Back in 2015, in an interview with MODA—the University of Chicago’s student-run arts and culture publication—Marshall Smith said he chose his stage name simply because it had been floating around in his head and it seemed to be unclaimed.
“I think ‘Farsight’ was a spell from some video game,” he said. “In retrospect, I think it worked out pretty well. I like to think my taste is forward-thinking, so it kind of parallels the name.”
Raised in the South Bay, Smith honed his sound in Chicago and now calls San Francisco home. Though he has fielded plenty of compliments from fans and promoters on his current U.K. tour with Nikki Nair, he says he isn’t planning to relocate to London, Berlin—or even LA for that matter—at least not anytime soon.
“Right now I have a really nice equilibrium in San Francisco,” he says.
Part of his loyalty is surely due to his broader identity. As a Californian who grew up in a Peruvian-American household, Smith says the sounds and rhythms of Latin America continue to inform his art. But part of his dedication to the Bay Area may also lie in the region’s diverse tastes.
Club Chai, the East Bay experimental club party founded by Lara Sarkissian (Foozool) and Esra Canoğulları (8ULENTINA) was known for such radical diversity and inclusiveness. The now-defunct, Oakland-based dance night was a place where women, trans, queer and non-binary folks gathered to move to left-field sounds—such as the mesmeric drums of the South African gqom genre.
While Smith was not involved with the Club Chai collective, he says he is always pleased when he is able to keep club-goers on their toes with unexpected selections. Case in point: A recent Farsight set at Night Tales Loft in London.
It was around 1:30 a.m. He and the other DJs had been spinning plenty of breaks and UK funky, which tends to hover at around 130 beats per minute. “I dropped it right back down to 100 bpm and started playing some reggaeton for a few minutes.”
After the show, a group of friends—all of Ecuadorian descent—approached him outside the club to say they really appreciated hearing some Latin American cuts in a part of the world where grime, garage and jungle tend to dominate.
In that vein, Smith’s latest release as Farsight finds the local producer zigging where so many of his contemporaries have chosen to zag. While much of the electronic world has been on a ’90s hardcore nostalgia trip, Smith was taking inventory of his recent output and searching for a way to distance himself from thundering, overdriven kick drums and Amen breaks.
“I just have an impulse to avoid the obvious,” he says. “I try to avoid listening to every new release because I don’t want to sound like every new release.”
Smith describes the Renegade EP, which he dropped on Scuffed Recordings in May of this year, as “big, ravey, carefree, maximum fun.” When he began sketching out the tracks that would ultimately become “Swallowed Whole” and “Flash Flood”—released together last Friday on Tropopause—he was in more of an introspective mood. He also deliberately disrupted his usual workflow, focusing on making each piece rhythmically interesting before considering how he might hold listeners’ attention through chord progressions and melody.
The result is a pair of highly percussive tracks with accents of tribal house and flickers of UK funky.
Although the “What’s up with your name?” question rarely elicits particularly revealing responses from musicians, it can, in some instances, lead to an illuminating anecdote. Reflecting back at his 2015 interview with MODA, Smith chuckles, but says he stands by his original rationale.
These days, though, Smith is preoccupied with a different question: What direction he’ll go on his next release? Though the specifics may be unclear at the moment, the general outline remains the same.
“I really want to be an eclectic artist,” he says. “It’s too easy to keep pressing the same button.”