If you didn’t treat yourself to seeing MK perform live at Escape: All Hallows’ Eve this past weekend, chances you already know some of his tunes. His 1995 remix of The Nightcrawler’s “Push The Feeling On” is still a house staple, but a few years after its success, MK left house music behind. Now, a little over a year after his return, we caught up with MK—the abbreviation stands for Marc Kinchen—to talk about his house homecoming, his start with Kevin Saunderson in Detroit, his legacy as a house legend, and how, up until his return, he had never performed as a DJ.
“Afrojack introduced me as Marc Kinchen and Laidback Luke lost it. Neither one of us knew why. Afrojack asked what was up and Luke said, ‘I can’t believe I am finally meeting MK,’ and Afrojack was like, ‘What? This is Marc Kinchen. He’s MK?’”
You only recently resurfaced from a 10-year hiatus. For those who don’t know, what were you getting up to in that time?
I was working on original productions and also doing lots of remixes with artists ranging from Michael Jackson, M People, SWV, Mary J, Pet Shop Boys, Jodeci, Moby, Luther Vandross, Janet Jackson, Nightcrawlers, Tori Amos, Brandy, Blondie, Masters At Work, Inner City, Todd Terry, and many many more. It wasn’t so much as me leaving, I was starting to get bored and I wanted to branch out and do more types of music. In those days, R&B and dance music never mixed, which is funny now since so many of the R&B people are looking to get into house and dance music. The other reason was that after the crazy international success of Nightcrawlers’ “Push The Feeling On,” I found myself continually being asked to do more mixes that sounded like that. It was incredible. Every label person would want me to do a mix, but they would preface it with, “Can you do it just like the Nightcrawlers?” I couldn’t—I am a songwriter and producer. I could not keep doing the same song over and over again, so I thought it was time to explore more of the hip-hop and R&B world, so that is what I did. I moved from the east coast to L.A. where most of the artists seemed to be.
Did you ever think you would come back to it?
I didn’t think about it. I thought it would just be a part of my history. To be honest, since I did not DJ at that time, I really had no real idea of the impact my remixes were having. My managers would tell me all the time what was being warmly received or what people were going crazy over, but I just never imagined that people liked my music so much. But I didn’t really think about whether I would be coming back. I was just feeling a different style of music, so I followed my instincts and sort of left it behind.
What was it like working with some of the people you worked with during that time? Those were a lot of big names! Can you share any stories?
I wish I could. There are some great stories about Will Smith’s studio and about Pitbull and about Quincy Jones, but everyone has confidentiality agreements and I could never betray them; they have always been amazing to me. I can tell you that Will Smith and Pitbull are two of the nicest guys you could ever meet. As for Quincy, he is a mentor and an incredibly brilliant and talented man.
Was it weird having your legacy as a house legend follow you around while you produced tracks for other artists?
Actually, while I was making house music, my managers and I made a decision to have two separate identities. MK did house music and Marc Kinchen produced R&B and hip-hop. When I went off to make my way in the R&B world, everyone knew me as Marc Kinchen. They had no idea that MK and Marc Kinchen were the same person. It’s pretty funny actually. I just co-produced a song with Rodney Jerkins on Mary J. Blige’s soon-to-be-released album, London Sessions. At first, Rodney did not know that he actually knew me. The same thing happened with Afrojack when Laidback Luke came into a session I was doing. Afrojack introduced me as Marc Kinchen and Luke lost it. Neither one of us knew why. Afrojack asked what was up and Luke said, “I can’t believe I am finally meeting MK!” Afrojack was like, “What? This is Marc Kinchen. He’s MK?” It was pretty funny, I have to admit. I think there are people like Eminem, Jay-Z and some others that still don’t know that I am one guy.
That’s pretty hilarious. What made you decide to bring MK back?
I got bored again. All the R&B that was coming out was really getting formulaic and I was ready for a change. Then, out of the blue, the guy who owns Defected Records got in touch. He was an old friend and he told me that people were still playing my records and it was around the same time that Pitbull sampled my remix of “Push The Feeling On” for his song “Hotel Room.” That song is pretty incredible; it has followed me for around 20 years now. So Simon called and asked if I wanted to remix something for him and I said yeah why not. Just like that I got the bug again. All I wanted to make was house music.
Those songs like “Push The Feeling On” and “Burning” are now huge classics. Someday there will be a radio station that plays classic house like classic rock. I have no doubt loads of your tracks will be huge staples. How does it feel to have had so much influence on a genre?
It’s actually kind of surreal. I made those records so long ago, and it was not until I started playing them out myself that I realized how much people still love those songs. It’s amazing. It really moves and inspires me.
Tell me about the old days back in Detroit. How did you get your start there?
I knew I wanted to be in music from my early teens. I formed a band and then realized that it is not as easy as working on your own, so I thought I would become a producer. It was around that time that I met this guy, Anthony (aka Chez Damier), and he was friends with Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. I was really young [and] these were the guys making this new music in Detroit. It was a little underground—very buzzy. I mean, it was Eddie Fowlkes, Carl Craig, Underground Resistance and there were always people from England coming to visit. It was really cool.
Kevin had a big influence on your career, right?
Definitely. I ended up getting pretty friendly with Kevin and he would let me use his studio. In the beginning, it was more like he was showing me how to use the equipment and showing me tricks on how to make certain sounds or shortcuts with the equipment. He was and is one of the nicest and most generous people I have ever met in my life. He was truly interested in me doing well. He is still like that.
He kind of took you under his wing.
Yeah, he actually became a mentor figure for me, so I guess you could say I was sort of a protégé. Kevin was like this with a lot of people, but he always made me feel special and spent the time helping me. He lived in the same place that the studio was at, so I would get to use KMS Studios late at night when he was going to sleep down the hall. He even told me where I should go and who I should meet when it was time to get a manager. I trusted him completely.
Do you guys still hang out?
We are both on the road so much it’s hard to hang, but we do hang out and Skype whenever we can. Sometimes we actually play on the same bill and that’s always fun. It feels very comfortable.
“Vinyl was not my medium—computers and keyboards were.”
Now that you have been back at it for a while, how has the scene changed?
It really is incredible how many more people are into the music, it’s fantastic. It has become much more universal. I’m having a ball.
You didn’t DJ really at all back in the day right?
No. I tried it a few times, but I didn’t like working with vinyl. I know that is like a sacrilegious thing to say but I was a producer first, not a DJ. I wanted to bring my studio out. Vinyl was not my medium—computers and keyboards were.
How did not performing affect your career back in the day? Do you think it was ultimately good or bad that you didn’t?
I did not have the benefit of hearing the latest sounds coming from the clubs as someone who was out and playing every night. I had to pull my inspiration from other places. I don’t know if it was good or bad; it was just the way it worked out. It didn’t seem to affect whether people liked my mixes, surprisingly enough.
What’s it like now that you’re back and now behind the knobs?
It is so fun. I never knew how much I was going to enjoy this. It’s also the most amazing way for me to finish and finalize my songs. It’s like my laboratory and the audience tells me the answers.
Since you started DJing you have been touring around like crazy, and you never really got to do that before. How has it been?
Let me sum it up for you in like 30 words: Amazing, beautiful, exhausting flying, hotels, trains, planes, automobiles, customs, bad food, really really good food, no sleep, delays, airport security, shows, shows, shows, hugs, exhilarating and humbling.
Some of your fans must have been waiting for years to see you. What’s it like getting to perform for them for the first time?
It’s been really incredible and beyond anything I ever dreamt it could be. Everyone is so awesome and I didn’t even know how popular I still was. I’ve even seen people with MK tattoos all over their bodies.
What goes into tracks that you decide to remix? Is it just the sound?
It is never one thing. It may be the vocal, the dynamic of the sound, or it could just appeal to me and I may not even be able to explain it. Everything is a potential influence or catalyst for inspiration—it could be a movie, a video game, a sound, another record, a dream. Inspiration just comes. You have to try to stay open for it so you see it when it arrives.
Tell us a bit about the mix you did for Escape. Is it going to keep our Halloween spirit alive?
I am doing this interview without the benefit of looking at the tracklist, but I can tell you that you guys inspired me to do this sort of mix. I knew you wanted something a little dark, a little spooky, so I did my best to bring that to you.
Speaking of awesome mixes, how about some throwbacks from your good old days? Any favorite tape mixes?
Definitely Jodeci “Freek’N You,” Masters At Work “I Can’t Get No Sleep,” Todd Terry “Samba.” I hate to disappoint you, but I didn’t really have favorite mix tapes. I was a producer first, so I had favorite producers like and Masters At Work, Kevin Saunderson, Massive Attack, and Soul To Soul.
People are so happy to see you back. Do you think you will stick to house music for a while or go back to production?
I am having fun with both; they really go well together. I don’t know which one I like more at this point. I have now gotten to a point where DJing has become part of my production process, so I don’t think I will be able to separate them like again.
MK Escape: All Hallow’s Eve 2014 Mix Tracklisting:
Mr.Tophat, Art Alfie “Crab At The Green hunter” (Loco Dice Remix)
Amirali “Just An Illusion” (MK remix)
Huxley Ft S-Man “Callin”
MK ft. Alana “Always” (Disciples Sunshine Remix)
D-Influence “No illusion” (MK Dumb Dub)
Monarchy “Living with out you” (MK Save Your Life Remix)
Artist ? “Full Vision” (Alberto Ruiz Remix)
Artist ? “Open My Eyes” (Ben Remember Remix)
&ME “After Dark”
DJ Le Roi “Free Your Mind”
Michal Jenson, Mizbee “Addiction” (MK’s half Dub)