MK Interview: What goes around comes around

Marc Kinchen aka MK spoke to Becca Frankland about his career beginnings, producing for the Hollywood A-list and the imitation of his signature house sound.

Becca Frankland

Last updated: 9th Aug 2016

Marc Kinchen's releases over twenty years ago created the blueprint for the house music we hear today. It's a sound that he is still the master of, and one mimicked continuously.  In the early to mid nineties under his MK moniker, he churned out some of the decade's most defining and recognisable grooves, 'Always', 'Burning' and his omnipresent dub of Nightcrawlers' 'Push The Feeling On' among them.

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In 1996 he halted his career in dance music but continued to work as a producer with some of the biggest A-list names, making pop and RnB music with Will Smith, Jay Z, Snoop Dogg and Pitbull, working exclusively under his full name. After being lured back into the dance music scene by Jamie Jones and Lee Foss in 2011, MK had no trouble becoming part of the Hot Creations family, later partnering up with Foss and singer Anabel Englund for their Pleasure State project. 

MK continued to remix underground tracks but revisited the mainstream again in 2013 when his remix of Storm Queen's 'Look Right Through' reached number one in the UK Singles Chart. It was followed by a string of more hit remixes including his version of  Wankelmut's 'My Head Is A Jungle' and Nile Rodgers' 'Do What You Wanna Do'

Now the MK name is as big a pull on a line up as it has ever been, and with the relaunch of his Area10 label just announced and another summer filled with festival dates, we thought it'd be the perfect time to speak with the producer extraordinaire to discuss some career defining moments. 

At 16 years of age you were considered Kevin Saunderson's protege; you were working with him in Detroit before you had even started clubbing. How did you make sense of it all at that point, before you had been exposed to the scene?

He definitely took an interest in me, and he let me use his studio, which was great. I watched him whilst he worked and picked up a lot of pointers. That studio was always bumping, and he was always busy working on his own stuff surrounded by his crew. Great memories. As a kid who wanted to make music, it was an eye opening experience.

What was it like when you started to go to clubbing? 

Funnily enough I was never a big clubber, and I was so young that for a long time I couldn’t get in without fake ID. Honestly, I preferred to go to see bands. I loved electronic and alternative music like Depeche Mode, The Cure, New Order, all the usual suspects. I originally wanted to have a band - I never thought that I would end up working on my own in the studio.

Do you think that your productions altered when you began to see the music's effect first hand in clubs?  

Yes, definitely. DJing out has had an enormous effect on me, I was almost producing in a vacuum before, I really had no idea that there would be a direct give and take with a live audience.

That has become a big part of my inspiration when I’m making new music, and I’ll often spontaneously try out new mixes or songs whilst I’m DJing, just to see and feel the reaction to what I am doing. I find my answers in the crowd, they help lead me.

From there it was onto creating some pretty seminal club records, most notably the Nightcrawlers dub. A career defining moment to say the least, how did it come about? Didn't the original mix get rejected?

I was living in Brooklyn and my manager called and told me she had this acapella for me, that the vocals were great and they wanted me to remix it. It was my first big paying remix. I took the mix on, but I was leaving for Detroit the next day, so I turned it in with only 45 minutes left before I had to go to the airport.

Then I got another call from my manager telling me that they wanted changes made. I said I couldn’t do it because I was catching a flight, but she said, "Marc, you HAVE to do these changes, please just try, they’re so minor!" I was already out of the door, but she convinced me.

I wasn’t happy about it, but I did it and that was the Dub of Doom. The funny thing is that years later, the same A&R still works with me at Sony. But honestly, if my version needed tweaking, you should have heard the original song! It was pretty unusable, but in the end, my mix turned out pretty cool.

After the success of your house productions, what was the catalyst for you deciding to leave dance music behind and focus on mainstream productions? 

I was getting so bored. I still wasn’t DJing then, so there was no living or breathing payoff. I would make the songs and remixes but I had no idea how it was affecting people - making them dance and feel good. I didn’t know about the electricity of a live show with the crowd. I get it now.

I was super bored just doing the remixes and I wanted to create my own stuff. It got to the point where my manager would ask the client, “What kind of mix are you looking for?” and the answer would always be “Can he make it like Nightcrawlers?” I felt stifled and stuck, I wanted to go do something more challenging, and coming from Detroit I’d always loved hip hop and R&B. I just needed a change at that time... I never stopped loving dance music, I just needed some new sparks.

What was it like working with working with Quincy Jones, Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z around that time?

Life changing, amazing, awe-inspiring. It was a time full of lessons about music, producing, writing, collaborating and understanding more about the other side of the music business.

Will Smith was also a big part of the picture for me. Working, meeting and observing these icons was really something.  The funny thing about Jay-Z was that I actually knew him from Brooklyn before he blew up as well. I also learned about the differences between the urban side of the business and the dance side - they were two polar opposites back then.

I read that it was Lee Foss and Jamie Jones who introduced you to house music again?

Yes, Jamie and Lee found me. Lee said that he’d been searching for me and found me on Facebook, as he wanted to book me for his annual Miami event. I called my managers and told them that he was really well known in the underground, so we checked him out and it was just chemistry at first sight, of the musical kind.

They are both great friends and we play together as much as we can, we even have a few side projects together.  They are amazing people too.

Two big British clubbing institutions - Defected and Ministry of Sound - had a big impact on the direction of your career with the release of your remix of 'Look Right Through'. It reached number one over here, and it had a big impact on the UK crowds...

Actually, Simon Dunmore from Defected is a really old friend and he never lost track of me - we always tried to keep in touch.  After Lee and Jamie lured me back into the scene, my managers and I reached out to Simon because they also have long term relationships with him.

We went to see Simon and asked if he had any records that would be good for me to remix, so he gave me 'Look Right Through'.  It took almost 18 months of playing it out to get it to the frenzy point - I kept changing the mixes, and by the time I was almost ready to give Simon my fourth dub, I knew just from the crowd reactions that it had the potential to really touch a lot of people.

Ministry of Sound are very old friends as well, I did try my hand at DJing once in the nineties, whilst Carl Cox’s manager Lynn Cosgrove worked at MoS. She ran the club nights and the label and was good friends with my manager. Lynn asked if we wanted to come over for a show, so she brought me, my manager and my brother over.  

I didn’t enjoy DJing at all then, I just wanted to mix live, like in a studio. That technology was just not available then. Dragging my whole studio around just didn’t seem viable with all those potential technical problems. Now I feel like I have it all, the technology is amazing. I can mix live whenever I want to.

Regarding 'Look Right Through' it was just a case of the right song, the right mix and the right time, and from there I just kept the momentum of it going with all the live shows and new mixes. It was a magical moment that seemed to stretch out for 22 months.

You had a big impact on UK dance culture even in the nineties, did you have any idea you were influencing aspects of UK garage? 

I had an idea that people liked it, but I had almost no idea that so many DJs were playing my music because I was stuck in at my studio.  It was a great surprise to find out. It’s amazing, people could tell you about it all day long but until you experience it first hand, you just don’t really know how it makes you feel.

You defined a specific house sound during your run of form in that decade, and a lot of producers are adopting and trying to recreate it now. Do you think that you've been fortunate to come back to a scene that's so fond of a style you made yourself comfortable with years ago?

I know what you mean, so much of what I hear nowadays sounds like me. This actually also happened in the nineties, but now that the technology is so easy and readily available, it is much simpler to copy what I do.

I have always had my own sound, so it’s kind of good and bad... Sometimes I see people get massive hits, when I know just from listening to them that even if they don’t know it, I have had a hand somehow in their success even if it was only through inspiration. I’m not annoyed by it, but I just kind of sit back and smile about it.

The sounds that I am making now may be derivative of my sound from the nineties, but it is still my own sound. At the same time, I do really try to keep it fresh otherwise I would get bored. If you really want to look at it more deeply, I too developed my sound from inspiration from others, like Larry Heard and Steve Silk Hurley. We all find our inspiration somewhere.

A lot of artists who have been part of the scene for a long period of time reinvent themselves. Although you've worked as MK in house music production and Marc Kinchen in R&B, an alias makes it pretty easy to go down a different avenue with music. Would you ever consider changing or is the MK sound one that you're happy to continue with for the foreseeable future?

I still ask myself this to this day. I am happy to merge my two personalities now. So many people are using the moniker MK, but I prefer to put Marc Kinchen in there as well, so everyone knows who they are talking to or about.  

After all, as great as they may be I don’t want to be confused with MKToo or even Michael Kors. Even funnier is that people like Quincy, Will Smith, Jay and others don’t know me as MK at all. So they have no idea that R&B Marc Kinchen is also dance music’s MK. 

You'll be hosting Area10 at Creamfields, you've also got the Area10 label back again which is home to your new track with Becky Hill 'Piece Of Me'. What was the idea behind creating your own platform for events and releases and where did the name come from? 

I started the label to release some of my side projects in the nineties. It just seemed like the obvious thing to do, and this time we could build our own events with our friends and family.

The name came from my one and only real job - when I was about 15/16 I worked at a parking garage in Detroit, and the section that was considered my area of responsibility was called AREA10. It was at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. 

You've played at a lot of festivals over the past couple of years, and a lot of DJs say they can struggle to create that connection between themselves and the crowd when they're in a huge arena, is it something you have to work towards in particular when you know you're playing a bigger space? 

I don’t have miraculous shows every single night, but most of the time the crowd carries me to such a high. It’s amazing what you can do and feel when the synergy between the DJ and audience happens.

What's next for MK?

I have a lot on my plate these days and it feels like a lot of it is travelling... maybe that hologram thing is not such a bad idea. I have my album coming out, I’ve just been finishing it off with Area10/Columbia, and they’ve all been great to me. I just released my single ‘Piece of Me’, so the remixes for that are coming shortly. The touring season is kicking off now too. Things are pretty amazing right now.  

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