Everyone has an affinity for ’90s House Music, what many feel is the Golden Age of House, and if there was one producer that would epitomize that era it would be Marc Kinchen. Some like to call him MK, the King of Dubs. Already making music by the age of 14, he was mentored by one of the architects of Detroit Techno, Kevin Saunderson before eventually moving to New York.
There isn’t one self-respecting DJ that doesn’t have Marc’s “Burnin”, “For You” (under his moniker 4th Measure Men), “Love Changes” or his seminal remix of the Nightcrawler’s “Push the Feeling On” in their arsenal. And though he moved to LA in 2000 to make innumerable hits for major label artists, it wasn’t long before returned to his roots in House music and blessed us once again.
Being born and raised in Detroit, you’ve said you always felt like an outsider… You were so young and impressionable and already making music – it’s not like you were amongst your peers, you were the kid! Why did you feel that way?
I think because of people like Derrick [May], Kevin [Saunderson] and Juan [Atkins] – they had a certain sound and my sound was different from theirs. Their sound kind of worked together. I was more into a different type of music during that age. I wasn’t really into techno that much when I first started so I just kinda did my own thing. I just didn’t really feel like I fit in.
I know everyone talks about your innovative use of chopping up vocals and using them in creative ways in your tracks. UK Garage producer Todd Edwards is probably the most famous one who derived influence from you… were there a lot of copycats of that style during that time?
I really can’t take 100% credit for it because I heard people do it before I was, though maybe not to the extent that I was doing it. Mike Dunn was actually the first guy I ever heard do it. I thought it was dope and took that idea and ran with it.
I like to do it just to give the remix a twist, to give it some excitement. I always try to put something like that which catches your ear. Usually chopping up vocals works just by the way your mind works: the vocals catch your attention. You’re trying to figure out what they’re saying even if it doesn’t make sense! It’s a way to reel them in. Even your grandmother will hear it and go, “What are they saying?” [laughs]
Now I know you did the Hollywood thing for a while. When was it that you took a break from House and ventured to the other side?
Around ’96 I started getting bored with it. The sound started to change and that’s when the clubs were starting to die out a little bit. I liked the underground House clubs and techno started to become popular. And that just wasn’t my thing and I wasn’t trying to convert.
And plus with the remixes there were no royalties. I didn’t know that it would have turned into what it is now but back then there were no royalties. So even if say you get paid 15 grand for a mix, after that it’s done. I was worried about my future. How long am I going to be remixing? People might be sick of me next year!
And then I ended up meeting Quincy Jones and started working with him. I was going to LA a lot and working with a lot of his artists, I started working with just a bunch of pop acts, hip-hop, R&B, all of that. I think one year I made something like $200,000 off of songs that never came out. These labels had so much money that they would sign artists, then decide after the album’s done they didn’t want to release them! There was that much money being made that they could afford to shelve all these artists.
Were you doing all this at the same time as Steve Hurley was doing dance remixes for major label artists?
Yeah, I was doing it the same time that Steve was. But you know Steve was huge! Steve was mixing all the artists I wanted to mix. I was mixing artists nobody ever heard of.
But you were still making good money though!
Yeah but I wanted to be where he was. Because he was mixing everybody cool.
You had some pretty impressive names yourself now…
I had people like Jay-Z, Jodeci, Janet Jackson, Celine Dion. But the ironic thing was my biggest mixes were from people you’ve probably never heard of… like Nightcrawlers for example.
If you were to do a remix of a commercial song that would actually work at an underground club, the major labels probably would not want that I’m assuming.
I’ve done mixes where they want a club mix but not so underground – that happens all the time. They want to make sure they can play it on radio mix shows. So I’ll do one that works for them, then I’ll do another one that will work at an underground club. And that’s actually how I started the MK Dubs. Because on most of the early records there would be a vocal mix which would be pretty straight up and maybe kinda boring, but then I’d always do a dub and that was usually chiller – the one I’d end up playing.
So you returned to House music around 2008… which shortly precedes what was probably the worst time to come into the music business what with all the file sharing and illegal downloads.
I had moved to LA and I’d been doing pop music ever since. I worked with Will Smith for a couple of years – he’d built a studio in Burbank and they had a wing for me at the time and I was working on stuff strictly for Will. But it just wasn’t me, you know what I mean? It was good money, but that’s all it was.
And then I went from that to work with Diane Warren! And I had to make music that she wanted, which is fine, but I’m not that type of producer. I go against the grain. I purposely try to do stuff that sounds weird. Sometimes I like stuff that’s out of key… where musical theory-wise it doesn’t make sense. Just like “Burning” – that song makes no sense!
So now your name has been popping up on the DJing circuit. How long have you been DJing for?
Umm… a year? [laughs] I’ve turned down gigs for about 15 years. I think I played one show at the Ministry of Sound in London in the ’90s, then another show in London maybe around 2006, then Movement a couple of years ago. So that’s like 3 shows in a 12-year span.
Has the way you’re producing music and doing your remixes changed now that you’re spinning out more?
Definitely. I listened to a lot of the stuff that I did back in the ’90s and noticed I didn’t have too many breaks. My intros weren’t really DJ friendly. I know I had records people couldn’t even play because it was too hard to play but they loved the record.
What’s the history of your relationship with Chez Damier? I’m glad he was able to help get me this interview with you!
Well he’s probably the one reason why I’m even in this industry right now. He’s the main reason really. I did the project with Terrence Parker called Separate Minds, and Kevin was putting a Detroit techno comp out… I don’t know whose idea it was to license one of the songs that I did on that album, but it was Chez who called me and that’s how I met him. And we just kind of clicked. You know Chez always talks to you like he’s your dad. He likes to lecture. [laughs]
Yes he does!
He would always try to talk to me about how to produce and the funny thing is he still does it to this day. [laughs] Because that’s how we started out, so he still talks to me that way!