Music Writing

I have been a music writer for many years. I was the music editor for BPM Magazine/DJMixed.com, (better info about the founders here) a writer for local San Diego club mag Where@ in the late 90s and I was a feature writer and music reviewer for RE:UP magazine in the early 2000s. Re-Up Magazine Issue 12 Digital Booklet (feature on Carlos Niño on page 30  and a music review for Zero DB on page 90.)

Writing portfolio: music features, music reviews etc. (view or download PDF)

Read some samples over there on the right and down below.

 

  • Mark Farina recently played at EDC Las Vegas for the first time in 2016.

    “My experience playing at EDC Vegas this year was great. I played the earlier events in LA but this was my first time at the Vegas EDC. I played the closing set on Monday morning (at the Upside Down House stage) after Juan Atkins who I had not shared the stage with for some time, so that was exciting, plus it was really nice to see some of the house heads come out.”

    Now he’s preparing for the new release of his Mushroom Jazz 8 mix series (out on July 22, 2016), and he is also celebrating twenty-five years of Mushroom Jazz.

    Anything that lasts twenty-five years must be good right? A relationship, a band, a vehicle – or in this case a mix series – after so many years can tell its own stories, it can be a legend, it can be a legacy.

    What is Mushroom Jazz 8? It is all of the above: a relationship, a band of various artists, a vehicle for discovering new music (that you may never hear without listening to the mix), a legend of past adventures told by thousands who have listened and a legacy of one of the world’s best djs.

    Think about that for a minute: one of the World’s best djs. Imagine you are Mark Farina. You are really good at what you do, you are humble, and in our case, you are happy to talk about the eighth licensed mix release. This demonstrates an appreciation of an artist’s place in the musical food chain. While being at the top, he understands that his role is to bring these sounds to the world, and not just in the form of a regular compilation, but instead, mixed in a way that no one else can.

    Mark describes his relationship with Mushroom jazz in a very personal manner. It is a part of him and it is an aspect of his art that continues to evolve. He created it many years ago and cultivated it from a series of mixtapes (around 20 tape releases along with another series called Downtempo Forest and its 20 or so volumes) into a high-quality, licensed release series.

    Like a tree, it grew from the ground up over a period of years, with enough headroom and space for interpretation like any quality art. The listener can explicate Mushroom Jazz in his or her own way. The mix is designed to allow us to get into our own heads and experience it as our subconscious sees fit.

    “I always wanted the music for Mushroom Jazz to be more organic. I knew that by combining short instrumental tracks into a stream of sound I could do what I wanted. In the past volumes, there were many songs that stood out and that people remembered. For this latest mix I wanted to present heady, thoughtful music and I wanted to stay away from a single or series of single songs, and let it become a whole.”

    He plays this style of music regularly during his travels. Sometimes he is booked to play a longer set so he’ll begin with Mushroom Jazz and build up to his Chicago house sound for which he is also well known around the world. Other times he will play the House on one stage and then play Mushroom Jazz on another stage, at the same event.

    “One of the benefits of doing two different genres, is that sometimes different times call for different styles.” Mark explains, “It can open up many other possibilities.”

    The process for creating the mix begins with compiling a list of twenty or more tracks and then getting them cleared for licensing.

    “Since many of the songs are sample-based you never know.” Farina adds, “An artist is at risk of getting in trouble for using a sample.”

    “One time I think it was volume two or three, Farina remembers, a jazz guitarist was in a retail store and the Mushroom Jazz mix was playing, he noticed his work had been sampled by one of the artists on the comp and he contacted the label and wanted to be paid.” He adds, “You have to be careful to make sure everything is cleared before you begin the mix, so you don’t have to go back and remove anything.”

    After the group of tracks is licensed and cleared, the mix is created and the project comes to life. Then the complete lifecycle of art-becoming-product begins. Mark and his team are very creative in financing the project. If you view Mushroom Jazz 8 on pledgemusic.com you’ll see various packages that are available to fans who donate to the cause, which helps to finance the release. There are things like vinyl test pressings, remix offers, packages containing Mark’s original photographic artwork, custom headphones, VIP passes to performances, all the way to a private dj set by Farina for a hefty but worthwhile investment. Everyone gets to contribute to the art and they get something in return, in addition to the music itself.

    He sources the tracks from peers with whom he has worked in the past like Colosuss, but he also digs through the digital bins of sites like Soundcloud to discover new artists. Tracks like “Night Light” by PH-Wert and “Rain Drops” by Freddie Joachim sit perfectly in the same company as better known artists like DJ Spinna, whose song “Duke” is one of the standouts. As Mark puts it, “I was very happy to get one from Spinna on this one.”

    Mushroom Jazz 8 is a perfect return to form for the series. It begins as many of his mixes do, with an intro of a sample encouraging one to “listen as well as you know how…” The Jazz flows throughout and each track is perfectly blended into a seamless sound. The bumping hip-hop beats and tempo – which are the secret ingredients to Mark’s Mushroom Jazz sound – continue throughout. You can always tell a great mix when you enjoy it so much that it ends before you are ready. Much like a great film or a great party, you want it to last but when it does end you are left completely satisfied and wanting more.

    With Mushroom Jazz 8 – and the last 25 years of mixtapes and eight licensed mix projects – Mark Farina is leaving the world an amazing cultural library for both young and old to enjoy. This is the perfect first step for a young person to take into a lifelong jazz journey and it’s also a great position from which an older generation can look back and say something like, “I told you this music is amazing, and there is an almost endless amount in the world for you to enjoy throughout your life.”

     

     

  • Whoever may have said, “nothing good ever happens after 2am” obviously never experienced Does Your Mama Know.


    It was 6 o’ clock on Sunday morning some time in 1994. When we arrived, the sky was slowly turning blue, it was very clear and you could actually see some stars. The smog had not yet started its stranglehold on the city. Los Angeles was always beautiful early in the morning.

    It was my first time at Does Your Mama Know. We had just arrived after a heavy pounding by the German techno act Hardfloor at one of Tef’s CPU 101 events. My girlfriend and I managed to find this underground after hours club that we had heard about from some friends. We waited in line for awhile. Once inside, after feeling our way through the extreme darkness toward the back of the club (that seemed more like a house, with low ceilings, drapery and stacks of speakers in various corners), we were finally standing in front of the turntables in a pitch-black room, surrounded by people on a full dance floor. The only light came from a small array of stage lights slowly burning on and off with a diffused red glow. The sound system was loud, crisp, and clear enough to hear every detail of the music.

    Tony Largo — the proprietor of DYMK and resident DJ — was playing Deee-Lite’s Pussycat Meow, using two copies of the acapella, cutting them back and forth. There were no beats playing, just Lady Kier…purring like a cat and laughing maniacally. The crowd was going wild with anticipation. Then, when Tony finally dropped the beats again after several minutes, the room erupted. At that time, in the early morning, Does Your Mama Know had more energy than I’ve ever experienced at an after hours.

    The place was packed, and behind us, close to the main dance floor, the bar had just opened. We were drinking like it was the last booze on earth and we had no idea when this party would end. I remember feeling that the outside world meant nothing to us in that moment. We were home.

    Does Your Mama Know (also known as DYMK) was a weekly, Saturday-night after hours club in Los Angeles that ran from 1992 until 2003. Its home for many years was the infamous rock and roll venue, the Coconut Teaszer, on Sunset Blvd., in West Hollywood. If ever there was a legendary club in LA, DYMK was it.

    The Teaszer would finish their Saturday night rock shows at 2am Sunday morning and then Tony and his crew would set up their sound, decorations and lights; they would have the doors ready to open by 3am. There was always a line of people waiting to get in.

    “I just remember 3am (when we opened) never coming soon enough on a Saturday night.” Remembers Marques Wyatt, who was one of the resident DJs and co-promoters for years before he started his Deep brand. “I always did another gig until 2:30 called High Society, which I considered a warm up for DYMK. When I shopped for records, I always had our DYMK faithful in mind.” “Oh, they’re going to love this one” is what I what say to myself.”

    “I remember when Marques and Tony would tell me what time I should start Djing and I was in shock with the starting time.” Said Louie Vega, who played there several times during the 90s. “Then I would arrive and the place was packed with all sorts of people! It was dark, sexy, cool, diverse, and the music was awesome! You also had great DJs like Tony Largo, Marques Wyatt and others from LA giving you an array of sounds and had full control of the crowds that would come to hear their musical journey. Then, guys like me were the icing on the cake bringing our sound to the table. Long sets too, it was never two hours and it was over when you wanted to finish and so I did exactly that, [playing for] hours and hours!”

    The club featured all walks of LA life: house heads, people from around the world, gay people and straight people, dancers, partiers, models, waiters, actors, hospitality workers — you name it. The age limit was 18+ but most of the crowd was aged 25 – 35 and up. A lot of ex-pats from New York and Chicago were regulars since this was one of the few weekly clubs in LA that featured the kind of music their respective cities had created. There were many raves and underground parties featuring house around the city, but this was the place to consistently hear the true deep house and garage sounds.

    “There was no comparison to other gigs because this was special,” Louie Vega remembers, “First the time of the event was in a totally different place [than most clubs], I’d walk out at mid-day and end up at Roscoe’s for some chicken and waffles after a night and morning of musical bliss. I mean I could see the crowd totally immersed in the music, eyes closed, arms up, hypnotized with the sounds! You could be an actress, a doctor, a lawyer, a fireman, a janitor, a musician, an artist, I mean all sorts of people coming together as one.”

    DYMK was not on the radar of regular society. You had to know someone who knew someone who knew about it. Sure you could find flyers at some LA music stores like Beat Non Stop, Street Sounds, WAX, DMC or Aaron’s, but if you didn’t know those places, or know someone who knew about it, you probably wouldn’t even know DYMK was going on. Tony always knew, that the people who really wanted it would find it.

    Tony Largo was born in LA. He started as a DJ at age 16 in the late seventies. At the time he was playing disco and R&B dance music. He heard house for the first time around 1983-84. His friends would go to the New Music Seminar in New York and they would come back with a new sound called house.

    “[in ‘83] I didn’t know a lot about it but to me it sounded a lot like the disco I was playing, only more stripped down.” He remembered, “In 1984 I started going to the New Music Seminar and I would bring it back to play at my gigs.”

    “Back then I was playing as a resident at clubs like Fantasia and Excess and regular guest spots at Circus Disco and Arena.” He added, “Later on around 1988 I played at various underground clubs around the city. Events like Open House, Bram and Steve’s Playhouse, King, Parliament and Maxx on Sunday afternoons.”

    A few years later they found the Coconut Teaszer and Does Your Mama Know began to carve its name into LA club-culture-history.

    Sometimes the wrong people would try to infiltrate the club. The news media tried to get in, but Tony and crew were well aware that they didn’t want the media inside.

    “One time a news crew showed up and tried to get in saying that they were going to film us, thinking we would be happy to be on the news.” Tony described an encounter with a local new crew. “I told them they couldn’t film inside; they seemed shocked that we wouldn’t let them in.” “I said they could film outside on the front sidewalk all they wanted.” He added, laughing, “Then, a few days later, I saw a local news report on LA after hours clubs, raves and drugs.” “I knew they were trying to get us involved in their negative hype but I wasn’t having any of that shit.”

    DYMK was no spot to be seen for publicity, there was no Hollywood-style fakery allowed. This was the LA underground, in club form.

    But in Los Angeles, even the underground events would have celebrity sightings.

    “Grace Jones would come to the club.” Tony recalled. “She would have two men attached to her with chains and would walk in screaming and yelling with wild eyes, then she would get on floor and dance with everybody else.”

    “I remember Djing, doing my thang, rockin’ DYMK and who was dancing the night away with her friend ? THE INCREDIBLE GRACE JONES! Louie Vega remembered a night Grace Jones was there too, “She was in it and Feelin it! Once I recognized it was her and felt her energy on the dancefloor along with everyone else there too I was really in the zone and it just made me play even better seeing her groovin’ and shakin’ to my music! Love Me Some Grace, respect!”

    There was no VIP room at Does Your Mama Know. Everyone mixed, mingled and danced in the same space.

    I was fortunate enough to play there a few times thanks to my affiliation with resident DJ and LA legend Terence Toy, who was nice enough to vouch for me so Tony would let me play. One night around 3:30am, there was a hushed whisper from various people echoing throughout the room, “It’s Janet…” and I heard someone else in the booth say, “Janet is here…”
    Word was spreading that Janet Jackson was in the club. Soon after, I noticed a woman disguised with a hooded top, dancing with a few friends on the stairs to my left, by the booth. I couldn’t tell who it was, it was always so dark in that club.
    Minutes later, a really short, African American woman stood next to me behind the decks; she reached around and lightly patted my crotch while giving me a big smile and an approving thumbs up. I looked at her in disbelief and I thought to myself, “that’s fucking Missy Elliott.”

    It wasn’t sexual; in her own unique, non-verbal way, she told me she approved of the music and the vibe. Then she went to join her friends by the stairs. They danced for a while and later disappeared into the crisp, early, West Hollywood morning. Later we found out that the group was comprised of Janet Jackson, Missy Elliot, Ciara and Eve, along with some others.

    The crowd at DYMK was always mixed and diverse, and inside, everyone was the same. Celebrities most likely felt comfortable there since it was so dark and photography was discouraged.

    “There was no filming allowed and very few photos or video were taken.” Recalls Tony. “We wanted to respect the privacy of the customers.”

    “We aspired to expose new people to house music.” Tony added, “Does Your Mama Know had roots in the underground. The precursor to DYMK was Candelabra which was held monthly in various warehouses and lofts.” “Does Your Mama Know was underground but it was a club just for the house heads.”

    Even the patio had its own personality and its vibrance was another big part of the DYMK experience. Terence Toy was always selling mixtape and CDs outside before or after his sets. The music was pumping through the walls so you could still hear it and sunglasses were a must. It was an unusual experience where you could actually see the people around you, unlike inside the club, and it’s probably a good thing more of us didn’t have phones with cameras like we do now.

    “DYMK was such an amazing unique experience. Very underground.” International soulful house DJ Jojo Flores, who played there many times over the years recalled, “I remember it like it was yesterday. It was an honor to play there and be part of the family. Tony Largo and Terence Toy played some really dope music.”

    Besides the music, the DJs and the amazing crowd, the sound system was one of the stars of the club. The sound they brought in just for DYMK was amazing in that venue, and it was perfectly tuned to the low ceilings and dense, angular floor plan.
    “We would only run that system at about 35% capacity.” Tony beamed about the club’s sound, “It was just purring, but if we ran it at 70-80% it would have rocked the entire block and they would have shut us down.”

    A big part of this sound experience was the cornerstone Urei mixer, Tony’s finely-tuned ear for ultra-high quality sound and his longtime sound engineer Benny Castro.

    “Benny Castro deserves a lot of credit.” Largo stated, “Without him working the EQs, crossovers and range expanders, it would not have been the quality that we wanted.” He added, “I was just a DJ and since he handled the sound so well I was able to focus on the music 100%.”

    DYMK was known as the place to hear the New York, Chicago and LA styles of house and garage. Soul and vocals, funk, Latin and disco vibes were always present, along with tough, innovative tracks that were consistently moving the crowd.
    “There were so many tracks that were broken at that club by either Tony or myself.” Marques Wyatt remembers. “A couple stand-outs for me are “Beautiful People” by The Underground Network, “My Desire” by Nu Colours (Masters at Work Remix), “Flowerz” by Roland Clark, “God Made Me Funky” by Mike Dunn, “Heaven Knows” by Angel Moraes, “It’s Just Another Groove” by The Mighty Dub Katz, “Big Love” by Pete Heller, “House Music” by Eddie Amador, “Love Commandments” by Giselle Jackson, “The Dream” by Deep Dish, “I Know A Place” by House of One, “Been A Long Time” by The Fog … to name a few.”

    Louie Vega recalls,”Some specific tracks that went over well : “I Can’t Get No Sleep” Maw Featuring India, “Coming On Strong (Spagatoni Mix)” Desiya, “The Pressure (Frankie Knuckles Remix)” Sounds Of Blackness, “I’ll Be Your Friend (David Morales Mix)” Robert Owens, “I Called You” Lil Louis. “There were many!” He added.

    The LA house music elite were residents and regulars for years. Tony Largo and Marques Wyatt shared resident duties early on and over the course of the club’s run, Terence Toy and Tony Powell were resident dis for many years along with Tony Largo. Other notable regulars were Eddie X, Iggy, Len Sobeck (Iggy and Len are remembered fondly by those who knew them, both passed-on years ago) Fabian, Miguel Plasencia, Juan Nunez, Orlando, Teddy Q, Rafael Canton, Edgar, Wayne Lyons, Jerry Flores, Lamech, Danny Zee, Lonnie, Terence Flores and others all kept the quality going every week over the club’s ten-year-run.
    There was a long list of some of the biggest international names in house that played at DYMK. Names like Tony Humphries, Louie Vega, Marques Wyatt, CJ Mackintosh, Boris Dlugosch, Angel Moreas, Benji Candelario, Disciple, JoJo Flores, Farley and Heller, Frankie Feliciano, Terry Hunter, Steve “Silk” Hurley, David Harness, Mark Grant, David Alvarado, Mijangos, Eddie Amador and Danny Tenaglia among others. Even respected New York sound system designer DJ Shorty played there a couple of times. It was absolutely the best place in LA to hear the Does Your Mama Know signature sound; a sound that was influenced by New York, New Jersey and Chicago but raised and cultivated in Los Angeles.

    “I will remember Does Your Mama Know for the rest of my life! Louie Vega added, “LA was always there with House Music from the beginning and I thank Marques Wyatt, Tony Largo and the rest of the DYMK Fam for inviting me as well to introduce our Masters at Work sound for the first time!”

    “I remember during that era is in fact when I really began to travel internationally to clubs like Ministry of Sound in London and Angels of Love in Italy etc.” Marques Wyatt remembered. “It was then I truly realized that no matter how incredible my experiences were abroad…nothing compared to what we had created at home. Playing at DYMK remains atop my list of DJing experiences. It was a perfect storm of music, venue and crowd to birth lasting memories. Which is actually quite apropos, because when you entered the Coconut Teaszer, it was sort of like being in a dark, warm womb and we were its house babies.”

    You can still catch Tony Largo and many of the DYMK DJs at gigs around LA and beyond. Ask anybody who experienced the club during its run and you will always hear amazing tales of how it changed their lives and that the memories of this amazing weekly event will always be shared with others. Its legacy will always live on.

    For this writer and music lover, DYMK was the best club I’ve experienced. It wasn’t about fancy surroundings or hype; it was about music… and stamina. Sometimes when we would leave after closing, eyes squinting from bright, searing sunlight, we would see people walking to a nearby church service. Little did they know that we had already worshipped our gods, the gods of house music. They had blessed us all night long, we were fulfilled, we were tired from dancing for hours and we couldn’t wait for the next Saturday to do it all over again.

  • When it comes to creating ful lling, meaningful, soul- powering music, someone like Carlos Nino could teach us a thing or two about what is hard or what is not. “Nothing is ever dif cult.” He states while discussing his experience working with the talented artists that make up Life Force Trio, Ammoncontact and many of his numerous musical projects. Of course he’s commenting that working with these familiar personages, and their creative process in making an album such as The Living Room (recently released on Plug Research) is not dif cult. But there is probably more meaning in that statement than just a mere working method. Things that you and I may find to be extremely difficult–such as working out beats on a MPC, and fingering the keys of the ubiquitous Rhodes–seem to come quite naturally to Nino and the rest of his musical familiars. They work together in a seemingly effortless fashion on many of Carlos’ expansive and diverse labors of love.

    “The Life Force Trio is Dexter Story and I as a production and writing team, but it’s also a collective. Andres and Gaby are musical partners and frequent collaborators of mine with Ammoncontact and Build An Ark. Miguel Atwood-Ferguson is the main person I make music with. Fabian (Ammon)is always around making music and so I bring him in on everything I can. Dwight (Trible) came in for a couple songs and Derf and Jesse are guests on Alice! All of these folks are close musical family.” Says Carlos of his Life Force creative partners. “I came up with that name as a way to differentiate the Love is the Answer project I did with Dwight Trible from the other (Trible) projects I’ve done. Then it became a group and now we’re doing our own thing as a band and production team.” The trio, which obviously features more than only three members, has continued on through various other projects that kept those involved creating together until just recently when The Living Room was molded into long-player form. Like many music producers, Carlos is involved behind the scenes, directing the output of his friends and family, crafting MPC soundscapes and writing songs, but unlike many of the (mainstream) producers out there, he’s not doing it for worldly riches. “I try to stay away from money,” he says while discussing the co-option of greedy, young urban professionals in LA. “If you give me some, I’ll just buy a keyboard or go on a trip, or take my friends and family to dinner, or donate it to The South Central Farmers.” (the embattled LA farm community who constantly have to fight for the chance to simply work the land and feed their families due to the constant threat of ravenous developers—they know the meaning of dif cult).

    With projects as diverse as the hip-hop cultured Ammoncontact, the all-natural musicianship of the organic Hu Vibrational project–where the music is created completely with hand-made acoustic instruments–and the savage-beast- soothing therapy that is Life Force Trio’s The Living Room, you would think that money would be made and someone so ambitious as Nino would be looking forward to big mansions, shiny cars and elevated, ass-kissed producer status. Obviously this is not what Carlos Nino is about and it’s most definitely not what drives him.

    “I just do what I feel from my heart.” Carlos explains simply, “My approach has always been to relate to people musically like I would in a conversation, with encouragement, compassion and creativity.” And regarding young people and the question of whether or not they can be reached in these dark days of substance-free, top-40, MTV-infected noise pollution, Carlos offers an open-ended option, “The music will always reach people that are listening.”

    Many people are doing just that throughout the avenues of his weekly radio show Spaceways (on KPFK 90.7fm), live performances, full-length albums and one-off releases. He has been involved with radio since the age of sixteen; he also put together his own concerts early on, combining artists that, in his mind, we’re naturally supposed to perform together. “It all came from the idea of taking my radio show live. Putting Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson with Dwight Trible and Kamau Daaood, Brainfreeze, Saul Williams, Yusef Lateef, all of it, in mini festivals.” He says. As far as the Spaceways program is concerned, the agenda of Carlos Nino seems to be one that is simply about love and a sense of duty to the music and the people who create it. “I take the responsibility of being on the radio very seriously. I have made it a point to represent and further inspire my “peers” with the show.” Carlos explains detailing its importance, “It’s a great honor to be able to do it”; I love music and always felt a calling to listen, support and create music.” Spaceways is a major connection in the lineage of his creative work since his rst productions were realized by having Dwight Trible as a guest, subsequently turning that opportunity into an early and very rare release. (Dwight Trible & The Oasis Of Peace Live On All At One Point released on Cassette in 1997,) and soon after, Trible’s album Horace in 1998. The radio experience also brought him in contact with Dublab where he –“after a little investigation into what Frosty was all about”—became a daily part of the lab with a show and as an organizer of events and outreach projects for the station. “Frosty used to listen to my radio show. When he was started dublab.com in ‘99 he asked me and a few others to be the resident DJs on the station.” He remembers about the renown internet radio destination.

    When you think about how many production credits he has since 1997 and now with his hand in such a diverse assortment of rich projects from the heart you would think he would go insane trying to keep up with it so many releases. “I plan and don’t plan.” he comments about making it all happen, “I can do it all because I’ve minimized the non-essentials from life, like working at a job I don’t love, or going out to get my energy sucked by vampires at a party. I work on about ve projects at a time. Probably more like ten.”

    Soon come from Carlos Nino: the new Build An Ark full-length (October), the new Hu Vibrational CD/2xLP on Soul Jazz, a production on Mia Doi Todd’s new record with partner Miguel Atwood- Ferguson, Miguel’s debut LP and a lot more!

     
  • Thomas Blondet No Dibby Dibby Sound 7”
    Rhythm and Culture

    This recent release from DC’s R&C Recordings is one for the big rooms at the peak time when the booze is kicking in and the ladies and gents are in full-on creep mode. You know, when some extra-heavy bass and toms are needed to blast through the crowd and idle chatter around the dancefloor area needs to be silenced by some Latin horns and toasty chants. “No Dibby Dibby Sound” does just that. It will also be extremely effective if you’re sitting in a cubicle at work daydreaming about those things, wishing it wasn’t Tuesday. So just what does “dibby dibby” mean, rude boy? Roughly it’s something bad or of low quality. There’s no dibby dibby sound here, Thomas B’s sound is damn fine. His production chops are top quality and he collaborates with excellent musicians so you will always get the good stuff from his label. Let’s not forget the deep sound of “Dub Steppa” on the flip, its late night vibe is thick and rich with a collab by New York’s Subatomic Sound System. Available on 7” wax and digital. JW

Copyright 2018 Jon Wesley / Mixing Arts LLC