Marc “MK” Kinchen On Headlining Harbourlife, Working With Idris Elba & The Evolution Of House

For years Detroit’s Marc “MK” Kinchen laboured as a producer – crafting house, R&B and hip-hop. Now, belatedly taking up DJing, he’s a contender for the world’s most cred deep house superstar.

The youthful Kinchen – who brought his bumpin’ dubbed grooves to the last two editions of Stereosonic – is returning to Australia and this weekend he’ll headline Sydney’s sold-out Harbourlife. Kinchen laughs, “All my friends in Australia, when they found I got booked for it, they were all texting me and tweeting, like, ‘OMG, you’re playing Harbourlife, can I come? Can I have a guest pass?'”

Kinchen has just flown back to Los Angeles from Europe, confronting US election cray. The don’s schedule is so packed that he’s been tricky to lock down. But Kinchen isn’t among those precious dance music figures who spurn the media. “I like doing interviews!” he proclaims, ebullient and gracious.

In 2015, ahead of Stereo, a jet-lagged Kinchen walked the red carpet at the ARIA Awards – rare for a fêted house identity. “I was just kinda looking for some familiar face,” he admits. “I think I saw the Rudimental guys and I just latched onto them real quick.” He skipped the ceremony, but attended the afterparty. “That’s where I met Rüfüs du Sol and there we talked about me doing a remix for them, which I ended up doing a couple of months later – of Say A Prayer [For Me]. Now they’re actually gonna be on my album, too. So I got a lot accomplished in that little red carpet visit!”

Kinchen owes his career partially to Prince – “Prince was God in Detroit!”. As a kid, he revelled in Purple Rain. Kinchen read up on synths. “I used to buy Prince sheet music books and I taught myself how to read music all by Prince books and learned how to play all his songs.” He caught “the producer bug”.

In the late ’80s the teen found a mentor in Kevin Saunderson – techno pioneer (and architect of Inner City). Kinchen’s debut single, Somebody New, aired on Saunderson’s KMS Records in 1989. However, Kinchen encountered local disdain for the housier Burning and so he released it through his own Area10. Today it’s a classic. Kinchen opened the door for fellow Detroit housers – Moodymann included. In 1993 he presented an ‘artist’ album, Surrender. And Kinchen established himself as a go-to remixer. Yet gradually he switched to producing urban music (R&B and hip-hop). Kinchen didn’t believe that house would ever cross over Stateside. Like disco before it, the music was stigmatised. “I didn’t tell people in the R&B world that I was ‘MK’.” The then New York resident didn’t even tell his “good friend” (and sometime employer) Jay Z. Transplanting to LA, Kinchen became Will Smith’s private producer.

The music culture began to shift, when, post-David Guetta, hip-hoppers embraced ‘EDM’. Pitbull’s Hotel Room Service sampled Kinchen’s ’90s remix of Nightcrawlers’ Push The Feeling On – and Kinchen subsequently worked for him, helming the Miami rapper’s massive theme to Men In Black 3 – Back In Time. Then, amid a UK-led resurgence of deep house, Kinchen was sucked back into dancedom. The studio boffin took up DJing on being booked by Jamie Jones’ Hot Creations crew, nostalgic for his ’90s house. Kinchen resumed remixing. A grassroots phenom, his reinvention of Storm Queen’s Look Right Through topped the UK charts. Kinchen secured an album deal with Sony. Plus, he determined to develop Area10 into a brand.

Along the way, Kinchen befriended Idris Elba. The Hollywood actor is one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People” but, as Sydney recently discovered , he’s also a legit DJ. The pals interviewed each other for Kinchen’s 2014 Mixmag cover story. They’ve since collaborated on music, Kinchen plugging a track entitled MIKE (their initials, flipped). “He was really humble in the studio,” Kinchen says of Elba. “He said more than a couple of times that he was intimidated by being in the studio with me. It was funny ’cause I was like, ‘Well, I’m intimidated about being in the studio with you – ’cause you’re Idris Elba!'” Elba has “really great ideas”. “He knows what he wants when it comes to music, but I think, because he was in with me, he was a little reserved – he felt like he just wanted to listen to what I have to say, which was kinda humbling, but it was pretty cool.” They are in regular contact. “We plan on doing a lot together.”

In 2016, house is mainstream globally. The wider music scene is fluid – house and urban in-sync. Kinchen contributed to Mary J Blige’s nu-garage The London Sessions, guiding My Loving with Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins. Kinchen, no purist, won’t abandon urban. “I consider myself a producer at the end of the day, so I wanna produce different types of music until I’m finished making music – whether it’s house or hip-hop or R&B.” Ironically, hip-hop beatmakers, too, are cutting urban house. Kanye West – another closet houser, once apprenticed to Chicago stalwart E-Smoove – sampled Larry “Mr Fingers” Heard’s Mystery Of Love for Fade. But Kinchen worries about bandwagon-jumpers. “As soon as producers who don’t usually produce house music start to produce house music, and the record labels accept those productions as mainstream productions – that’s what’s gonna kill it. It’s kinda what killed the EDM sound.” Such opportunists render the music “cheesy”. And, the genial Kinchen stresses, that is based on empirical evidence. “I’m not hating.”

Earlier in the year Kinchen issued Piece Of Me, graced by Becky Hill – ostensibly the lead single from his first album in over two decades. He’s following with My Love 4 U, co-produced by UK combo CamelPhat and featuring A*M*E – the rising star heard on Duke Dumont’s Need U (100%). The reaction to the demo in sets was “crazy”. “I’m still finishing up the album,” Kinchen updates. “It’s been hard, though, because the summer’s been so busy with touring and shows and back and forth to Ibiza. I did a lot of festivals this year, and I did a lot of main stages, and so it’s just kept me busy and it’s kept me out of the studio a little bit. But now I’m finishing it up. Australia is my last big run and then I’m taking some downtime.”

MK headlines Harbourlife in Sydney today. See his remaining tour dates here.

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