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House music Mushrooms

San Francisco DJ Mark Farina makes house his home



"I like tracks that are unique in some way," says DJ and Om Records recording artist Mark Farina by phone from his San Francisco home. "I like gritty, funky, chunky stuff, but the chunk could be vocal, filtered disco, Basic Channel-style techno. A lot of times when I'm playing and picking a track I'll picture a Star Wars-style band playing the music, and I'll think whether it has the funky factor and flow needed for the group to play it."

Maybe things are just different in San Francisco, because no current Atlanta venue immediately conjures images of cantinas bursting with alien song, spirits and suspicious characters. But in the wide-ranging house-music universe, there's room for everything and a room for everyone. And in-demand DJ Farina has spun his way through many rooms, including several of Atlanta's nightspots.

If visiting DJs such as Sasha and Digweed served as torchbearers for popularizing the U.K.'s progressive house/trance movement in Atlanta, Farina would be a much more traditionally American and organic deep house counterbalance. He's been a regular fixture at Atlanta parties and clubs since the late '90s.

Coming from a Chicago background, house did not mean any one thing to Farina, but rather, any record steadily pumping at 120-130 beats per minute. San Francisco's mixed crowds only helped reinforce Farina's devotion to diversity. It was an openness to incorporating vocals, disco, filters, Detroit techno, jazz, Latin, hip-hop and, yes, even alien cantina funk, that allowed Farina to develop a style of spinning to the environment that commands longtime loyalty from listeners.

One such listener is Kai Alce, resident DJ of MJQ's five-year-strong "Deep" Saturday house night. Along with DJs such as Karl Injex, Ron Pullman, Cullen Cole, Kemit and Earthtone Soundsystem, Alce has been dedicated to expanding the swing and boundaries -- but keeping the original spirit -- of soulful house, a dedication he sees shared in Farina. Alce is one of the lucky ones who fondly remember Farina's contributions to the Atlanta underground years ago, as part of a series of sensual, sweaty Yin Yang and Kaya late-night Monday sessions.

"I haven't really seen [Farina's] vibe change over time so much as his approach depending on where he is," recalls Alce. "A room definitely has a part to do with it. There's just more feeling when you're talking about feeling the heat of other bodies. Back at Yin Yang it would be 120 b.p.m., but at eleven50, he plays faster and more pumping -- it would be 130. Yin Yang was more interactive; eleven50 is the concert hall for DJs. I would love to see him again in a smaller room because I think that crowd interaction has a lot to do with how he plays. He's not changing his idea of what he plays, just how he plays it."

Farina agrees. "I tailor things geographically," he says. "I know if I'm playing Atlanta, there are certain directions I can go, because there's a certain regional music history. In Atlanta, I know I can get daring with tempos, make it super deep. While in, say, Seattle, where they don't have a soul background, you play a more progressive and pumping mix. Regardless, I like to play positive and melodic, in a subtle way."

Farina's current dates might end up a little more eclectic, however, and not just because it's Atlanta. He's currently touring to support Mushroom Jazz 4, the latest in a series of mix CDs that gave a name to the umbrella-like approach he takes to incorporating elements, downtempo to uptempo.

"A lot of the Mushroom Jazz dates aren't on a regular club night, so I can play a little more freeform," Farina says. "Atlanta can handle more tempo changes, so no one should come in expecting just one thing. I'll definitely play more hip-hop, danceable stuff, but also soul and dub, keeping the tempo around 100 b.p.m. before speeding it up."

Farina also promises pleasant surprises for those who've been with him long enough. "There might be some throwbacks and flashbacks for those who remember the Yin Yang/Kaya days, because I'm going to bust out some Atlanta classics -- doing a deep, dubby hip-hop style. I like keeping things round, but with umph."

Skinny interstellar musicians take note.

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