MK

Published on February 14th, 2012

The influence of MK on modern dance music of all persuasions is undeniably major. Aside from Nightcrawlers’ ‘Push The Feeling On’ being quite possibly the ultimate crossover house hit of the 90s you can hear the influence of MK across the spectrum of worldwide dance music from it’s current spiritual home at the Panorama Bar through to the aesthetic of dubstep and post-garage urban styles. MK’s production influenced the very fabric of house music as it moved out of Chicago & Detroit and found a home on New York dancefloors in the early 90s.

Marc Kinchen’s career developed in step with the embryonic rise of house and techno – he grew up in Detroit under the tutelage of alchemists like Kevin Saunderson & Chez Damier before moving to New York just as the city became the worldwide capital of the house sound as pioneered by people like Todd Terry & Masters At Work throughout the 90s. Just before the bubble burst MK instinctively looked West to continue his career and at the tender 25 years of age moved to LA where he got work in the ‘real’ music industry as a protégé of Quincy Jones, seemingly disappearing altogether from the underground scene.

Dan Beaumont met Marc when he was London promoting his Defected ‘House Masters’ compilation.

You’re originally from Detroit, and you were making music at a very young age. What prompted you to start?

I started listening to Kiss. I started getting to the more progressive alternative music – Depeche Mode were my all time favourite. And that era made me want to make music. Ministry, Erasure… that was the music I started off wanting to make. I met a guy – Terence Parker – through a mutual friend (they found out I did music, and at that time there weren’t a lot of music producers around – today everyone is a producer).
He said, “do you want to make a record?”
I said, “what kind of record?’”
He said, “house”
I didn’t know much about house. I had to listen to it to figure it out. I made ‘We Need Somebody’, ‘First Base’, and I forgot the name of the other one. ‘We Need Somebody’ was a collaboration, I think I did drums. “First Base” I did totally myself. And that was it, I was still young, I wasn’t going to clubs yet, and then I heard that Kevin Saunderson wanted to license ‘First Base’ for a KMS compilation, and at that point I knew who Kevin was, I knew who Derek (May) was, I knew who Juan Atkins was, so I got in contact with them, and I met Chez (Damier) – he brought me in to work with Kevin and then I started production.

House was part of the culture back then?

Where I grew up was the house music capital. Anything you danced to – it was all at least 120 BPM back then. It wasn’t all four on the floor but there were dance shows on TV – just hardcore dancing. So I kind of grew up listening, randomly hearing dance music. I remember going to house music clubs, early early house stuff; 909 drums and a bass line, and I thought, “what is this?” And I actually hated it the first time. I was a new producer, into synthesizers and hearing something so stripped down I thought “this is it?” Then gradually I started to understand it – and I got it, and then I really started to love the raw sound. Stripped down and raw. You hear something so much – and you go to make a record yourself, and you’re still influenced by what you’ve heard 24 hours a day, its still going to influence you somehow.

When you started to make music, what equipment were you using then? What was in your bedroom?

A Roland Juno 106, a TR707, a Yamaha QX7 sequencer, which had only like 2 channels, that’s what I owned. But when I used Kevin’s (Saunderson) studio, he had everything. 909s, 808s… Every time a new synthesizer came out he would get it. So I was using his equipment, but a lot of the time I would use equipment that was dusty in the corner, not plugged in, like “what is this?” I used this piece called a Kurzweil, a rack mount – it must have weighed 20 pounds at least, it only had like 8 sounds in it. The sounds were pretty much not for techno music. Strings, piano, vibes sound, trumpet sound. But all the guys weren’t using it – that’s why it was in the corner. But I used it on ‘Burning’.

You put ‘Burning’ out yourself on your own label… how old were you?

I was 17. I was making “Burning” – and I was going to Kevin’s studios to make records for him to put out, by myself. I never really used an engineer – even now. When I made the track – I don’t remember but I am pretty sure I gave it to Kevin and and he wasn’t into it. It wasn’t that sound. It wasn’t that techno sound. I loved it. I remember being in my apartment and just playing it. I let it play for an hour – and this was before Alana was on it – and there’s something about it. The chords are wrong, but I liked it a lot. So my girlfriend at the time said, “I have a friend who sings, her name is Alana.”
I said, “oh cool, does she want to come over and do something?”
She came over and sang it. We didn’t sit down in a room, we didn’t try to brainstorm, she heard the song and just started singing, and I’m like, “cool.”
I recorded her at KMS, Kevin’s studio, and it wasn’t a lot of takes. No retakes – it was just that kind of vibe.

The vocal – its so raw. It’s hot.

It probably was! I didn’t master it. That was never mastered. I recorded it on 23 track 2 inch tape, mixed it to half inch, and edited it with a razor blade, and took the half inch to the mastering place where they made the vinyl, and that was it. After that I had a copy on cassette as DAT tapes weren’t out yet. I saw how Kevin put records out, so I knew what they did. Chez Damier helped a lot and said, “just talk to these distributors.” I had no money – I sent 3 to distributors.

They were based in Detroit?

No they were spread out – Unique in Chicago, on in Tennessee, one weird place – all over. They ordered like 100 copies each, but I had no money to pay for 3000 copies of a record. So I asked the pressing plant, “can you just press these records and send them to these distributors? That way when they deliver you can get paid.” So I spent no money, and I told the pressing plant what to charge, and they said 2 dollars and 30 cents per record.

How many did you press originally?

The first was 3000, so they all got the copies, I said, “just cut the vinyl with something cool.”
They said, “what do you what to do about your art work?”
I said, “Just make a black label with white letters.”
That’s what they did. They then called me back and said, “we need to re-order; they’re all sold out.”
I ended up selling 20,000 myself.
I was still in Detroit, and then someone called Ramon Walls who worked at Cardiac records called me (I had my phone number on the record) and he basically said, “I just want to know who made this record ‘Burning’.”
I said, “I made it.”
He said, “I just want you to know I love this record.”
I was still young – I didn’t know what this meant. Out of nowhere I told him, “You can license it if you like?”
I wasn’t that kind of guy who wanted to put out a record. Straight away I wanted to move forward. At this point I had moved to New York – and that’s where I met Marcia and Berry at MTT management.

Just before that though – what initially prompted your move to New York?

My girlfriend who I was seeing lived in New York, so I was in a long distant relationship, and ‘Burning’ started to do well and after that I didn’t have to work. I was working in a parking lot – and that was called ‘Area 10’ – that’s why I called my label ‘Area 10.’ So I figured I’m just going to move to New York, as this guy Ramon wants to release my records, and that’s what did it.

Is this the point where you realised you had a unique skill in taking a vocal and reconstructing it into something else?

I didn’t know it was a skill – I just knew when I made a track I would know it needs something else. And I didn’t know if I wanted to put out a whole one – and I would sample little vocal things and it gave it a little bit extra and that’s how I did it. I had this record by Mike Dunn, and he chopped up 3 or 4 vocal parts, and it was really just dark and raw. I knew this is dope, this is raw – and that’s where it came from – Mike Dunn.

Were you aware of producers coming up in New York at the time?

Some of them. I knew about Todd Terry, just because there were always a lot of his records around. I started going out, in New York. I became friends with Louis and Kenny (Masters At Work) and I went to a club just to hang out with them when they DJ’ed, and then I remember Kenny played Chez Damier – ‘Can You Feel It’. It was the first time I heard my record in a club.

Where were you?

I want to say Sound Factory… I was at the bar, and it came on… and that beat came in and everyone at the club went apeshit, and I was like, “woah!”
They were going crazy. That was the first time I saw a reaction to my record. And when I saw that I thought “Oh I should probably do some more.”
That was really the one that made me go deeper into doing dubs.

What were the main tools in the studio you were using?

An Akai S1100 rack mount sampler – that was my main piece. Without that I couldn’t do anything. That was the only thing I could use to chop my vocals and do my dubs. I had a 909.

What about Masters of Work and Todd Terry, what did they think of you?

With Louis & Kenny I was like their little brother. That’s how they treated me, literally. Then I remember Todd sampled “Burning” for Gypsymen. And people were like “you should sue him!”
I said “I’m not suing him, he’s my boy!”
And at one music conference, Todd was on a panel, and they were asking about doing songs. He was like “Normally I just sample MK… “

At your peek how many remixes were you doing?

There was definitely a remix a week – I was doing so much. it was very rare that I went to sleep where I didn’t have a stack of things to do. There wasn’t a time when I didn’t have stuff to do.

Am I right in thinking you didn’t get into DJing much later?

Well initially I didn’t even know how. I was a producer. I did know how to DJ. When you DJ you get that feeling like you’re creating something. But I get 10 times that when I’m actually creating things. So instead of playing 2 records I would make 2 records. I had always been asked to DJ and always turned it down and eventually I was like – maybe I should start. My brother Scotty showed me. He used to DJ at the music institute in Detroit, and I would go there.

You started remixing quite mainstream records

At the time, Masters at Work were remixing the big pop acts, I was remixing not-so-big names – Bette (Midler) was a big one but a lot of the groups I seemed to keep mixing weren’t big names. I said Marcia I want to mix this person and that person but there weren’t too may big names. Celine Dion was probably one of the biggest during that run.

What remixes were you most proud of?

For a while it was Celine Dion, maybe because she was such a big name and the mix came out really well, Nightcrawlers I guess I was proud of just because it did so well.

Did that take you by surprise?

Yeah – even now. It took me a good 4 years to realise how big a record that was. I remember when I did the mix, turned it in and got on the plane. I came back to New York 2 weeks later and was going through my DATs and I was like… “woah!” That was probably the only one I listened to with fresh ears, and it’s very rare I hear my mixes like that. I called my brother Scott and said, “you got to hear this.”
He was like “damn!“

Do you ever get tired of hearing it?

Sometimes when I hear it I think I should have turned the kick up. There were 2 records I did that never came out, that are gone forever. There was another mix around the time Nightcrawlers came out and I lost it – don’t know where it is. I was going to put it out. I had the same feeling that I had with Nightcrawlers – it was just as good, and I don’t know where it went. Moby did a mix for Michael Jackson for ‘Who Is It’ and I remember Marcia giving me the vocal, I did a dub, and I think Marcia gave it to the label, but I don’t know what happened to it. I never heard it again. It was so dope – remember exactly how it went too, If I had the vocal I could do it again.

You could do an MK dub with just a vocal. Is that all you need?

If it doesn’t have a chopped up vocal its not me.

Did you hear people start to imitate you after you became that popular?

The only person I hear who kind of imitated what I did was Todd Edwards. But Todd did it different. I just chopped vocals – he would chop entire parts of the song and make loops from it.

Do you ever think that you got distracted form your own productions by doing all the remixes?

Yeah, that’s why I stopped remixing. I was doing so many remixes I started getting worried – what if I get burned out? I’m getting older, there are royalties – if I get burned out I will have to start over, so I thought is should probably think about that now, and that’s when I started doing more pop and R&B to give myself a safety net.

Do you think you grew a bit tired of the sound of house music?

Yeah – I think it got to a point where I would make music, where the best stuff I made was influenced – and a new Steve Hurley record or Masters At Work record would make me want to be in my studio and run back to my equipment… I stopped wanting to do that.

At what point did you move to LA?

Well I ended up leaving Marcia and working with a guy names Jay Brown who is now Jay-Z’s partner – so to make a long story short, he worked Quincy Jones, started giving me work on R&B and pop projects, and then it was time for a change in 2000, I was like – lets go to LA. I used to fly there every other week anyway, so I ended up moving there.

When you first started moved from the house scene into wider R&B/pop scene how different was it?

It was weird because where I was and the people I worked with, they looked down on house music – at least back then. it wasn’t popular, it was almost like I wasn’t talented. So when I started doing R&B never told them about MK – no one knew I did house music, Nightcrawlers, anything – I was in as a new producer. They know now.

How did they treat you? At this time you’re 25?

I was in the right position – I was with Quincey and the work was coming in, and then I got a song, and became friends with the A&R and they gave me a 10 song deal, worth quarter of a million. I had that and then was getting a lot of work just doing – and I think I was because of my house influence, a lot of my early stuff had some kind of edge. Kind of like how Timbaland was. So it had some weird stuff that was interesting

And it had to sound good in a club!

Yeah – no matter whether it was slow or not – they were all songs that sounded good in a club that you could somehow dance to.

Is funny because now mainstream R&B has more of a house sound.

I noticed when Pitbull sampled night crawlers – and I was shocked, I thought there are so many other songs that would have worked – and that sound made House music big. I got in touch with his A&R and he was like “I have every one of your records.”
He kept saying 90s house is gonna come back in – so trust me, do your own thing, in two years everything is gonna sound like an MK record. And I was like – wow he’s right!

How did the Defected compilation come about?

Simon (Dunmore) Defected records contacted me and said they were thinking about doing a compilation, actually it was going to be a compilation with me and Chez Damier – one disc MK and one disc Chez – and then over the past couple of weeks it turned into just an MK one.

It’s not like you’re short of material

No, I have a lot. Maybe they thought I didn’t have enough records, but once they went through it, they realised here’s a lot of stuff and just went with it. Some tracks – It’s hard tracking down the masters. Some stuff I have, sometimes Defected will call and say, “have you heard this?” and we will try and find it. We wanted to put on a record I did with Stryder, and the thing is Stryder never showed up. We made an acetate – and I didn’t like it. So I took it off, and put another record on instead, and it somehow – some guy found it, bought it from a guy in Detroit, and I don’t know who put it on youtube – but someone put it up there, and wants to sell the acetate for £1000. We’re thinking about buying it.

Were there any others you wished were on it?

Yeah – but they are on major labels. I wanted Jodeci on there – maybe it was too expensive, they said it was too hard getting with the majors. There are at least 10 records.

Faith asked some of our favourite DJs and producers “what’s your favourite MK production?”

Rocky (X-Press 2)
My favourite is a very obvious one, but for me Burning has it all. From the opening keyboard riff to Alana’s haunting vocal. I even love the pinky and perky sampled vocals! It evokes memories from around that time as well, holidays in Ibiza and Rimini and travelling more and more around the UK to DJ. It’s also one of those tracks that’s absolutely timeless. You can play it to a room full of 40 something retired ravers or a club full of 20 year old clubbers that had never heard it before and you’d get the same reaction. My favourite MK remix is Hermann – Tumblin’ Down. I just love the simplicity of it. As with Burning, perfect house music.

JG Twitch (Optimo)
Oh, this is a tough one. So many MK faves. I’m going to go for MK – Feel The Fire (Wax fruit version) which literally never left my record box between 1991 and 1997. It still sounds great to this day, tends not to be overplayed and holds so many fond memories of ecstatic singalong moments on lots of different dance floors. It could do with a remastering / repress though.

Spencer Parker
Definitely his remix of Masters at Work ‘I Can’t Get No Sleep’ for me. Just the way he chopped the vocals and the epic piano.

Andy Blake (World Unknown)
Happyhead – Digital Love Thing. Take one fairly dreadful pop rap car-crash. Scratch head for a while and work out what on earth you’re going to do to with it to render it dancefloor-ready. Force it through the skippedy-dip garage grinder and sail dangerously close to shiny-shoe shithead territory. Somehow rather magically rustle up an end result that comes on like a grinning, gurning hooligan out on the razz with a pocketful of tip-top bumbles and primo chiz and that still sends people round the loop two decades later. When you think how insanely popular this was at the time, and especially if you factor in the number of bootlegs that came out, why this was never officially released is completely beyond me. I’d be inclined to blame major label stupidity and/or incompetence but that just seems sooo unlikely :-)

Raf Daddy (The 2 Bears)
Predictably I have to say the one I love the most is the dub of Jodeci ‘Freakin’ You.’ There are a hundred great MK dubs but this is the one, it’s hot n saucy for the dancefloor, it has the signature MK keyboard sound and a BAD bassline. Tough, sexy soulful house music for days and days.

Miles Simpson (Thunder)
My favourite MK record is the 4th Measure Men ’4 You’. On my first trip to New York a friend was an aspiring DJ and had various music industry jobs. He was also a regular at the Sound Factory, and it was him who took us there with Chez Damier. Before we went, he gave me this record that was coming out on this label he was working for, which I didn’t think about much. At the Sound factory Junior played so many good records but one stood out. It was really heavy, really hooky and really deep. Proper “wow” moment and went kind of like “ba-ba-ba-bababa, forever”. I tried to hum in Vinylmania but they had no idea, so signed it off as something I wouldn’t find. When I got back to London I could finally play all these records I had bought out there. I got to this one I didn’t know, broke the seal and stuck it on… “ba-ba-ba-bababa, FOR YOU”! I still love it, when the kick comes in, that heavy bassline and then those deep keys. Pretty much perfect house music.

Dan Beaumont
For what it’s worth my favourite is probably MK’s remix of R-Tyme ‘Use Me’ – it’s just the perfect underground house record. Brilliantly reconstructed soulful vocals and hooky chords sit perfectly between the crisp hats’n'claps on top and the tough baseline underneath. There is some deep soul in there somewhere but also a Detroit otherworldliness that’s perfect for getting lost on the dancefloor.

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