(a majority of this piece was published by Planet Jackson Hole)
There’s acid jazz, cool jazz, big band jazz and then there’s mushroom jazz—a psychedelic-minded electronic music subgenre mixing jazz, house and hip-hop nearly singlehandedly designed by DJ and producer Mark Farina in the early 90s. The term was coined from his twenty-five year, eight-volume Mushroom Jazz series of albums. Originally released on cassette in 1992 with a modest fifty copies, the latest compilation dropped this year to a worldwide audience.
It has turned the heads of old fogies, indie-leaning hipsters, hippies and jazz purists while penetrating a club scene shaped by aggressive drums n’ bass and uptempo house music. All the while, Farina has existed in two types of rooms—mushroom jazz and a jazzy Chicago-meets-San Fran house style that caters to the uptempo revelers, Farina will drop his first beats in Jackson Hole on New Year’s Eve at the Pink Garter.
“Being a longtime snowboarder and skier since ski club in high school in the 80s, I’m excited to spend five days in Jackson for the first time,” Farina said from Dallas.
It’s fascinating to ponder the time and place of electronic music during which Farina was cutting his teeth. It was the late 80s and mixtapes where all the rage. He was working at a record store where he met collaborator Derrick Carter (Symbols & Instruments) and other “in-the-know” aficionados that would eyeball the ten or so copies of a single album that would fly off the shelf and quickly as they’d get priced. There were only records to mix, and a lot of times Farina would buy two of the same copy as certain instrumentals were in the three-minute range. Today, there’s a twenty-five year library of electronic music at anyone’s fingertips.
“I’ve been doing this for thirty years and the club scene has changed so much,” Farina said, who has spent much of his latter career based in San Francisco. “Music is more fast paced than it used to be, as in, vinyl had a longer shelf life where a song would be around for a couple of months and you’d hear about it word of mouth. Now there’s a new digital chart every week and the music cycle is short lived with maximum accessibility. Anyone can make tracks now. When I started, you had to know somebody with a real studio and gear, take time to press it to record, and it took a bit of work. Now you can have your home setup, your own label, and put it out in the same day and play it that night at your gig. In terms of electronica back then, you were either playing house or techno, or there was hip-hop or soul/funk classics, and that was it. “
Back in the day, Farina’s marathon sets would roll from 9 p. m. to 4 a.m. on a regular basis. He still prefers the longevity of a three-hour set in order to approach the peaks and valleys of dynamics with patience in mind. With technological advancements in DJ and electronic gear, some things have gotten easier for Farina in terms of how he can access sounds and beats, though his artistic process remains intact.
“With making music, sometimes there’s not always a clear line of what the DJ is doing,” Farina answered when asked about technology playing a role in modern DJing. “Are they DJing? Are they syncing? Are they playing some live stuff with Ableton? You have to be a little more observant, whereas in the old days, they were playing records and it was pretty clean cut.”
“I still keep things old-fashioned and mix with CDs and from a USB. I use a Pioneer CDJ 2000 Nexus 2. It’s a great machine, no cheats or sync options that you can find on some machines that you see newer DJs using. Regardless of the technology, you still have to mix and that’s where the art form is for me. There are advantages with the Pioneer as opposed to a turntable that would have been nice to have back in the day, like looping. Or, I’ll take a hip-hop a cappella and move it up to house speed but keep it to where the pitched-up vocals don’t sound all tweedy bird.”
Farina’s international acclaim can be narrowed down to the voyage that listeners didn’t know they desired when he hit the scene. Though what has kept both electronic connoisseurs and casual listeners engaged for over two decades is a funky, energetic voyage that is exceptionally crafty and of course, psychedelic. Analog hip-hop drum patterns underlying instrumental jazz samples and sublime downtempo beats with flashes of vocal refrains—that’s Farina’s money spot.
“New Year’s is a different night than most,” Farina said. “Now, with this whole new disco kind of sound in last five years, I might play Mushroom Jazz stuff and go up to house and different tempos. More than anything, I like to feel out the audience and find a happy medium of playing the sounds that I want to play and trying to get the most out of what people are feeling that night.” Mark Farina with DJ Londo and DJ Eric Burba, 9 p.m. Saturday at the Pink Garter Theatre. $37-$50. PinkGarterTheatre.com, 733-1500.
Lost Legends get Cure
The go-to party in Teton Village will be highlighted by a tribute to Lost Legends of 2016 set by Montana’s “electro thunder funk” ensemble Cure for the Common. The Bozeman-based five-piece will stretch to eight with the addition of a three-piece horn section for what drummer/vocalist Joe Sheehan is calling the band’s “most ambitious New Year’s Eve setlist to date.”
“We picked a selection of tunes from influential artists that we lost over the last year or so and some of the material is really complex, which has been keeping us busy,” Sheehan said. “It’s gonna be a hell of a night, and we’re branching out into artists like Prince. Over the last couple of years, we’ve had our fair share of big production shows in the region and it’s been refreshing to have these opportunities where we can get comfortable in our space and really stretch out. Music on Main in Victor last summer and Music in
the Mountains in Big Sky—which we just recently released as a full live show—were a couple of moments that we were collectively stoked about.” Cure for the Common, 9:30 p.m. at the Mangy Moose in Teton Village. $20 at Mangy Moose Market & Cellars or at MangyMoose.com.
Screen Door Porch & Head for the Hills tag team Knotty Pine
Screen Door Porch is about to release its fourth studio album, Pay it Forward. As music industry mogul put it, “Screen Door Porch has transformed roots music into something much larger, a down home goodtime vibe. Sonic hypnosis has set in and Screen Door Porch seem like the only place to live.” Colorado’s Head for the Hills has a sound based in bluegrass that reaches into indie rock, jazz, hip hop, world and folk to stitch together fresh songs that bridge the divide between past and future acoustic music. Lengthy sets by both bands makes for a healthy and stealthy co-bill with a little bit for everyone. Screen Door Porch with Head for the Hills, 8:30 p.m at the Knotty Pine in Victor. $15. 208-787-2866, KnottyPineSupperClub.com.
Nelson and Bluhm get Real
Aside from New Year’s parties, it’s advised not to sleep on a rare bill that will feature guest vocalist Nicki Bluhm with Lucas Nelson and Promise of the Real. Nelson, son of Willie, has forged his career largely before our eyes here in Teton County. First, as a seventeen-year-old guitarist sitting in with his dad’s band on Labor Day 2006 at Snow King Amphitheater, and later in Teton Valley as a matured, rippin’ guitarist with the ability to croon a ballad or jump off a speaker rack as a shoeless, shirtless, playing-with-his-teeth blues-rock veteran. This is a killer band that has climbed the ranks, most lately as Neil Young’s backing band. As for Bluhm, her freelance vocal skills in the last year have proliferated through the music of the Infamous Stringdusters, The Waybacks, and Ryan Adams. Lucas Nelson + Promise of the Real with guest Nicki Bluhm, 7 p.m. Thursday at the Center Theater. $54-$66. JHCenterForTheArts.org.
WED: Latin Party with Calle Mambo (Pink Garter Theatre), PTO (Mangy Moose)
THUR: Lucas Nelson + Promise of the Real with guest Nicki Bluhm (Center Theater), ZoSo: Tribute to Led Zeppelin (Town Square Tavern)
FRI: 6 Foot 2 (Silver Dollar), Joe Rudd’s Goldcone and DJ Era (The Rose)
SAT: Sneaky Pete & the Secret Weapons (Town Square Tavern), Head for the Hills and Screen Door Porch (Knotty Pine), Mark Farina with DJ Londo and DJ Eric Burba (Pink Garter Theatre), Cure for the Common (Mangy Moose), Papa Chan Trio (Alpenhof)
SUN: Songwriter’s Alley featuring Isaac Hayden and Low Water String Band (Silver Dollar), Hof Polka Band (Alpenhof)
MON: Jackson Hole Hootenanny (Dornan’s)
TUES: One Ton Pig (Silver Dollar), BOGDOG (Town Square Tavern)
Aaron Davis is a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.