Marc “MK” Kinchen: Back on Track
After Years of Living the
Pop Life, Marc “MK” Kinchen Has
Re-Taken Clubland by Storm
Considering just how fresh-faced and vibrant Marc “MK” Kinchen is, it’s hard to believe that his career began well over 20 years ago.
Having gotten his start in the late 1980s in America’s techno mecca of Detroit, it was surely unexpected that the young producer would switch lanes completely and go on to become one of house music’s greatest champions. However, after his dizzying ascent to the top of the dance music scene in the 1990s with fiery productions like “Burning” and “Always,” plus a cavalcade of high-profile remixes, Kinchen stepped away to spend time doing more pop-oriented ventures with Will Smith and Pitbull.
However, staying off the proverbial dancefloor proved difficult for Kinchen, who was brought back into the club world after being invited to play at one of Jamie Jones and Lee Foss’ Hot Creations parties. Despite his lack of DJing experience at the time, the gig served as a symbolic gesture that MK was back and ready to claim his spot in today’s scene.
Since his return, he’s nabbed a U.K. No.1 single (his remix of Storm Queen’s “Look Right Through”), a BBC Radio One Essential Mix, and more sold-out gigs than one could possibly count. With work now underway on his debut artist album, MK is putting the decades of production experience he’s amassed to work. Astute fans have already heard previews of work from the forthcoming album, with his Emma Louise-penned anthem “Mirror Ball” (featuring fellow Pleasure State member Anabel Englund) having made appearances in his gigs throughout the year.
This summer, Kinchen unveiled the first official taste of the album in the form of its lead single, “Bring Me To Life.” Bringing together pulsing basslines, classic-house piano chords, and a massive diva vocal take from Milly Pye, the track encapsulates much of the magic that made Kinchen a legendary figure in dance music in the first place.
Amidst his never-ending stream of tour dates, MK managed to squeeze time into his busy schedule to chat about the debut album, his storied career, and just how he managed to become one of dance music’s most important artists all over again.
DJ Times: You grew up in Detroit and produced in Kevin Saunderson’s studio. How did you first get involved musically?
Marc Kinchen: I started producing first at home on my own. I had a couple synths and drum machines—this was when I was 15 or 16, making music. The way I met Kevin was when he put out a compilation album. I had a song that I had just done with some friends of mine and he wanted it for the album. Someone from Kevin’s office called me in to meet. They asked what I was doing, and I was like, “I’m producing.” They said, “Kevin wants to work with you.” I forgot exactly how we set it up, but it basically let me go down to Kevin’s studio to make music.
DJ Times: Producing in your bedroom in the early 1990s was a lot different and more difficult than it is in the present day. How did you get started?
Kinchen: I got involved musically from the music I listened to when I was like 13. I listened to a lot of alternative music—Depeche Mode, mostly. Back then, it was all analog synths—no acoustic equipment. That got me interested in making music electronically, so I started producing. I would teach myself how to play their songs. That was how I learned to produce. I’d say, “Oh, so you do the bassline separate, this separate,” and so on. A lot of kids who don’t produce don’t understand that you don’t play the whole song in one sitting; it’s broken down into parts. By the time I got to Kevin, I just knew how to do everything.
DJ Times: Despite growing up in the techno paradise of Detroit, your sound was much more in line with the house music of New York City. What drew you to that sort of sound?
Kinchen: I don’t really know what “did it.” Even when I was with Kevin every day, he’d be doing techno and Derek [May] would be doing techno upstairs, but I still liked the Chicago and New York sound better. I don’t know what it was—maybe because it was a little bit more melody and song-oriented.
DJ Times: The world of production and releasing music back then was extremely different. You weren’t DJing back then. Would it even be possible for someone to make a name for themself by strictly producing?
Kinchen: Not really, because the way you make most of your money now is touring. Record sales are really just a form of promotion, so it would be hard for a producer unless he starts producing just pop records.
DJ Times: And the channels for release back then were very different. You couldn’t just upload a track to Soundcloud after finishing it. How is that different to you now and how does it affect your output?
Kinchen: Back then in the ’90s, I had management and that’s how I got all my remixes. It wasn’t just like I took a record, remixed it, and put it out. I had managers and they got me work, and it came out in a traditional way when a label released the record. Now, of course, you don’t have to do that. That being said, I still really don’t finish and record and just upload it to Soundcloud.
DJ Times: You stepped away from the club-music scene for an extended period. What were you doing during that time?
Kinchen: Pretty much what we’ve talked about. I wasn’t DJing, so for me to make a living producing, I had to produce more than just dance music. You can’t make a living just producing dance music.
DJ Times: Was there a specific moment that you can recall when you decided to step away?
Kinchen: I think around ’95 when [my remix of "Push The Feeling On” by] Nightcrawlers was just taking over. I was like, “I can’t keep remixing my whole life. I’ve got to do something, but something a little bigger. That involves producing and writing songs for other artists.” That was where I decided to stop focusing on remixing and focus on writing and producing.
DJ Times: You did a lot of in-house work for Will Smith. What did you take away from those years?
Kinchen: I started out with a guy named Jay Brown—he’s partners with Jay-Z now. Jay used to manage me back in, like, 1996 after we ended up meeting. He didn’t know anything about my house production. He had just heard a regular R&B production, and he brought me to Quincy Jones. Quincy signed me to a one- or two-year publishing deal, but they had me write for every artist. I’d go into the studio and make songs with them. I did that for a while, and then I moved to Los Angeles. I was friends with Will Smith and his friend Omar. They were looking for an in-house producer who could work on Will’s stuff, so they didn’t have to go outside and look for other producers. I thought that it sounded cool.
DJ Times: What next?
Kinchen: I did that for a while, but Will wasn’t releasing anything for a while. He only had one album in a long span, so I thought, “This isn’t going to work either.” Then Pitbull sampled Nightcrawlers, and that was the key that made me think, “This is how house can tie-in.” I love producing house more than anything else, and it could tie into me writing for other artists. I see the connection now.
DJ Times: So was it the success of the Pitbull track that brought you back into dance music?
Kinchen: It was a little bit of that, and then I started getting requests to DJ. Jamie Jones and Lee Foss were having a party in Miami—I didn’t know who they were at the time—and they asked if I wanted to DJ at their party. A couple of people told me it was massive that they wanted me to DJ, so I was like, “I’ll say yes, and figure it out.”
DJ Times: What was that first gig like?