Mark Farina
Mushroom Jazz/hip-hop DJ Mark Farina gives us an exclusive interview on his new CD, his production secrets, and more!
By William Hernandez

WHO?MAG: Talk about your Mushroom Jazz mix CD vol. 6?
Mark Farina: It’s a continuation of the whole mushroom jazz series. If you’re familiar with the whole catalog and the previous 5 volumes, there’s a lot of local OM tunes on there and local friends of mine. There’s some J Boogie, Colossus, some underground hip-hop, and then some jazzy underground/dub chill out kind of vibe.

WHO?MAG: How do you go about choosing the songs you want for the compilation?
Mark Farina: For the down-tempo stuff you have to do a lot more searching than for House music, which is the other music I spin, which I can find a lot more tunes for that. I tend to search around, send emails to a lot of people that I know that make tunes, and hit them up for new tracks that people might have in the works. I see what I can get that’s not out there. To me, Mushroom Jazz has a certain sound to and feel to it. I’m fortunate now than in the earlier volumes that I know a lot more producers than I used to ten years ago, so I can actually call people for certain tracks I want or dubs. Also being on a label like OM, there are other artists in the family that I can hit up for stuff.

WHO?MAG: How did the whole series come about?
Mark Farina: It first started as a mixtape in the early 90’s. That transformed into a night when I came out here to San Francisco. In Chicago, where I grew up, it was just lounge music, chill out in the sofa before the club type thing. In San Francisco, there’s an acid jazz/club scene that supported that down-tempo sound. We started doing a Monday night at Cats Grill around 93. It took off and became a staple for a lot of people on Monday nights playing down-tempo jazzy tracks at the club. OM was in existence at that time and came to us about doing a Mushroom Jazz mix CD. From there, 10 years ago, we’re on number six.

WHO?MAG: How did you get into DJing and moving to San Francisco from Chicago?
Mark Farina: Chicago was a big DJ town early on. House was in a lot of places early on and I started DJing when I was in high school back in the mid 80’s. Seeing DJ’s at the teen clubs and I already had records. so I needed another record player. I started working from there. In Chicago at that time, we used to do all night from 9pm to 4am. It was great for DJ breeding ground and practicing to hone your skills. I started coming out here [San Francisco] and hadn’t really left Chicago much. A couple of friends of mine from Chicago including Derrick Carter, who is also a House music DJ mate of mine. We came out to San Francisco and saw that the club scene was totally different than Chicago. It was kinda cool to check out the West Coast scene and the weather was different. Everything was different. It was a nice change. I was around 20, 21 and I hadn’t lived outside of Chicago much, so it was an important change to come out here and check out the different weather, people, vibe, etc. From there, I ended up having 2 places, Chicago and San Francisco, when rents were cheaper. I ended up having 2 apartments for $500. For a couple of years I was going back and forth when I could. Eventually I just stayed out here.

WHO?MAG: How do you approach doing these DJ set and mix CD from doing down-tempo to house music?
Mark Farina: They’re two different things, but they’re similar in a lot of ways. The first major difference is tempo. If you’re not familiar the house stuff, is about 125 beats per minute and the down-tempo/hip hop stuff is a 100 beats per minute. Finding a lot of stuff between them is similar where it’s funky bass and melodies and grittiness. That kind of follows through from House and Down-tempo. I was fortunate to go to clubs at a young age and I would go to clubs that had two rooms, playing two different styles of music and just collecting music. I always felt that there’s a time to play different kinds of music, just knowing when to play what. That came about playing different nights and realizing playing house or whatever I was playing, maybe I should switch it up and play a different style. That’s where the whole down-tempo/mushroom jazz stemmed from. Sometimes it’ll be down-tempo, sometimes hip hop, but it’ll be different from what is playing at the main room in the club. One thing that always disturbed me with club life was that they would have two rooms, but they would be playing the same tune in both rooms. It’s kind of a waste of sound systems. I feel there should be different themes to different rooms. I grew up on the 90’s East Coast hip hop sound and West Coast underground and modern hip hop doesn’t fit that mold to me. There’s limited resources on that end as well.

WHO?MAG: Who are some of your influences as a DJ?
Mark Farina: Of course Jazzy Jeff. He is the man technically and to see him spin is always a lesson. I like playing with King Britt. He has a diverse style. Also, some of my Chicago buddies Derrick Carter, DJ Heather, and Diz.

WHO?MAG: Do you also do production?
Mark Farina: Yes I do. I have a track I produced on the new Mushroom Jazz 6. I do a lot more house music production. I’m into a lot more old fashion gear drum machines, MIDing stuff. I’m not so much into the computer stuff. I grew up on the old Midwestern way or old school way of having drum machines, synthesizers, sequencers, and all then put it into a sound board. I have an MPC4000, MPC2500, MP50, KORG. I have a couple JOMOX units and a couple of new Machine Drums which is a new drum machine company. I usually start that track with a vocal snippet or bass riff.

WHO?MAG: Have you ever had any sample clearance issues?
Mark Farina: A couple of times. I had to take out some stuff from the Air Farina album a song or two, even on mix CDs. I had to use a different part of a mix or chop something out at the end. Even on a live CD, some stuff I couldn’t use because of licensing. On the Mushroom Jazz 2, one of the artists was from West Virginia. Some old hillbilly mountain kind of guy that happened to hear the song in a store one day and heard the Mushroom Jazz mix and didn’t know about the artist and tracked the artist down and sued him for something or another.

WHO?MAG: Do you plan to do any collabs with any of your OM labelmates?
Mark Farina: Yeah! I’m going to do some stuff with J Boogie. We’ve been talking about that for a while. He his stuff is really tight and his band. harlie Colossus is another guy I’d like to do some stuff with. Another OM mate, Shawn Hayes, as well. I’ve been talking to Marques Wyatt to get in the studio since I’ve been going a lot to LA recently. Miguel Migs as well.