Fri, Jul 20, 2007 - Page 13 News List

The plot thickens

Mark Farina's musical star began to rise when he befriended Derrick Carter


Mark Farina went from trumpet to turntables.


Mark Farina once reversed the direction of the Earth's rotation with a rewind. His hair once rescued all the animals from a burning pet store. Or so go the fables. A man with such a cult status is bound to attract his fair share of hype, but Farina is down-to-earth enough to not take these shaggy-dog stories too literally. That said, he likes a good yarn, and it comes out in his music.

"I'm a traveling minstrel," he told the Taipei Times by phone from San Francisco last Thursday. "My music, my DJ sets, are a way of telling a story to people."

Farina's own story, from his musical roots to his current position as a prime mover-and-shaker in the global house music scene, is an interesting tale. It rambles along like a riveting docu-soap, with a cast of familiar characters for added entertainment.

Raised in Chicago during the 1970s and 1980s, soccer was Farina's original passion, and his first meander into music was wielding a trumpet in a marching band. One imagines that a trumpet-playing soccer fan wouldn't be considered exactly mainstream in an American college setting, and Farina's musical influences certainly mark him as somewhat alternative. He raised his cool points, perhaps, by taking up percussion.

"I was listening to industrial stuff out of Chicago, stuff on [seminal industrial record label] Wax Trax," said Farina, who frequently name-checks The Cure, The The, Yello and The Police as his cuts of choice during his formative years.

For indie-kids who eventually floated gratefully or obliviously towards electronica, this is almost vindication that the two scenes were never as far apart as some thought. Indeed, Farina is famous for eschewing narrow classifications of genres and sub-genres, and this is reflected in his DJ sets. They span a huge range from down-tempo trip-hop to jacking house, sometimes in different rooms of the same club on the same night. He bridges the gap between Moloko and Ministry, between De La Soul and Depeche Mode, through the medium of a soulful deep house narrative.

He describes himself as something of an accidental DJ. "It was a hobby that became a job," Farina said. "I was just in the right place at the right time. It could have been any number of people."

The right place at the right time happened to be, paradoxically, when he left a couple of newly purchased records on the subway. He'd been taking a college degree in music business management and sound engineering, and started record shopping in downtown Chicago, a mixed-race mini-nation of Black, White and Hispanic sounds and cultures.

"At the time, there were maybe only four record shops in Chicago, and Derrick Carter was working at one." Farina recalls. "And I lost these records. Had to go back and buy them. And then I met Derrick Carter."

As you do. While such an anecdote acquires almost legendary status amongst up-and-coming DJs who would give their right arm for such serendipitous circumstances, for Farina it's just something that happened, and he tells it matter-of-factly. Again, he demonstrates he's not a man who puts too much stock in his own hype. Over the next few years, Farina and Carter became close friends and, later, roommates. They ran nights and sold mix tapes at gigs, and became pioneers of a new generation of house music.

But Farina is keen to correct that last point, with the attention to detail of a master storyteller.

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