Chicago house vets Derrick Carter, Mark Farina and DJ Sneak have all gone their separate ways—Carter is still in Chi-town, while Sneak lives in Toronto and Farina has called San Fran home for years—but the three share a heritage of Windy City–style jacking rhythms that define them to this day. Last summer, the old friends played their first-ever three-way tag-team set at Belgium’s Tomorrowland festival—and on Friday, May 17, the triumverate will be re-creating that date with a back-to-back-to-back set at Highline Ballroom. TONY managed to catch up with the house heroes via a multiline phone chat to talk about the upcoming gig.
Time Out New York: Having all three of you on the phone at once makes me feel like I’m at a veteran-Chicago-DJ convention.
Derrick Carter: It’s amazing that you were able to get us all at the same time.
Time Out New York: Yes, I feel like that’s accomplishment in itself, and that we could call it quits right now.
Derrick Carter: Okay—peace out!
Time Out New York: Wait a minute—while I have you all, we might as well chat. You guys go back quite a bit, don’t you?
DJ Sneak: Yeah, especially Mark and Derrick.
Derrick Carter: Mark and I have known each other for about 25 or 26 years, and we’ve known Sneak for at least 20. So we go way the heck back. I’m gonna curse—we go way the fuck back.
Time Out New York: Curse all you want.
Derrick Carter: Yeah, it’s not TV—fuck that! [Laughs]
Time Out New York: I’m guessing that you guys have all played on the same bill before.
Mark Farina: Yeah, many times.
Time Out New York: But the Tomorrowland festival was the first time you had done a back-to-back-to-back set?
DJ Sneak: Indeed, and it was superfun. I think the best thing about it was that we actually didn’t have a plan. I asked Derrick and Mark, “What are we gonna do?” And they said, “We’re just gonna play.” That’s exactly what happened, and it turned out to be a great experience.
Mark Farina: And it’s a good thing we didn’t die in a tragic boat accident.
Time Out New York: What do you mean?
Mark Farina: To get to our stage, we had to cross this green lake, and we had to take a boat. And it was a little boat!
DJ Sneak: Black people don’t like boats.
Derrick Carter: This black people don’t like boats, anyway.
Time Out New York: Luckily, the boat didn’t sink or anything, and you “wove together the entire history of house over two magical hours,” according to the press release.
Derrick Carter: Oh, my goodness—did we?
DJ Sneak: I think we just played whatever, man. We just had fun. And it was actually three hours, by the way.
Derrick Carter: I don’t want to overstate anything, but we all know what we can do. And we can do it pretty well. It’s kind of like jazz: We can just start riffing. Being that we each have well-storied musical backgrounds, it’s easy just to pick up where the last person leaves off; the next person comes in, and—boom!—he’ll just do his thing. It’s challenging, but it’s fun to hear. It’s good music, and people seem to get a kick out of it.
Time Out New York: Were you bumping into each other at all?
DJ Sneak: Not exactly. But we didn’t have three separate setups; there were just two setups, so we were doing a lot of jumping on and off.
Mark Farina: I liked rotating like that. It was kind of like Double Dutch!
DJ Sneak: It was a straight gang bang. I don’t know how else to put it.
Time Out New York: We’ll be looking for a gang-bang situation when you’re playing here in NYC.
DJ Sneak: It sounds kind of dirty.
Derrick Carter: We’re gonna run a train on y’all! [Laughs]
Time Out New York: The New York gig will be the first time that you’ve done this since Tomorrowland. Since you’ve had time to think about it, will there be any preplanning involved this time around?
DJ Sneak: That’s what other DJs do. We just freestyle, you know?
Derrick Carter: Yeah, man—who has time to plan stuff? There’s kids, I have seven dogs.… I’m not gonna plan nothin’. You just get on, and you just bang.
Time Out New York: Derrick, I knew you were a dog guy—but I didn’t know you had seven of them!
Derrick Carter: Oh, my goodness. I have two French bulldogs, two miniature pinschers, a Brussels griffon, a hairless Chinese crested and an English bull terrier that is licking my face right now!
Time Out New York: Sneak, you have two kids, right?
DJ Sneak: That’s right, a boy and a girl. And two Chihuahuas.
Derrick Carter: There you go.
Time Out New York: And you, Mark?
Mark Farina: Yeah, I have a son who’s almost three, and a Yorkie who’s following me around right now.
Derrick Carter: Pumpkin!
DJ Sneak: We’re family folks here, man.
Derrick Carter: We’ve got responsibilities! It’s definitely helped us flesh out as people, instead of just being party monsters. There are people who depend on us. We’re not doing this just to be cool or the latest thing. This is what we do.
Time Out New York: One thing I’ve always admired about all three of you is the way that you’ve all stayed true to your sounds. Not that you play the same exact music you did 20 years ago, but you’ve certainly managed to stay away from any short-lived trends over your careers.
DJ Sneak: We know that those things come and go, but we all think that our style and our music lives forever. We can go back 20 years, or we can push ahead another 20 years, and it’s still gonna be us.
Time Out New York: Does the fact that you’ve all stuck with your styles over the years make it easier to play together?
DJ Sneak: I think knowing your partner and trusting your partner is the main thing. I mean, I would leave my kids and my dogs with these guys, and that’s saying a lot. When you have that kind of trust, you don’t really have to think about things too much.
Time Out New York: I don’t think I really have to ask you this—especially you, Sneak, given what happened in Miami—but has there ever been any temptation to go for the bucks and jump on the EDM bandwagon?
DJ Sneak: The whole EDM thing is kind of silly, because I think the three of us—especially Mark and Derrick—opened a lot of doors for what’s going on today. I don’t know, man–it’s just a trend, but we’re here forever. That stuff just comes and goes. It’s great that something is happening in America because something needs to happen, but at the same time, you shouldn’t be ignorant about the prior 25 years and the work that people have put into this in America.
Derrick Carter: I’m not going to turn my back on what I’ve been doing since I was, like, 11, just to see a bunch of 20-year-olds jump around. I mean, I’ve been seeing 20-year-olds jump around since before I was 20! And besides, there’s no bandwagon big enough for me to jump on.
Mark Farina: Yeah, we just do what we do. If our style somehow gets encompassed into that, then so be it. But it doesn’t really matter to us.
Time Out New York: I guess the hope is that at least a small percentage of kids who are into EDM will take the time to find out more about the music and its history.
DJ Sneak: If some kids are waking up to that, cool. The Internet allows them to go back and research, so if they want to know what happened before, they can go back and listen. Whatever, man—EDM is just a word. Or three letters, really!
Derrick Carter: I don’t even like those three letters. They sound stupid! It’s like, “I have EDM—I’m itchin’!”
Time Out New York: As you said before, you guys have all played on the same bill—but have you ever done so in New York?
Mark Farina: I don’t think so, not even back in the rave days.
Time Out New York: Perhaps you can whip out some rave-era classics!
Derrick Carter: One of the things that I like about what Mark and Sneak and I do is that, to some degree, it has a timeless element to it. There’s a taste that we’ve built up over the years, and there are lots of gems that fit into that. I’ve always said a DJ’s value comes from their collection. When you’ve been playing for well over two decades, you have a fairly extensive musical knowledge you can draw from. I’ll play stuff from 1990, and kids will come up to me and say, “What the hell was that?” I’ll tell them that this literally came out when they were born, and they’ll bug out like they can’t believe tracks like that existed then. A song like “Move It” by Rhythim Is Rhythim sounds fresh, but it came out in 1988. I was still in school myself when I got that one!
Time Out New York: Do you feel it’s part of your job to turn kids on to music like that?
DJ Sneak: Yeah, you can turn on a lot of kids to stuff like that. I just had the Martinez Brothers for a few days in the studio, and was picking their brains, like, “How far do you guys really go?” And they were like, “Yeah, play us a lot of stuff that we don’t already have!” So I was playing stuff on my computer, like, “Check this one! Check that one!” They were kind of freaking out. There was one Ralphi Rosario track, and I told them that he was one of my biggest influences in 1988. They only knew him from something that came out maybe ten years ago, so I ended up opening this whole folder of Ralphi Rosario stuff circa ’88 or ’89. They ended up leaving with a hard drive full of shit!
Time Out New York: The Martinez Brothers are obviously a special case, but I’ve found that when young clubbers hear the old stuff, they’re usually into it.
DJ Sneak: Yeah, they can definitely relate to it. That relates to what Derrick was saying about our collections. Mark has so many records, and Derrick, you have what—like three houses full? We all come from he same generation, when you would go and shop at record stores and share information. There’d be something that Mark or Derrick would be playing, they’d tell me what it was, and then I’d go and dig for that record.
Derrick Carter: I wouldn’t always share information! Sometimes I wouldn’t tell you what something was until after the party, and then I might let you know what it was, just to see the look on your face.
DJ Sneak: Well, back then I was on a different tip. I was on a Bad Boy Bill tip, you know what I’m sayin’? But in ’91. I went to a loft party where the DJ was Julio Bishop—Mark and Derrick will know who I’m talking about—and then I was hearing Mark and Derrick, and Spencer and Lego and Traxx and all those guys, and I was like, “Wow.” And after that, I just started shopping the same places that they did. We basically just wanted to know what Mark and Derrick were playing.
Time Out New York: And here you are, years later, all playing together.
DJ Sneak: I don’t know about the other guys…but for me, it’s a beautiful thing. I feel very blessed to be in the company of these two gentlemen. It’s a new thing, but in some ways, it’s an old thing, too. I’m gonna shut up now and let Mark talk!
Mark Farina: Well, I was playing until 3:30 last night. I’m tired! But I will say this: Just coming from Chicago, I think you kind of learn to play all kinds of housey genres early on. We’ll play vocal tracks, we’ll play beat tracks, we’ll play acid tracks, we’ll play a cappellas.… We all kind of have the same interpretation of house. House is such a vague term nowadays, but I like to think that our vision of house is a kind of proper, old-school-meets-new-school one.
Derrick Carter: We come from an era when you could get away with murder. If it’s hot, you play it—as long as you get an emotional response, it’s good.
DJ Sneak: If Derrick wanted to play a Ricky Martin vocal over a track, he could. Everybody would be like, “Damn, that’s Ricky Martin. But it sounds really dope.”
Derrick Carter: “Shock the Monkey”—that’s the one! You play that out of context, and people will freak out a bit, because it doesn’t fit in the narrow confines of what people think house is. But you rock your influences; you show your colors.
Time Out New York: And that’s what house music is supposed to be, right?
Derrick Carter: That’s what it’s always been, man! “Shock the Monkey” and Ricky Martin.
Verboten: Derrick Carter + DJ Sneak + Mark Farina is at Highline Ballroom Friday, May 17.
Follow Bruce Tantum on Twitter: @BruceTantum