Marc ‘MK’ Kinchen is an artist-producer who straddles boundaries as few others can. It was during the halcyon period of House music in the early 90s that Marc established his reputation as one of house music’s finest producers and today he’s certainly regarded as one of its most influential.
It’s not surprising given his set of credentials; he started out in Detroit making his own tracks as a protégé of techno god Kevin Saunderson where he developed his craft.
A major label album deal saw him move to New York where he also became a prolific remixer for underground acts as well as the remix producer of choice for R&B or credible pop acts (including Jodeci, Bobby Brown, Pet Shop Boys and Moby) that sought his unique dance floor flavour. His successes led to the even headier heights working with Quincy Jones and later as a songwriter and producer with Will Smith, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and Rihanna amongst others but it also meant a period away from the dance underground.
Now, MK has returned to house and he is the latest artist to be featured in Defected’s House Masters series with a new unmixed retrospective of his finest works which brings together a package of his original productions and remixes including some classics that previously existed only on vinyl. But hey, don’t listen to me, just listen to some of his friends…
“MK is a giant inspiration in house music.”
”MK is very important to the scene because he has been through the history of dance music. His records have hooks…they simply work and he knows what to do. He is still around and he still has it.”
Louie Vega, Masters At Work
“MK will always be one of my favorite producer / remixers. He was ahead of his time with his music and to this day continues to inspire us all.”
Felix (Basement Jaxx)
“MK – A true innovator and originator, a pioneer of true deep house.”
“I remember hearing the ‘Burning’ back when I was about 14 living in Wales, listening to Pete Tong’s Essential Selection, Its one of the records that helped convert me from drum n bass and hardcore to house music.”
Eli – Soul Clap
“’Push The Feeling’ is the most obvious MK remix to mention, but that’s why it’s had such an impact on my DJ life. MK’s ‘The Dub of Doom’ always works on any dance floor… probably anywhere in the universe.”
Ryan Crosson (Visionquest)
“The original of 4th Measure Men ‘4 You’ is a real classic.”
“I don’t think I ever DJ’d a set without at least playing one MK track.”
“I think what makes Marc special is that he is someone that has always been ahead of his time with music, which is genius in his own right.”
Round Table Knights
“We have been big fans of ‘Burning’ for almost 20 years…so it was a HUGE honour for us to have the chance to remix this timeless record!”
“MK’s records impacted on the early Dutch house scene. His records appeared to be quite simple, but they had the most recognizable organ bass lines and the craziest swing and funk which were raw as fuck but would still work.”
“A legendary producer, one of my all time favourites in dance music.”
Todd ‘The God’ Edwards
“MK’s use of vocals became the cornerstone of my musical style. I can say with 100% certainty, without MK’s influence, there would be no Todd Edwards. The musical elements of MK’s work were very different from other producers at the time. His tracks were soulful but had something more… perhaps they were more futuristic.”
Dan Prince finally gets his man after waiting on the phone for a time whilst Marc pops to the pub next door for a vodka Red Bull. Well, jet lag can be a real pain the ass… Welcome Mr Kinchen back to London. You’ve not been here in a while?
“Hi Dan. No I’ve not been here in about three years. I’ve got some great gigs here and around Europe which I am really looking forward to.”
You’ve had yet another hectic year…
“I have, I’ve been doing some more work with Pitbull working on two more songs after gluing a deal down with him. I’ve also been working with Will Smith and his three kids. I’ve done a couple of tracks with Willow, worked on three tracks with Jaden and also his eldest son Trey who is developing into a very good house producer.”
So it’s fair to say you are pretty close with Will?
“Yeah, I’m at his house at least two days a week. No let me rephrase that, I’m at his castle at least two days a week! It’s a very laid back household, he is so approachable. If I’m hungry I just let myself in his back door and his staff make me some food, which is very cool. I am also doing some DJing for the release of his new Men In Black 3 movie next year.”
You were born in Detroit – the home of techno. Which band or artist was always blaring out of your stereo that influenced your future musical tastes? And don’t say Depeche Mode, you always say Depeche Mode…
“Depeche Mode Dan, always Depeche Mode.”
Okay, let’s go on a different track. Did you grow up in a musical household, were your parents musical?
“No my parents weren’t musicians in any way.Myself and my brothers all liked the same kind of progressive music though and stuck together and even from a young age I wanted to create sounds.”
Kevin Saunderson was obviously a big influence to you who was also then based in Detroit…
“Well I hated anything mainstream back then, I wasn’t into anything that made it’s way into the charts. Kevin was popular back then with his ‘Big Fun’ and ‘Good Life’ hits and even though I’m contradicting myself here, I liked his material because even though it became pop music, it still came from an underground background.” Why did you decide do leave Detroit for New York?
“I was working mostly with Kevin, Kevin taught me a lot. I saw that Kevin and Derrick May all had their own labels and I watched what they were doing and in my spare time I made music. I pressed ‘Burning’ for fun and the next thing I knew my phone was ringing off the hook. One of the calls was from a guy at Cardiac Records called Ramon Wells about licensing the record. I had a girlfriend in NY, Kevin Saunderson’s management MCT was there and I thought that if I moved I could get hooked up with them. So I just moved and gave it a shot.”
What clubs were you hanging around in back then – and who were part of the posse?
“I wasn’t club crazy back then, I was following Kenny and Louis Vega around and we’d be hitting the cooler clubs that they knew. And that’s the way it was, people just hanging out. Like we would hang out with Roger S and the Murk boys.”
Do you regret not becoming a DJ in the early part of your career to see how the dancefloor was gauging your remixes and records – this was pre-internet days…
“I don’t regret it, it’s funny that’s the first time I have been asked that question actually. I’m really not that egotistical and I kinda knew I was making some sort of impact out there. I still don’t really know to what extent though to this day. I would go to clubs sometimes and hear my remixes and see people going crazy to my stuff and then I would get it. I still have unreleased remixes that I thought were great, lying around gathering dust, like a Michael Jackson dub I did, which was never released. I lost that though. I have no idea where it is. If I had been a DJ back then I would have been able to play these out and gauge the crowd’s response.”
While you were in New York did you keep an eye on the music that was coming out of Detroit? Did you think they’d left you behind?
“No not really, I was just concentrating on New York because I always saw my sound as house not techno. Kevin was really the only one who supported me, no one else really said anything about ‘Burning.’ When it came out the only thing people in Detroit asked me about was why I used that vibe preset that’s all over the Vibe Mix. Once I got to NY I never really cared. I’m still really good friends with Carl Craig though, we came up around the same time.”
How would you describe the MK sound?
“The key element in a MK record is getting a good melody out of some type of vocal piece; you treat it like it’s live or die. I load the vocals into my sampler and literally play through the vocals syllable by syllable until I eventually start hearing syllables I like. You don’t know what they’re saying but it sounds good. You get a couple of those together and you’re going to win.”
You have lived in Los Angeles for ten years now, what do you love and hate about the city?
“I obviously love the weather. The girls are nice too.”
You can’t say that, you’re a married man…!
“Haha she’s cool, she knows I’m only messin’! I suppose the downside is the traffic but it’s not too bad if you time your trips right. My main worry though are earthquakes, I’m waiting for the big one to hit.” What are you to on your iPod at the moment?
“I don’t listen to music that much outside of the studio, I’m listening to it all day so I need a little peace time.” So how do you chill?
“X-Box, X-Box, X-Box! As soon as I wake up I sort the little ones out getting them fed and dressed and then it’s my time playing Call of Duty and the hockey until I feel I’m ready to function for the day!” You once said regarding doing dance remixes – ” I don’t put a lot of thought in to my dance stuff. It’s more of just a feeling, so I just go for it and hopefully it ends up working for whatever reason” – is that still the case?
“A little bit – for dance music. For pop not so much which annoys me, I don’t want to go through the whole structure and production rules. Sometimes I get away with it but nine times out ten I’ve got to follow the plan with the same hook and all of the verses the same length unlike making dance music.”
The DMC world is read the world over by thousands upon thousands of aspiring DJs and producers. They all spend months trying to conjure up their meal ticket into the music industry. Tell us all, how long exactly did it take to make your incredible ‘Dub of Doom’ remix of the Nightcrawlers ‘Push The Feeling On’.
“Here’s a short answer in more than ways one. 30 minutes.”
What has been your most satisfying remix to date?
“Maybe the Nightcrawlers ‘Push The Feeling On’ which actually lay around on a British pressing and then six months later blew up. I never felt a great peak of remixes after that, I was steadily getting 2 or 3 mixes a month and then eventually I was turning mixes down. I actually like a lot of my mixes, but I rarely listened to them after they were completed. Sometimes I might go back to them and listen to them after a long time. And I wasn’t DJing so I wasn’t getting the crowd reaction, I was turning in remix after remix and didn’t really get emotionally attached to them. After a while it wasn’t that much fun anymore, and that’s the main reason I stopped remixing. Maybe if I had been a DJ I would have kept doing the remix work.”
So is that a reason why you stepped away for a while…?
“Well after a while I was doing a mix a week for like 15-20 grand so money wasn’t the issue. The issue became – am I just going to remix my whole life? ‘Cause at the time remixing was a relatively new thing and so was producing, I didn’t know about the longevity, so I was like I need to do original production. You hear about producers and artist that are living off of royalties later on in life. I kinda just stopped doing remixes and I went into production. I hooked up with Quincy Jones and that led to working with 702, Snoop, SWV, Jay-Z, E-40 and everybody else.”
Okay, and what has been the worst remix you have ever done?
“Ha ha. Maybe the Elton John and Ru Paul track ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’. I just couldn’t make that tune cool at all. I hated the song from the outset, like, really hated it. When I sit down to do a remix I ask for the vocals only and not the original mix. But there was no way I could make it work, I wasn’t satisfied put it that way.”
Best club you have played at recently…
“I just did The Faversham with my brother Scottie Deep in Leeds, a La Loop party. I did not know what the turn out would be, but the place was totally packed.As soon as I played ‘Burning’ the crowd lost it, they absolutely lost it, which was a good feeling. The response was amazing. The funny thing was that the oldest person was like 25 years old. It’s very exciting to see and makes me want to go back producing a real MK record.”
Do you think that throughout your career you have learned pretty much everything there is to learn as a producer and DJ?
“When I look back at all my productions in one track listing I guess I can kind of see it, because there are plenty of records out there, and most of them sound pretty good. As far as DJing, I’m more of a producer than a DJ although I do enjoy it, especially lately when I see people react to my tracks and sets. And as I did not really used to go house clubs all the time and because I rarely DJd in the 90s, I’d say that about 90 percent of my records I’ve never heard in a club before.”
How do you balance making credible, underground records with huge pop anthems?
It’s a lot harder balancing the two styles than people may think, especially when on the one hand I’m working with Willow Smith which is more edgy kind of hip-hop, compared to on the other doing stuff with Pitbull which is more totally commercial. I keep trying to bring back MK, but it’s pretty hard to juggle which is why it has taken so long to do a new MK record.
Do you have any underground records in the pipeline?
“The underground records are coming; it’s good that I DJ right now and am touring. Like I said I don’t DJ that much, but doing a couple of shows, playing certain MK records has shown me that people go mad when I play my tracks. I guess that this is the type of sound that’s ‘in’ at the moment, the ‘MK sound’. I have just done a remix for Morgan Geist under his ‘Storm Queen’ guise and I will be working on more material soon.”