In the world of DJs, Mark Farina is something of a legend. A leader during the rise of house music in the late ‘80s, Farina has etched himself a spot in the pantheon of all-time greats. From playing epic eight-hour set brick parties in Chicago to diplomatic events in foreign countries, Farina has travelled far and wide, spreading his vast knowledge of rhythm and hooks throughout the world. “I played in Fiji with Erykah Badu and Wyclef [Jean] at a private party. We got flown in and got greeted by people with the President. We were taken in to an extra room and had leis put on us by airport staff. We didn’t have to go through customs or anything,” recounts Farina, talking to me by phone from his home in California. It’s the sort of story that only serves to cement his legend in my mind.
Talking to Farina is intimidating to say the least. More than a DJ, he’s a myth—that’s what I’ve built up in my head. A myth that reached an apex when I saw him play a three-hour set of his legendary Mushroom Jazz—a funky blend of house, hip-hop and jazz grooves—that he created during a sunset at last year’s Shambhala. Talking about our shared experience at the festival helped shattered part of Farina’s illusion, as he revealed to me he is truly mortal— susceptible to the same festival mistakes we mere mortals make. “I was sad I missed Mr. Scruff. I was just wandering around looking at stuff. By the time I got back, [I] looked at the schedule and realized I’d missed him. That was one of my intentions that weekend but I just caught up wandering around.”
A true fan of music, with a fantastic knowledge of tunes both classic and contemporary, Farina has seen the world of DJ-ing come a long way from his time in Chicago. As with any form of music, changes come and go with the times, but the most drastic and obvious change in Farina’s musical world is that of the medium—the way the music is delivered to the listener.
“If someone had told me then [that] I could have shown up with something the size of a lighter and your headphones and just play, I would be like, ‘What are you talking about?!,’” Farina says with a laugh. “We started carrying full crates of records. We’d buy certain milk crates that would fit records and then you’d cut garden hoses to fit on the plastic so you could carry them easier. It was a cheap way to make soft handles. Those little rectangle handles on the record crates with about 70 lbs of records in them was a bit harsh on the hands.”
With the sheer number of records and time involved, keeping those hands happy and healthy was a top priority. “Starting off in Chicago, you didn’t play two-hour sets then. The DJ would play all night, which was normal. You didn’t think of doing a guest spot unless you drove your friend in or something. You’d play all night until 2 a.m. or 4 a.m., just one DJ, so you’d need a ton of records to do that. I would take about three crates when I was playing and do 9 [p.m] to 4 a.m.”
Farina may not be playing an eight-hour set when he makes his return to Victoria, but all groove-seekers can rest assured that the work has gone into building a set just for those in attendance that night. It’s an ethos that guides his performance aesthetic and one that applies to all of us non-DJs as well. “Just go for it and rock out every show. You can’t worry about what you’re going to play the next time you get back somewhere. You should just focus on that one night and bring it. I guess that applies to non-DJ life as well.”
Mark Farina’s Mushroom Jazz – Sunday, Feb. 8, Distrikt Nightclub, tickets $25