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Deep in the House: DJ Farina brings his dense keyboard chordings and straight-ahead house beats to the Usual this weekend.

West Coast Cool

From 'mushroom jazz' to deep house, DJ Mark Farina crafts a fresh approach to dance music

By Rob Pratt

EVERY GREAT CITY has a sound, a unique expression in beats and musical sensibility. It's not necessarily an explicit set of approaches to music--preferring jazz over classical or punk over indie rock--but a spirit in the sound that comes from a vague notion of shared history or cultural references.

For San Francisco, it's a very cosmopolitan sound, sophisticated and jazzy but dance-floor conscious. Psychedelic elements left over from the flower-power San Francisco sound of the '60s still pervade; whether the world fusion of Jai Uttal & the Pagan Love Orchestra, the Generation-X groove-jazz of guitar hero Charlie Hunter or the hypnotic trance of DJ Jerry Bonham, Bay Area pop music all seems to lure the mind into a far-reaching abstract journey.

Though better known among global dance culture than in his own hometown, DJ Mark Farina comes as close as any single performer to encapsulating the sound of San Francisco. One of few DJs these days who unabashedly spin "deep" house--heavy with vocals, dense keyboard chordings and skipping, straight-ahead house beats--Farina is equally at home whether playing for a youthful rave collective or for a glittering club crowd.

First hitting the decks as a Midwestern teenager, Farina drew his inspiration from the booming Chicago house culture of the late '80s. ("House" music earned its name from the electronic disco sound pioneered by DJ Frankie Knuckles at a black-gay Chicago dance club named the Warehouse--shortened, by devotees, to "the 'House.")

A two-year gig spinning on the Friday-night shift at Northwestern University's WNUR radio station gave him--and superstar DJ partner and longtime friend Derrick Carter, who shared the show with him--a chance to solidify his sound and earn a following. By the early-'90s, though, he had found his way to San Francisco, and in keeping with the sound of his new hometown, Farina developed a new approach, which he dubbed "mushroom jazz," a more laid-back and in many ways more jazzy reading of the acid-jazz sound that ruled San Francisco City's dance clubs.

Jazz still provides a strong influence for Farina. Appropriately enough, Om Records for the debut of its San Francisco Sessions series of DJ-mix releases turned to Farina, and even as the disc comes to a peak, he drops cool grooves, sometimes angling for tripped-out effect with flanging and filtering.

Instead of slamming nonstop, Farina ebbs and flows, creating a sound that's a marked departure from the up-tempo hard trance and funky house that now dominates the Bay Area rave scene. In that way, Farina is both one of the more engaging and fresh DJs of the moment and a direct link to the strongest traditions of electronic dance music--a skilled vinyl technician who knows both where he's coming from and where he's going.

DJ Farina performs Saturday (July 15) at 8pm at the Usual, 400 S. First St., San Jose. Cover varies. (408.535.0330)

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From the July 13-19, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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