With all the great house music coming through San Francisco, it was only a matter of time before house legend MK (Marc Kinchen) made an appearance.
His remix of Nightcrawlers’ “Push the Feeling On” and his original “Burning” were two hugely influential tracks on early East Coast house, defining the sound that paved the way for the evolution of dance music. After a stint of pop production, MK jumped back into dance music in 2009 and has been on a constant remix binge since. His remix for Storm Queens’ “Look Right Through” hit #1 on the UK charts Sunday, cementing the producer’s triumphant return. We had a chance to chat with MK about his process, transitioning from old to new school, and his show in San Francisco. He performs at Mezzanine on Nov. 16
Congrats on hitting #1 the other day. It has to be kind of surreal—you had a huge influence on house in the U.S., but now you’re charting all over the UK. Has the Internet era of dance music changed how you produce or view dance music ?
Back in the 90s I didn’t know what was going on in other countries and I didn’t DJ. Whatever went on around me was what I knew. At the time I was in New York, there were clubs and radio stations there, that’s all I had to go by. But now I can go by everything everywhere.
Does that factor into how you choose remixes? You must have a ton more requests coming in.
I get maybe five or six a day now. My management handles that; I’ve never been so busy in my life. They usually filter out which ones I should and shouldn’t do. I listen to the song, then I make the final say if I want to do it or not.
It’s interesting that the process has changed so much. Another shift from the 90s is that DJing is essentially required of producers. Do you think you would have ever even started if it wasn’t crucial?
I definitely felt like I needed to do it. I knew I wanted to do house music, but I also felt like my music would have been better in the 90s if I DJ’ed. I figured if I’m going to start producing again, I don’t want to make the same mistake, I want to see how the kids react to my music. If I wasn’t DJ’ing I never would have made that “Look Right Through” remix like that. It would have never ever sounded like that.
Now you can tell almost immediately what people think when you release it, that must affect the production a bit.
Producing is kind of instilled in my genes now. I can literally make music doing 10 things at once, so when I sit in the studio and make a track I just automatically picture myself in a club. That’s why my records now have bigger drops than they ever had because I can see what happens when you have the right drop.
When I first got back into it in 2009, I was definitely rusty. I was coming back from producing for pop artists like Pitbull and Will Smith. There was a lot of rush, I had no idea what the scene was like or what was going on. I didn’t know what sounds were in. I didn’t even know who Jamie Jones was at the time, that’s how far removed I was. Once I finally got a niche back, I realized, “Oh! They like what happened in the 90s” (laughs).
I have a joke I say to myself: When I stopped doing music in the 90s, I was frozen in time. When I thawed, I picked up right where I left off. They technology is different, but I go about it the same way.
In your old studio you must have had a 909 and all the classic synths. How did you go about replacing those?
For me, it’s a lot easier. With all the analog equipment, I had literally thousands of cables. Even though everything was compatible, it wasn’t compatible. If you had one wire that was damaged, the whole system was messed up. I would spend all day experimenting, when now I can just get to work.
I actually love all the new computers and plugins. I came from using that stuff [analog gear] so I appreciate it enough.
You seemed really comfortable in the Maschine video for Native Instruments.
It was weird because I started doing vocal chops and I didn’t have any piece of equipment that could help me. I saw Maschine and I bought it. At first I didn’t use it because it was too difficult, too confusing. But once I got into it and got used to it, it became second nature.
So now you’re touring and traveling all over the place, it seems like the new gear might be more conducive to portable songwriting. Do you produce a lot on tour?
Sometimes I do. I couple remixes were done on the road. I did one for Sub Focus on the road. I actually did half of the “Look Right Through” remix on the road. It’s back and forth, but of course I’m more comfortable in my house.
When you’re going through stems for a remix, do you only use the vocal?
Now it’s a little easier. I’ll get the stems and import all of the stems into Logic. Usually I’ll delete a few stems in the first two minutes, keeping some type of instrument and the vocals.
You mentioned the Sub Focus remix, it’s crazy to hear the MK sound on a dnb/dubstep artist.
It was crazy! Management called and said Sub Focus wanted me to remix a song. It usually doesn’t happen like that, usually the labels called. This was actually Sub Focus saying “I want MK to do it.” I felt obligated no matter what the song sounded like to make it work. I just went at it.
You’re in high demand after your sleep!
It’s insane because the Storm Queen remix went #1 on Sunday and the requests quadrupled. One label sent requests three days in a row for different songs. Mainstream labels are hitting us up constantly now, not just underground.
Has that been surprising coming back into dance music?
Definitely. The pre-orders for the second release of the “Look Right Through” remix were the second highest the company ever had. It was #1 on the Shazam charts in Europe for like five weeks.
I think the best part for me is hearing people saying things like “Oh, MK showed up to make that song for the radio.” Dude, I didn’t make that song for the radio. I made that song to play live! I didn’t even get paid for it, that’s not why I made the record. I’m supposed to be mad because a radio station wants to play a song I did?
With all the blogs and media it’s become this weirdly evil thing to be mainstream, but people are starting to realize the merit in an underground style track topping charts.
I think that’s why a lot of people embrace it, it’s a cool track, not something manufactured. It’s getting appreciated for that, which is really cool.
I guess since I do play live, I always do a remix to make sure I can play it out. Just me, not anybody else, I try to make it where I can play it and people will go crazy. It’s not like I make more money if it sells more records. I just want it to be dope.
We were talking about hanging around with guys like Masters at Work and Roger S, you and them were pioneers of house music in the 90s. Who do think, if anyone, occupies that space now?
The thing is I don’t listen to to many other people’s music, so I couldn’t fairly say. I don’t want to exclude someone that might deserve it. What I do know is I love what Hot Creations is doing. Route 94 is a new kid I think is brilliant. If I had to pick one artist it would be him.
He just did a special delivery of your track “Always” with Annie Mac.
I’m actually remixing his remix of “Always” now. They wanted me to remix the original, but Route 94 nailed it. I wanted people to focus on his remix and mine later. It’s like you said with the blogs and everything, if I do a remix right after his people will compare them. To do that they’ll have to shoot one down. Plus, Route 94 and I are doing an EP together.
You came up on the East Coast and you’re about to play this show in San Francisco. Have you played much on the west?
I live in LA now, I’ve only played there twice and New York twice. I played SF twice, Denver tonight and Chicago once. I haven’t played a lot in America. I’ve played all over the UK, that’s kind of my home as far as DJing. I feel like in America I’m still trying to get people familiar with what I do. I’m a little behind, you could say. Overseas the show is always sold out. I wanna do the same thing over here, it’ll just take awhile to warm up.
Excited for Saturday?
San Francisco is certainly my favorite city to play in America so far. They seem to get it the most. That was the first place I got booked since I got back, they’ll be the first to really get it.