Imagine That

Mark Farina doles out some proper house at Body English

If 2012 was the year electronic dance music exploded in the U.S., 2013 is quickly shaping up to be the year that newer clubgoers will dig deeper and veterans will come out of the woodwork now that more of the underground DJs are gigging in town. One notable spinner willing to give Las Vegas another chance is Mark Farina, who’ll finally get to do his proper house thing when he commands the dance floor at Body English on January 26. The Chicago-born, San Francisco-based DJ/producer fills us in on when we’ll see his long-awaited Mushroom Jazz 8, important elements of true house music and the beauty of basslines. (Click the play button at left to hear a Farina mix.)

Las Vegas hasn’t always appreciated true house music, but it’s looking like you’ll have more freedom at Body English. Do you have a particular game plan for the night?

It’s always a great time at the Hard Rock, and playing for those guys. At the same time, I’ve always known from local house-music friends that Vegas isn’t a super house-y town. I know there’s the transient Vegas crowd, and then there’s local heads that might be more into a certain vibe. But I’m excited to play. I haven’t chosen my set. I’m just gonna do what I always do. I’ve got a ton of underground house-y goodies and I’m gonna do my San Francisco, Chicago-y, jackin’ thing I would do any other weekend.

Is there any possibility of an eight-hour set since Body English goes into Afterhours as well?

Possibly, if that’s an option. I don’t know what the length of my set time is. Doc Martin is on the bill as well—always good to play with him. I’m a DJ who prefers to play longer, so if time’s available, then I will play as long as I can. My best ideal set time is three to four hours. Anything shorter is manageable, but not preferred. If somebody says, “Play longer,” I’m down!

There are many rumors about that now-infamous Marquee Dayclub gig last summer, when you didn’t get to play (though they did give you a makeup set later in the summer). What’s the real story?

It was sad. About 15 minutes prior to set time, the club manager or whatever was like, “Do you mind if we go with our local, in-house DJ instead of you playing?” Julius [Papp] had already played, and Miguel [Migs] was about to finish. They were like, “We’re having some complaints about things being too house-y.” I’m pretty laid-back about those sorts of things. I’m not really a “No! Whatever! Fuck you!” kind of guy. There was a little tip-off earlier just with the same person saying, “Can you do some sort of mainstream vocals if you got ’em?” So it was a warning sign that triggered the concern earlier. I was more saddened for the people who made the trek to come to the house party in Vegas, because it was an all-house lineup, and there were people who came from various parts that wanted to hear all three of us together. But at the same point, I’m not gonna battle for time if that’s what they think the direction of the party is going. So I was kind of like, “Whatever, if that’s what you think is best.” So that’s that. I was happy that they attempted to try to make amends.

You’re one of those rare DJs people still vie to see live based on mixing, set construction, track selection etc., rather than a mass quantity of releases. Do you think that part of the culture—where someone can just be a really talented DJ who creates a musical journey—will disappear some day?

For a new, up-and-coming person, it would be very difficult to come up as just a DJ. Making tracks in this day and age is a strong way to get your foot in the door somewhere. I feel fortunate that I have taken the route where I have limited production release and somehow I’m still known for rocking the party and playing good sets. But, I find that is the minority. I’m still fortunate to be in sort of a category of DJs known for DJing.

Your last Mushroom Jazz compilation came out in 2010. Will we hear Mushroom Jazz 8 in 2013?

Yes, it’s in the works as we speak with Om Records, and [I’m] working on an April/May release. I also just finished Urban Coyotes, a Coyote Cuts mix, which is a house label out of Detroit. I have my Great Lakes Audio label as well and a string of releases lined up. On Soundcloud I’m always featuring mixes all the time, too. But my podcast I’ve lagged the last few months, because I have a 2-year-old son.

When he gets older do you think you will teach him how to DJ?

Yeah, I’m trying! He likes messing around with the mixer.

You do little video messages for fans sometimes. Why is that important to you?

I like to embrace technology and social media. So any chance to sort of get a little message out there can only do good. I try to meet a lot of fans out at different cities, but there are fans elsewhere who don’t get to see me. So I’m just hoping that the little message is enjoyed. I know artists I like, and I love to see and hear little messages from them.

As a DJ/producer of house music in its truest sense, do you agree with what’s been being called “house” currently in America?

I always have extensive discussions on how the “house” term is vague. I’m fortunate I came from a proper house upbringing, so to speak. There are so many subgenres and different terminology for house music and it’s deviated from its initial goal. For me, house was always a multi-genre’d sound. It can be a minimal track, a disco sample track or a vocal track. It’s kind of about the overall vibe of the tune. The feeling of house. It’s very geographical, and kids [could listen to] a certain string of DJs and think that’s what house is. I’m not gonna say if it’s wrong or right, but I definitely know what I think proper house is, and I try to keep to my guns. So it does seem to be a minority in the electronica field in terms of even when we work in the proper beats-per-minute range of whatever so-called house is, but it’s about a certain funk that needs to be a common theme throughout the music. But I find that in a lot of places—not just Vegas—it could be the right beats per minute, but it could be way off base of what the seasoned house-goer might consider proper house. That’s where people like Doc [Martin], Derrick Carter, myself, DJ Heather, Colette—we’re still keeping to our guns trying to promote what we feel is house.

What should the uninitiated listen for to know it’s legit house music they’re hearing?

Basslines are very important. A lot of times, I find that with some of the minimally electro-y stuff, the bass is very simple. I like basslines that are based on a little more soul, a hip-hop-y style of bass that has transferred into house. It doesn’t have to have a vocal, it can be dub-y. I still like hip-house, which is hip-hop combined with house. No break or drumroll.

No build and epic drop, right?

Yeah, no dramatic drops—I mean, there can be a breakdown into nothing, but it’s not about a big, repeated drumroll that’s gonna lead into some whooshing whatever. Avoid ‘whooshing’ breakdowns for proper house; nothing can ruin an attempt at a good house sound like a big, prolonged 16-bars snare drumroll that dips into triplets, then adds wind and storms and explodes. It’s more about a continuous, subtle vibe that keeps going, layering those sounds.