Mar 07, 2013
Mark Farina

Mark Farina is a legend among house music producers for his distinct sound which he self-patented as “Mushroom Jazz.” Give a read to our conversation with him, where he talks about his hip hop roots, love of vocal sampling, and a DJ trio he’s formed with Derrick Carter and DJ Sneak.

LessThan3: What was the inspiration behind your first mushroom jazz sets?
Mark Farina: The first mixtape was around 1989 when I worked at Gramophone in Chicago and was into a lot of New York hip hop. I would get cassettes of the Stretch and Bobbito shows, which was a famous radio show in New York at the time. I was also buying a lot of the UK acid jazz sounds like the stuff from Talking Loud Records and Acid Jazz Records, and a slew of others that started the acid jazz boom in England. A lot of that stuff is around the same tempo, so I fused the two together and came up with mushroom jazz.
LessThan3: Any connection to a psychedelic experience?
Mark: A little bit. Around the time of my first mushroom jazz records, my friends and I would go hang out at Grateful Dead shows. We weren’t necessarily fans of the Dead; we just liked the atmosphere. We considered ourselves psychedelic explorers at the time.
LessThan3: Are there any current hip hop artists that influence you?
Mark: I still tend to lean toward a lot of the old stuff. I like some of the guys that are still around, like People Under The Stairs. A Tribe Called Quest was a big influence on me, though they don’t exist anymore. Most of my hip hop influence were names like DJ Premiere, Guru from Gangstarr, Wu-Tang Clan, Jurassic 5, Ultra Magnetic MCs, to name a few. In terms of new hip hop, I haven’t found much that really gets me going.
LessThan3: You’re known for your vocal samples. What inspires you to use certain samples?
Mark: I just look for weird stuff. I was just at Amoeba tonight digging through the crates and got a big stack of spoken word stuff. Anything from weird therapy records from the ’60s to sports recordings to movies works for me. I always liked when groups like Front 242 would incorporate little speeches into their tracks. I was always into instrumentals as well, so I found a way to set the tone by dropping a little spoken word to add a little vibe to an instrumental.
LessThan3: What’s the oldest record that you still love to drop in your sets?
Mark: I still love to drop Running Away by Roy Ayers–that came out in the late ’70s. My Baby Just Cares For Me by Nina Simone too. I’ve been really enjoying the “40s on 4″ station on Sirius XM lately. I haven’t dropped any of it; I just like listening to it.
LessThan3: EDM is growing globally at a fast rate. What new movement has caught your ear?
Mark: I never know what to call stuff; I just like good music. I played a track in Tahoe and a fan said I was playing some electro breakbeat track and I was like… I was? House music has always been such a vast term, so I tend not to overcategorize genres. I just like certain tempos. I usually like my sets at 120-125 BPM.
LessThan3: If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
Mark: I miss hanging out at record stores a lot. On the same token, I like getting digital promo because you can get access to a lot more stuff. With that, there is also a lot more crap to look through as well. I’m pretty content with feeling things out the way they are, so there isn’t necessarily one thing i’d like to change.
LessThan3: Do you think vinyl will ever come back?
Mark: I still have all my records, but it’s kind of a lost art to know how to work turntables properly. I don’t think it’s ever going to go away but I don’t know if its ever going to come back. I know in the nu disco genre a lot of that stuff comes out on vinyl only. My big pet peeve in vinyl’s heyday was having bass feedback or skips, so it’s nice to have a CD player and not have to worry about something skipping or worry about what table the equipment is on. It takes a deep knowledge of vinyl to set up a turntable that isn’t going to skip or move in a club.
LessThan3: Do you go out to live shows? Tell us a crazy party story!
Mark: When I go out, it’s generally to hear DJs that i personally know. I went out with Derrick Carter in Chicago a few weeks ago to Smart Bar, which is my old stomping grounds. We always have a good time when we go out; it’s usually one of those nights when you don’t remember how you got home from a club. Did I take a cab? Did someone give me a ride? When did we leave? Derrick always knows every bartender intimately.
LessThan3: Any plans for future projects or productions?
Mark: I just put out a mix called Coyote Cuts with a label from Detroit. I’m working on Mushroom Jazz 8 for OM Records, which should be out in the summer. My next release is Great Lakes Audio on my own label, Mr. Mushroom Man. Also, we don’t have a name for it yet, but Derrick Carter, DJ Sneak, and I have been playing together on two or three mixers. We’ll be doing a lot of European festivals this summer.
LessThan3: Are you bringing it to the States?
Mark: We are working on it; nobody has really offered to book us yet. People want it, but it takes a bit of planning to get us all together. Somehow European festivals are easier because Derrick and Sneak play there quite a bit. I think we are doing five shows this summer in Europe.
LessThan3: If the world were ending in LessThan3 minutes, and you had an iPod with every song ever made on it, what would you listen to?
Mark: Daylight by Ramp.