Casual shoppers strolling down Valencia Street in San Francisco's Mission District might miss the vinyl mecca Clear Music and the estimated 600,000 records housed inside. DJ Mark Farina, however, is no casual shopper.
The master of jazzy downtempo and Chicago house, Farina is the creator of Om Records' popular Mushroom Jazz and San Francisco Sessions series. His new release — Connect (Om Records, 2002), featuring the original single “Radio” — is sure to be just as successful. Thrilling crowds at parties and clubs for more than a decade, Farina has amassed a devoted following adamant about his impeccable taste and flawless mixing. To uphold that fan base, Farina has to keep up with the latest cuts. That's why Clear staff member Lalo Hernandez, who gives Farina a friendly nod as he enters the store, always sees Farina before a gig.
Farina stops in about every two weeks, sometimes more. And his is not the only famous face that enters this store. For nearly five years, Clear Music has been building an esteemed clientele that includes DJ Sneak, David Harness, Miguel Migs, Julius Papp and Marques Wyatt, to call out a few. “Pretty much everybody in the city pops in here,” Hernandez says. Everybody in San Francisco's star-DJ set, that is. As far as the public is concerned, Clear keeps a low profile. “It's for the heads, straightly,” Hernandez says. “Only the people who look for it will know about it. We don't have a sign, really, outside. It's very exclusive.”
What the store lacks in a sign outside, it makes up for inside. A handwritten notice above the house decks directs patrons how to handle records, demands proper needle placement and warns that only 10 records are allowed at the listening station at a time — a rule that doesn't really apply to Farina. “We let him go crazy,” Hernandez says. “If we know [customers], they can have as many as they want. We even put their records away.” Farina, however, returns his selections to the stacks. “I try to,” he says.
Farina takes his initial survey of Clear's inventory, checking for familiar labels, artists, producers, remixes and aesthetic quality. “Some things just look cool, so it's always like a last sort of thing to go on if you don't know anything,” he says. “And if it looks good, it might be good. You never know what you'll get.”
Toting a substantial stack, Farina heads to the house decks. His auditioning begins with extremely precise, exacting movements as he picks up the needle and places it in groove after groove, flying through each record in a matter of seconds. “Some of the in between [record selections] that I'm undecided about are tough, but, generally, it's pretty quick,” he says. “Still, even after buying records for 15 years, you can always buy something and not like it the next day.”
Trying not miss anything on this day, Farina takes one last glance around the room. “Sometimes they sneak stuff up on the wall that isn't on the floor,” he says. Satisfied, Farina proceeds to the checkout. Here are the new additions to Farina's 25,000-strong personal record collection:
Playing for the City
“Ask Me, Part 2”
(Derrick Carter remix)
I already have “Part 1,” which is blue, and I know it is good because Playing for the City's good and it's the Derrick Carter remix — part two of the other Derrick Carter remix on “Part 1.” It's kind of a sure bet. You almost don't have to listen to that one.
“You Bring Me Joy”
(feat. Pam McDaniels)
The vocal isn't too exciting, but I like the dubs to the instrumental. It's a Shelter-y, New York kind of Blaze type of thing, just jazzy instrumental. I'd put this in a set either really late at night or just on a tape. I don't know; I like all the old Shelter stuff.
The Kaiser EP
Track Mode Recordings
This DJ is from Atlanta; I know him from there. I know he plays good stuff. I didn't know he had a record out, so I picked it up. I know it's good out of Atlanta, because I know the label.
Deep Touch Records
I know this label; it's good. DJ Rhythm is kind of a vague name, so I could have maybe 10 records by DJ Rhythm. I'm not sure, but I know the label is good. If I bought a couple of things on a label, I'll generally look for it again when I see something I don't have. Deep Touch dates stuff, too, which is nice, so you can know, roughly, if the other release you have is older — because a lot of them look the same.
“D'You Know What?”
This is a new label, I think. I guess this is its eighth release, but I'd never heard of it before. It's distributed by Ideal, which is a good housey distributor in London.
Soldiers of Twilight
(Fred Everything dub)
I like all of 20/20's stuff, and I like Fred Everything. He's a good DJ from Montreal. He has a lot of good tracks, so this is a good one. I'm glad I got this.
DJ Cam starring Anggun
“Summer in Paris”
(Playing for the City remixes)
I took a little more time listening to this one. Sometimes you have to listen to things a little longer. The dub is nice, but I had to make sure no weird vocal came in.
Recluse Presents Jigsaw Music
This is a double album. I always have to search in the album section over there for the good stuff that people pass up. I think it's a compilation; it's got a whole bunch of stuff that's kind of weird — weird-sounding housey stuff.
“Fire in the Wood
(You Can Take Your Papers)”
I heard DJ Heather play this, and I didn't have it. So I found it — I'm happy.
For more Internet information about Mark Farina, go towww.synergize.com/markfarina.htm.
Clear Music; 147 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA 94103; tel. (415) 437-1578