We talk pop, his transition to DJing and more...
Hotshot DJ/producer MK hit big with his UK No.1 remix of Storm Queen's 'Look Right Through', affirming both his studio skills and the immense popularity of house music right now. But it's just the latest smash in a career that's already seen him dictate the path of his beloved genre. With labels clamouring for a sprinkling of MK remix gold dust, and his debut album in the offing, he's set to play DJ Mag's Surfcomber party in Miami. We talk pop, his transition to DJing and more...
It’s 8pm, in LA, on the night American house DJ/producer Marc Kinchen is due to fly to Australia for a DJing tour, and he’s running late.
“I’ve still got two remixes to finish tonight — one for Duke Dumont and one for Disclosure — but I need to get out of my studio and get to the airport,” he says.
Marc Kinchen — also known as MK — has done more remixes than you can shake a glo stick at since the explosive success of his rework of ‘Look Right Through’ by Storm Queen (aka Metro Area producer Morgan Geist). “When it went to No.1 in the UK a few people were like, ‘He’s sold out and gone commercial!’” says MK.
“I was like, ‘how? I never tried to sell it’. I made it because I wanted to make something cool. It just so happened that people really liked it. No one got paid to play it.”
Wind back a decade, and MK worked similarly alchemic remix magic on Nightcrawler’s ‘Push the Feeling On’. His ‘Dub of Doom (Short)’ of the 4/4, 1992-released original became a house classic when it came out on FFRR in 1994.
Remixes aside, MK has produced everything from 1980s Detroit techno to pop tunes a la Pitbull, and even worked with living ledge Quincy Jones, making music for artists who released on Quincy’s Quest label. With his Miami Winter Music Conference DJ gig in sight, DJ Mag caught up with the MK to find out about his latest productions, remixes, DJing and more…
You’re playing at the DJ Mag party in Miami this year. What do you have planned for the gig? “I’m excited about it, but I really have to make up for last year. I played in Miami last year, but I got the stomach flu the day I was supposed to play. I ended up playing a Nervous party but I had to have a bucket under the DJ booth in case I threw up! I had Andy Daniels from Defected playing with me and I was like, ‘Andy, don’t move’. He was my back-up DJ and I was saying ‘if I go down, you’re on’. I just felt really bad. That’s why I’m really excited to make up for it this year.”
A lot has changed since last year, with the Storm Queen remix. How did that come about?
“I remixed ‘Look Right Through’ for Defected. I did two mixes. And when I played it out it got a really good response. So I decided I wanted to do a new mix of it — of my original remix — that I only play live. That way, when I’m playing live, I could play something that nobody else had. That’s what happened. When I would play it, the whole place would explode. My manager started making videos of it and putting these online. The drop was just insane. People would start screaming, girls would take their shirts off — it was crazy. So I decided to give it to Defected. I gave it to Simon Dunmore and said, ‘Hey, watch this vid, you might want to put this out’. It kind of went from there. To have that remix done like that — it was never meant to be on radio, I didn’t have any thoughts in my head like ‘Let me make this so it can become like that’. I just wanted to make something cool that people would dance to.”
How did you hook up with Defected in the first place?
“A couple of years ago, when I wasn’t doing any house music at all, Simon Dunmore called and said ‘Hey, what’s going on with ‘Burning’ and the rest of your back catalogue?’ I said ‘Nothing, it’s chilling’. He said ‘Can I do something with it?’. He ended up getting Maya Jane Coles to do a remix of [MK pseudonym 4th Measure Men's] ‘For You’. And then he did a remix of ‘Burning’. I wasn’t even planning on DJing at that point. I’d finished working with Quincy Jones — producing music for his Quest label — in 2000 and I was just working as a freelance producer, doing bits and pieces for Will Smith and working in LA.”
‘Look Right Through’ was No.1 in the UK. Are you surprised at the popularity of house music right now?
“A bit, but I think it’s like that because the whole electro/EDM sound got so over-saturated. The EDM started to lose the focus on what it was, what it started out as, and just became kind of cheesy and tacky. People just started to want something else — something more credible.”
When exactly did you start DJing?
“It was just recently. It was after that initial meeting with Simon Dunmore — he’d said, let’s start by getting you some remixes. He was literally digging through his computer, going through songs that had already been released and he played me ‘Look Right Through’. Jamie Jones had already done a remix of it. Simon said ‘What about this song, you want to remix that?’ At that point I said, ‘I’ll remix whatever’. And it started from there.”
You’re playing at London's Studio 338 with Kevin Saunderson soon. What’s it like DJing with him?
“It’s easy DJing with Kevin. We probably know each other more than any other two DJ/producers know each other. When I’m playing a set he’s quite often playing before me — because we have the same management — so if there’s a certain way I want him to end it, he has no problem with that. I can say ‘Kev, end it with this’, or ‘go into this’, or ‘end it in this key’. And he’s cool. He’s real in sync.”
How did you meet Kevin?
“I met him when I was 15, in the late 1980s, growing up in Detroit. I was already making music by that age. I was using synths. I was using a Juno 106 and a Yamaha sequencer. I saved up to get them. The Juno was about $800. The sequencer was cheaper. That was all I had. I didn’t have a drum machine.”
So did you make music for Kevin’s label?
“It started out when I did a song with some friends I knew in Detroit. They knew I made music. And they were into house and techno music and had a band called Separate Minds. They asked me to make a techno record with them. So, I did a record with Separate Minds. Kevin heard the track and he wanted to put it on his compilation album ‘Detroit Techno’. So he licensed the song and then Chez Damier — who was doing A&R at Kev’s label — called me in just for a meeting and they said, ‘Hey, we want you to work for us’, and it all started from there.”
Who inspired you musically back then?
“Depeche Mode, mostly. I got into Prince a lot too. Not so much him as an artist — just his music. It just sounded really different to everything else I’d heard. I literally taught myself how to read music and I learnt how to play songs. I had no interest at all in DJing. I started doing it, for a little while, because of my brother — Scotti Deep — he’s still a DJ now. He had turntables and I used to try to DJ on his equipment. But I would get bored. I just thought ‘This isn’t fun, I’d rather make a record than play a record’.”
What changed that?
“Just the way that DJing and producing have become more hand-in-hand than they were back then. I was just never interested in carrying 10 crates of vinyl around back in the day. And DJing meant being away from my studio all the time and missing out on making music. I thought, if I started DJing, then my producing would go down a little bit — the quality and that. So I stayed away from it.”
Then you started?
“It makes sense now because you can produce on a laptop. I can DJ and then, straight after a gig, wherever I am in the world, I can make a track. Also it does help to DJ if you make music. Since I started DJing I feel like my tracks are getting better. A lot of the time, when I remix now, I don’t actually turn the mixes in until I’ve played them out. Then that way I can tweak a remix and go back and make sure it’s right before I go back to a label.”
What challenges did you find, making the transition from producer to DJ?
“When I first started DJing — a couple of years ago — I was basically thrown out there. Most DJs get a chance to practice for 10 years before being thrown in front of a paying crowd. But straight away, for me, it was like ‘Here, you’re on’ and I was thinking ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing’. So that took a second. As a super-skilled DJ, I’m definitely still not there yet. I think what’s been getting kids excited is maybe the way I play my music. I DJ more from a producer’s perspective than a DJ's.”
How do you mean?
“I think I DJ more musically than a lot of DJs. I use Traktor and CDJs. I also use the F1and the X1 MK2, because you can do a little bit more with those. I don’t play too many tracks. Tracks are a bit easier to play out — because you don’t have to worry about vocals coming in or two basslines coming in and clashing so much; but I play a lot of that. I play a lot of vocals, a lot of key changes.”
Which producers have you heard lately that you like?
“I like Route 94 a lot. And I like what Skream and Shadow Child are doing. I don’t really chase down a producer by their name. Sometimes I hear a track, I have no idea who did it, but I think ‘That bassline’s sick’ and I make something similar. It just happens.”
You’ve produced a lot of pop tunes in the past. How does producing for pop acts differ to making a house tune?
“Generally, I prefer working in dance music, because there aren’t so many managers, A&Rs, presidents to deal with. With pop music there’s always way too many cooks in the kitchen. I must have done about 20 songs for Pitbull but only two came out. I did the ‘Back In Time’ song. I did one called ‘Alright’. I wanted more of an underground house sound for his music but that’s not what they wanted. It compromised my work a lot. The ‘Back In Time’ song I did for Pit wasn’t finished when I gave it to him. Without me realising, he gave it to Sony and they said ‘We love it’. I was immediately ‘No, that’s not ready. There are things that are wrong, things that I don’t like about it’. That was a little bit out of my control compared to doing dance music remixes.”
What’s your biggest ambition at the moment?
“Just to do my own thing. That’s what every artist, producer and DJ wants really, isn’t it? I’m also really looking forward to recording my album — it’ll hopefully come by the summer.”
What will it be like?
“I’m not sure yet. I haven’t really started it yet but I’ve already had loads of offers to get it signed. I turned down everyone. I don’t want to be told how to do my album. I’ll play it out. People who see me live will get to hear a lot of it before it’s done and then when I finish it, it will be perfected. Then I’ll talk about where it can go. I don’t want to make a song for the president of the label. That’s the wrong way to go about it.”
Who else you working with?
“I’m doing a Pleasure State album with Lee Foss and Annabel England and I’m doing a project with Route 94 and that’s it. I’m trying to cut back on remixes. I was supposed to spend December last year and January this year on my album, but it was right after Storm Queen went No.1, so every label was like ‘Let’s call this MK guy for a remix’. Some I turned down, some I didn’t. In the future, I’m going to have to be more selective.”