exploration. Even with burning man and those festivals, even with visuals, and even setting a more stage like presence like a theatre, and that type of thing — giving more ingredients — that’s kind of a launch pad for self-exploration
Another of aspect of your music that I’ve always enjoyed is the integration of hip-hop influences. Obviously many come from the classic era of hip hop like A tribe called quest, guru, and the likes, but I’m wondering who are some contemporary hip hop artists that work well in your music // sets?
Hm, that’s always a good question. I still find all my still favorite influences and I tend to go back and find stuff that I didn’t discover so much at the time. I mean I get asked that question a lot, what kind of hip hop are you into? And I feel bad; just tend not to like a lot of newer stuff. I mean like the older guys when they do some new stuff and I mean the newer generation that is almost kind of getting old now like people under the stairs and Jurassic 5 and a couple groups that came later on passed that sort of early 90s hip hop boom. But when I’m searching for hip hop samples to add to stuff I still go back to like Erik B and Rakim and that era I find more of what I like than the new hip hop really. I was working at a record store back in that period, I still like the sampled based hip-hop style. I used to buy more records than I needed luckily, I was selling mix tapes and I had a credit at the record store. I was playing way back when I was DJing like 2 full nights a week, like downtempo, where I would play from like 9 pm to 4 am, so I used to go and buy stuff just for one instrumental and now I’ll go back and discover the vocal a lot of time. I used to buy a record just for one instrumental that we really liked like a 3-minute instrumental that maybe I wouldn’t listen to the vocal. I just bought a lot of stuff back then like there’s old stuff to rediscover that I never quite had the time to fully get into. There used be so many obscure hip hop 12”s and that seems, at least in my circles, never got super popular —sort of went off the radar.
I kept all my records from the 90s because I’ve been fortunate enough to have room to keep it all. I tend to go back and search for things like house and hip-house from the late 80s early 90s in Chicago that combined with NY hip hop or like funk mixed with house.
With the new stuff, whenever someone is like go check out this new group and a lot of the time I’m like eehhhh I don’t know if I like this. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad, I just tend to go back in listen to the old stuff.
People tend to bug me about what new hip hop artists I like and I’m always short to come up with artists because I just like a lot of the old stuff.
I just don’t dig the new stuff as much because when you take the vocals out, it sounds like these really programm-y beats. Some of the funk is lost in it to me.
Sound has changed so much too.
Next one is about San Francisco and Bay Area. How do you find the scene in SF these days, is it thriving, or has it plateaued? How does the dynamic of the tech boom and subsequent housing cost affect the creative community?
San Francisco always has something going on, I’ve found. Sometimes on any given Friday or Saturday and find 3 maybe 4 quality guest DJs, you know like good people in town. Like Green Velvet one night and then someone from Europe and then Ralph Lawson, or I dont know….There’s always a variety of stuff going on.
Sometimes there could be good and bad. Sometimes I worry there’s too much going on in a given night. And you can spread out a crowd too much, if there’s a lot of options, but you know, it’s always been healthy and there’s a lot of clubs — its never been an issue in SF. Also the local talent is always really good. There are some local guys that just sometimes the local talent gets overlooked when there’s a great guests coming through somewhere.
I mean, it’s always been a strong scene though. I have found though since things have gotten so expensive in SF that it has pushed out a lot of up and coming DJs and other types of artists to places like Oakland and other parts of the Bay Area, that make it harder to explore SF. you know and part of the boom and moving there in the 92 – 94 range, not only were there just young DJs coming up, there were just people that would go out to clubs too. That you know not everybody is lucky enough to have a great paying job all the time and it doesn’t matter at the club if you just love music and want to get down so and maybe I find that can affect some of the scenes too sometimes. You know where the cost of living gets so high that it starts to exclude people from living in the city. There’s a lot of people I know that had to move North to Sonoma and Marin counties where there’s a lot of old House people that lived in SF in the 90s and moved off too. So I do find that effect of the affordable housing can really influence scene where there’s a lot of great young artists that can’t afford a $2000/mo. studio apt. I find that eventually crosses over to rock bands and all others genres of music. If musicians can’t afford to live in the city overtime it changes the scene eventually. We’ll see how it plays out, I have noticed that its obviously not just music that is effected but all types of people that go out. That’s kind of what pushed me out of the Bay Area a little bit that just across living is getting more expensive like gas and groceries and things have just gotten pricier over the years.
So like I said when you’re dealing with anything artistic the housing market has an effect on scene overtime.
This one is kind of about the SF Stuff. If you could bring back one thing to classic coast rave to SF what would it be?
One of the great things was the wicked full moon parties that can obviously never exist again. It was a great party that everybody would look forward to those. This was before there was cell phones and Internet and tools of technology that exist now that wouldn’t make it the same. It was just something You had to call a voicemail line on the day of to get the location of the party and sometimes they still wouldn’t even release the location till it got dark like 8, 9, 10 pm. And even being in the know, and knowing those guys, I still wouldn’t know the location of the party till night and it made it an adventure. Like you know you’re going somewhere that night but you don’t know where it’s going to be and then you like
At the last of the few full moon parties it just got too big for its own britches. You don’t want to bring out too many people or it would become a logistical problem. If its something too big you’d have to start dealing with the legality of things and that changes things and something like that especially with cell phones. People just being there and enjoying the moment as oppose to taking pictures and enjoying it later and share. It’s a different feeling when everybody is just there, being there in the present moment. Its a concept that went along with those full moon parties because even if its hard to find pictures of the full moon parties. And in my circle of friends, I had a camera more than other friends. Get it developed at Walgreens or whatever. A lot of my friends didn’t have cameras. It was just a different culture where pictures didn’t exist like they do today. So even in terms of filming, you had to go to the big video tape recorder store and there wasn’t a lot of pre digital recorders so there just wasn’t a lot of footage of the full moon parties.
It was a definitely a good vibe that I missed; kind of just that whole period in San Francisco 91 – 95. it was just a crazy scene and a lot was going on. I wish I could time warp to one of those nights. Guys like Derrick Carter, GeItni, Spencer Kinsey, we used to do loft parties back then. It was just be $5 at the door and a keg and house music till the cops came. It’s definitely an era that existed back then that you can’t reproduce because technology and things have changed. I definitely do miss that pre-cell phone era. Obviously technology has its advantages but there are some disadvantages that have come with being in touch with everything all the time; connected to everything constantly. It was nice just being there and not worrying about being somewhere else or recording to watch it later or post.