Marc Kinchen is in the zone — there’s no breaking him away.
DJ Mag is standing behind the DJ booth at Analog BKNY, a hip yet intimate venue nestled in an industrial zone in South Brooklyn. Outside, the weather is grim, in the low 40-degree range with March rains coming and going. But inside, the dancefloor is sweating, pumping and jumping with a packed crowd of house-heads and clubgoers who are looking up at Kinchen with eyes and jaws wide open, their phones out and capturing every second for Instagram Stories. From the dancefloor, Kinchen — who’s already distinctively tall, standing at six feet and five inches — looks like a giant as he towers over his awestruck fans.
It’s easy to tell when Kinchen – known to fans as MK – is in the rhythm: His hands hover around the DJ decks as he twists and turns an endless range of knobs and pushes blinking buttons like a space-age surgeon. When he finally locks in the groove, he kicks into his trademark dance: Drink in hand, he bounces his shoulders left to right as gallons of confidence release from his pores and fill the air. He’s lost in his own swagger, and he’s having a damn good time, too.
MK reaches across the decks to grab the phone of an eager fan for a much-needed selfie. James Eliot, one half of house duo Solardo, snaps Kinchen’s neck back and pours generous shots into his mouth. He jumps back with a newfound, tequila-powered eagerness and begins to distribute animated high fives to the front row fans.
When he finally turns away from the decks to face his manager and friends behind the DJ booth, he spots DJ Mag and smiles a toothy smile. He hugs us with all his heart and lovingly pinches both our cheeks like a gleeful father who’s proud of us.
“You made it!” he shouts into our ears. You can see the beginning stages of a tipsy night starting to take toll.
The energy in the room intensifies as MK kicks it into high gear. Everyone around us is having the time of their lives, especially our blissful Kinchen.
It’s almost like all of this — the music, the lights, the stage, the fans — is a dream to Kinchen, as if he can’t believe this moment is happening.
It almost didn’t.
FROM DETROIT WITH LOVE
A legend in house music by every standard MK leads a career unlike most other dance music producers and DJs. Where the industry’s younger contemporaries today make the inevitable jump from DJ to producer, Kinchen took the opposite route.
Instead, the music-obsessed autodidactic jumped headfirst into production in his teens during a pre-digital analog world in his native Detroit. Even as a beginner, his vision and sound were clear, so much so that Motor City legend Kevin Saunderson took Kinchen under his wing. He’d soon spend studio time with Saunderson, Juan Atkins and Derrick May, the trio collectively credited as the creators of techno.
But MK’s style never much aligned with the harder-edged Detroit techno sound; he identified more with the soulful Chicago steez and NYC house grittiness. He skipped town and headed east to New York. It was there where he would find new inspiration — the city’s mushrooming underground scene of the ‘90s and its luminaries like Tony Humphries, Frankie Knuckles and Masters At Work — and where Kinchen would become the artist known as MK.
By the mid-’90s, Kinchen broke out onto the scene a string of hit singles including house classics ‘Always’, ‘Love Changes’ and ‘Burning’, with the latter becoming a genre-defining anthem. But it was his 1995 remix of ‘Push The Feeling On’ from Nightcrawlers that truly launched the MK chain reaction. His iconic ‘The Dub Of Doom’ remix of the track charted internationally, and he quickly became the go-to remixer of choice. The remix requests from labels and artists across the world came pouring in, with everyone looking for a copycat version.
It became too much for MK.
“[I thought], ‘If they keep doing this, my career is going to be over, because I’m gonna burn myself out,’” says Kinchen over lunch at a swanky hotel in midtown Manhattan on a chilly February afternoon. “I backed off. It kind of scared me from doing remixes.”
A RETREAT FROM THE DANCEFLOOR
Following the massive success of his ‘Push The Feeling On’ remix, Kinchen had the entire dance music world at his feet. Then, unexpectedly, he retreated from the dancefloor limelight toward the end of the ‘90s. He relocated to LA and began to produce hip-hop, R&B and pop for other artists, eventually signing a publishing deal with Quincy Jones and Jay Brown, the latter being Jay-Z’s partner and CEO of Roc Nation.
In an unpredictable turn of events, Kinchen landed a dream gig as in-house producer for Will Smith, a role that would gain him major writing and production credits on many of the movie superstar’s biggest films and TV projects.
It was a cushy gig, indeed: a comfortable salary and unlimited access to The Boom Boom Room, Smith’s multimillion-dollar recording studio in Los Angeles. But the music Kinchen produced under Smith’s watch never stimulated his creativity. “It was very unfulfilling,” he says of the time. “I was more so looking to have a hit record and then leave. I wanted to have one hit record and then write my own ticket. That never happened.”
That long search would become Kinchen’s forever chase.
A RETURN TO ROOTS
The electronic world moves at a lightning-speed pace. By industry standards, one year in electronic music is equivalent to half a decade or longer. By those measures, Kinchen’s time out of the dance scene left him all but forgotten.
But by the end of the aughts, MK began to hear glimpses of house and deep house infiltrating mainstream American culture as David Guetta’s crossover hits dominated the airwaves. Then, in June 2009, multiplatinum rapper Pitbull sampled Kinchen’s ‘Push The Feeling On’ remix on his ‘Hotel Room Service’. It was game time for Kinchen.
“I started hearing things [on the radio] that let me know that house music was coming back,” says Kinchen. “During that time, I was like, ‘Now I can finally get back to house music where it’s not so underground’. I was so used to doing commercial music that made money. I wasn’t interested in doing indie house. I wasn’t interested in selling 200 pieces of vinyl. I’m a producer — I wanted to sell millions of records. When I heard dance music in commercial music, I thought, ‘OK, this is my in’.”
Kinchen connected with Pitbull after ‘Hotel Room Service’ took off worldwide, and the two formed an unlikely relationship. For the second time in his career, Kinchen would find himself as an in-house producer to a global star. “Pit really helped me out,” he says today with clear fondness.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, house and deep house were beginning to take off in America at the turn of the decade. And it just so happened that the sounds surfacing in 2010 lifted generously from the MK days of the ‘90s, when he unknowingly created the blueprint for the genre.
Kinchen’s curiosity grew, and he began to feel a creative itch. Then, in 2011, Lee Foss and Jamie Jones invited him to headline a Miami Music Week party for their nascent Hot Creations imprint.
The stars were once again aligning for Kinchen.
“It literally was perfect timing,” he says, “because I think if I would have tried to come back during the Tiësto days of 2003, [it] would have been not the right time. But as soon as deep house and Jamie Jones and all those guys started to hammer it in, I slid right in right at that point and just took it from there.”
But there was one big problem — Kinchen had no idea how to DJ.
THE RELUCTANT DJ
Kinchen is a producer’s producer by design, and outside of some spotted gigs in the ‘90s, he never intended to DJ. In truth, he found it boring.
“Back then, I was making records,” he says, “I was straight up making tracks, so everybody else around me was DJing. I had turntables [and] everything. [But] I’m like, ‘This is cool, but this is not as fun as making a whole song.’ It couldn’t keep my interest.”
So when it came time to really learn the DJ ropes, he called on the only person who could teach him how: his older brother, Scott. Born Scott Kinchen, the older sibling is a respected DJ and producer in his own right. Known as Scottie Deep, his expertise spans over two decades as a multitalented industry vet with multiple record labels to his name. He also held the key to DJ success for little brother Marc.
“In 2011, when I decided to start DJing,” says Marc, “I’m like, ‘Yo, I need start DJing. Can you help me?’ So [Scott] went on the road with me a lot in the beginning to kind of be a crutch a little bit until I got the hang of it.”
The training paid off: The buzz surrounding Kinchen’s return to house music started to spread after his WMC performance in 2011. Still, he remained reluctant about the DJ life.
“My manager really wanted me to do it, but I was like, ‘Nah, this is not for me. I don’t want to be on the road. I don’t want to go DJ. I want to stay in my studio and just produce and make music and remix.’”
He’s since gotten over that stage anxiety and has changed his perspective on DJing. Today, he’s one of dance music’s most in-demand DJs, clocking in approximately 150 shows in 2017. More importantly, he’s learned how to balance his double life as producer and DJ.
“It’s a lot easier to do both: I can play records [and] make records,” he says. “With my shows, the biggest thing is I’m playing my own songs. So now, by me DJing, I can play my most recent songs. Back then, your most recent song would be a song you did six months ago.”
THE MK TOUCH
Kinchen lays claim to a specific brand of house that’s characterized by powerfully soulful vocals, thick production, bouncy bass and ingenious vocal-sampling loops. It comes to life in his originals, but it’s his remixes that have come to define the so-called ‘MK touch’. He doesn’t remix songs so much as he recreates and reimagines them, creating completely new, unrecognizable mutations of the original.
“I feel like that happened with the song I did with Rudimental [and Becky Hill], ‘Powerless’. I never hear their version anymore,” MK smirks. “I don’t think people in the UK even know what their version sounds like!”
He’s done it on more than one occasion: first with his breakthrough ‘Push The Feeling On’ rework, which flips a slow-burning R&B track into house territory, and then once again in 2013 with his complete overhaul of Storm Queen’s ‘Look Right Through’, where he turns a reserved house cut into a bouncing stomper. The latter proved massively successful in Europe, where it simultaneously topped the UK Singles Chart and UK Dance Chart after first bubbling up as an underground hit in England.
His eyes still light up when he retells the story of the first time he played the ‘Look Right Through’ remix at a UK festival. He remembers it like it were yesterday.
“The first time I played it, the bassline dropped and the whole place just erupted,” he says excitedly, barely able to hide his smile in between bites of his roasted free-range chicken plate. “You would get goosebumps being there. Every single person’s hand was in the air.”
LUCKY NUMBER ‘17’
The ‘Look Right Through’ remix hit in the UK just as the EDM explosion in America was reaching peak commercialization. Soon after, Kinchen found himself in the middle of a bidding war among the major labels, eventually signing with Sony and Ultra Music.
And with a major label deal comes major label pressure. His first few singles on Sony, ‘Bring Me To Life’, ‘My Love 4 U’ and ‘Piece Of Me’, performed OK, with the latter charting in the UK. But the label wanted a repeat of ‘Look Right Through’. Kinchen felt the pinch.
“At this point last year, [Sony wanted] another single, and I’m like, ‘I don’t have it. I’ll let you know when I have it,” says Kinchen, with an obvious tinge of frustration as he reflects back. Beside pressure building, Kinchen scoured through his jam-packed hard drive looking for an answer. He came across ‘17’, and instantly knew he had something special.
“I played it out and got that same reaction [as ‘Look Right Through’],” he says of the first time he dropped a rough, totally raw version of ‘17’ on unwarned audiences at a UK festival. His face lights up again. “No one knew the song and it just dropped, and all of a sudden, everybody was like, ‘Woooah!’ And I’m like, ‘Thank God, I have a single now.’”
Written four years ago, ‘17’ is deceptively simple: a soulful, piano-fueled melody drives forward with undeniable intensity as singer Carla Monroe belts out lovelorn lyrics with all her vocal might. Its house undertones barely mask the song’s otherwise obvious pop appeal, which allows the track to thrive equally on underground dancefloors and mainstream radio. An instant classic, ‘17’ marries Kinchen’s masterwork skills of the ‘90s with his newfound mainstage magnetism.
Fast forward to September 2017, when the song is officially released, and ‘17’ is officially catching fire. To date, it’s charted around the world, garnering platinum status in the UK and topping the dance chart there in addition to a Top 10 position in the overall singles chart. With massive numbers — more than 64 million Spotify streams, with the official music video inching toward 4 million YouTube views — the song continues to grow on the daily.
A LIFE IN MUSIC REBORN
“It’s like a big relief,” says Kinchen of finally finding his long-awaited golden ticket. We are now sitting at a posh restaurant inside the boutique Williamsburg hotel where Kinchen is staying. We’re having a carb-heavy pre-show dinner of pasta, pizza and salad before we head to Analog BKNY tonight. Our conversation is fixated on ‘17’ and its special place in the MK timeline. As Kinchen’s most successful original song to date, ‘17’ is the beginning of a new chapter in a long, winding career full of pivots and surprises.
“It’s something you try to do your whole life, [something] you can basically base the rest of your career off of what you do. It’s very satisfying. It took a long time.”
So how do you follow up the success of ‘17’?
MK says he has a few new tracks and remixes in the works that “we’re pretty happy with.” He’s got new remixes for major pop stars like Justin Bieber and Sam Smith burning up the dancefloors, which follow his 2017 remixes for Rihanna. He’s got a busy summer tour schedule, which includes numerous Ibiza dates and festival plays including: We Are FSTVL, EDC Las Vegas and Lightning In A Bottle last month; Electric Forest, Parklife and Hideout Festival this month; and Tomorrowland next month. Area10, Kinchen’s label and event brand, will host stages at this year’s Creamfields and SW4 festivals in the UK in August, with additional one-offs around the world.
There’s also his long-rumored debut solo artist album, which he’s been talking about since at least 2014 and is “pretty much done,” Kinchen promises. “If the label said, ‘We need it by next Friday,’ I could turn it in.” He hopes to release it by next year.
For a man who escaped the spotlight for the better part of 15 years, Marc Kinchen is making the most of a career that almost never was. Now in his mid-’40s and entering the third decade in his musical journey, he envisions a day when things will begin to slow down. “Eventually when I stop going on the road and heavy DJing, I’m totally fine with just being in the studio and going in with different artists. I’m no spring chicken.”
He poignantly wipes the remains of his pizza from his mouth with a napkin, taking a few seconds to think.
“I feel like as long as I keep doing what I’m doing, it’ll happen.” MK dives in for another slice of piping hot NYC-fresh pizza and smiles. “As long as I’m making music, everything else will fall into place.”