LEAF 2013 was a resounding success and Point Blank were honoured to be part of its inauguration along with some of the biggest names in electronic music. We hosted the Masterclass room, bringing in artists like Joe Goddard, Chris Liebing, Kindness and Kevin Saunderson to talk about their production approach, creative workflow and studio setup.
Marc Kinchen, better known as MK, is one of house music’s most famous names. With his instantly-recognisable dub vocal edits, he defined a style of his own that makes him one of the most in-demand remixers on the planet, more than 20 years into his career. In the midst of a classic house revival, MK continues to have underground and commercial success having recently reached number one with his remix of Storm Queen’s slow-mo groover Look Right Through. We were honoured to be joined by MK to find out more about his career, working with Lee Foss and Jamie Jones and why he loves NI’s Maschine. Kevin Saunderson, who mentored MK at the start of his career, and techno legend Eddie Fowlkes also feature in the audience making this a particularly special masterclass!
Make sure you subscribe to Point Blank’s YouTube channel to be the first to watch artist masterclasses from Kevin Saunderson, Chris Liebing, Joe Goddard, Daniel Miller as soon as they go up.
Luke: Welcome along to the second of our Masterclass session today. We are joined by
one of house music’s most respected producers, one of the most in-demand remixers, I think of all time.
We are very privileged to welcome along, MK. Let’s give him a round of applause. The first thing I should say is congratulations. I think the number one, possibly tomorrow?
MK: Possibly. I’ll know tonight. At midnight, I’ll know, I think.
Luke: Midnight. The countdown begins. I thought I’d ask you first of all you sound,
that original ’90s kind of house sound is probably more on-trend now than it’s really ever been, especially given the number one that’s coming about. Is there anything that you think has brought it back to the forefront?
MK: I don’t know. Because I took a break for like 10 years. I basically stopped in ’96.
Then, I got back into it in 2009. For those 11, 12, 13 years I didn’t listen to house music at all.
Luke: What was it that brought you back to house music?
MK: Jamie Jones and Lee Foss.
Luke: Right. The Hot Creations guys.
MK: They did a show in Miami. I don’t know why they called me, and asked me if I
wanted to DJ. And I had never DJ’ed before. I didn’t even know who they were. I talked to my management and they’re like, you should do it.
They’re cool guys. I called my brother and was like, “They want me to DJ but I can’t DJ. Can you help me?” That’s where it started.
Luke: How long ago was that now?
Luke: Okay. I also wanted to ask, given how long you have been making music and
have been very successful at it, what are the changes from the early days when you were making that kind of sound like the Storm Queen remix or the stuff you’ve been doing with Hot Creations, what’s your production setup like, and how has it evolved over time?
MK: In the ’90s I used a lot of outboard gear, I used a lot of analog stuff. Over the
years I started changing to digital. Using laptops, you can do your whole setup in a laptop or a computer.
Since I’d been doing pop music that whole time, I still knew how to make music digitally. It was an easy transition I guess.
Luke: Were there certain things you were doing in the pop world, production
techniques or anything you’ve brought from there to the stuff you’re doing in house now?
MK: It’s all the same really, just chord progression. You use the same chord
progressions, but you use them in a different format.
Luke: There’s one thing that I really wanted to ask you about. The MK dubs. How did
that come about?
MK: The dubs came about from doing remixes. I would get a lot of remix requests
and sometimes the songs wouldn’t be so good. I would have to get myself into it. I would basically take the vocals and just try to make a new melody.
Luke: Was it the case that the straight remixes that you were doing weren’t something
that you felt would work in the club?
MK: Yeah. That’s exactly what it was. You hear a song. Usually it was a really cheesy
pop song. You listen to it and you’re like, “How’s this going to work?” You just make something out of nothing.
Luke: Right. And it’s always starting with the vocal?
MK: Yeah, that’s how I do it. I was just talking to Kevin Saunderson, and he’s the first
person I saw do a remix where he stripped all the music down and he would just use the vocals. When I saw him do it, I thought that was the norm.
So when I started doing remixes, when I would get the parts in I would not even listen to the music. Most of the time I don’t listen to the original at all. I would just listen to the vocals and make a new track around it.
Luke: So you would just take the stems without hearing the original?
MK: Yeah. A lot of times I don’t like to listen to the original.
Luke: I guess it influences the . . .
MK: I don’t want to know the key of the song from the original. I just go from the
Luke: We should probably talk about Kevin, for those of you that don’t know. You
kind of came up under him, right?
Luke: How did that influence the way you work?
MK: That’s how I learned. I was 16 at the time, and I started working with Kevin. In
Detroit, Kevin was like, God. I based what I did around Kevin.
Luke: Okay. Were you working in his studio?
MK: Yes. In his studio. He lived downtown. I lived in the suburbs. I would drive to
his studio every day. I would get there and he would be sleeping. I’d just go in and start working.
Luke: How did you two originally meet? How did you hook up?
MK: I did a song called “First Base”. Kevin licensed it for his Techno One
compilation. From that point, Chez Damier was Kevin’s, and our . . . I met with Chez and he was like, “You should come work with us.” And I was like, “All right, cool. Let’s do it.” I quit college and went.
Luke: Bringing it up to now, I was going to ask you about the ”Storm Queen” remix
for example. That’s kind of been around for a little bit. When you finish something like that, do you instantly feel, “This is something special. I’ve got something here.”
MK: “Storm Queen” is a weird story, because I did the first mix in 2010. After I did
the thing with Hot Creations, DJ’ing with them, Simon Dunmore called me. He was the second part of getting me back into the music. Simon said, “I want you to remix something.”
He was literally going through his computer and said, “How about this song?” It was “Look Right Through”. I’m like, “Yeah, cool. I’ll do it.”
It was a small fee. I did two remixes. “The Morning Dub”, and I forgot what the other mix was called. It did pretty well underground. I would play it out, and it got a good response.
So then playing live, I thought, “Let me do another remix that’s not for sale, that I just play live.” That was “Dub III”. I would play it out, and the response was insane.
I was never going to give it to Simon, but after three months I gave it to Simon and said, “You should probably put this out.” I think when I gave it to Simon he didn’t really like it. He was like, “Yeah, it’s cool.” He put it out, and then he saw the response. It was really organic.
That’s what I like about that one so much. I didn’t do it for money. I didn’t do it to try to get into charts or nothing. I just made a remix at home. I heard it. I really, really liked it. The last time I felt like that was probably when I did Nightcrawlers, “Push The Feeling On”.
Luke: When you do look at taking on a remix, obviously there was a point when you
were getting a lot of remix requests, what were the criteria you were taking on board?
MK: It usually goes through my management first. They deal with who it is, who’s the
artist, is it a respected artist? And then when I listen to it, I listen just for the vocals. For the melody, just to see what I’m up against.
Luke: That would be deciding whether you’re going to take this on. Do you need to
have a clear idea of where you’re going to go with it?
MK: Yeah, I usually do. I’ve only turned down a couple mixes, and it’s usually if the
BPM is really bad, if the vocals are really bad, if the singer’s bad, I turn it down.
Luke: That style of working with the vocals. I guess back in the day you’re working
with an MPC or something like that?
MK: I’ve always been a tech guy. That’s the other reason why I got into doing music. I
use everything. Everything that came out, I used. Any equipment.
Luke: What are you using right now? What’s your . . .
MK: Right now I’m using Logic, Pro Tools. I have Ableton. I use it a little bit, but not
so much because I’m so used to Logic. I use a lot of plugins. I have a couple outboard pieces.
I use a Maschine a lot. The reason I got into using Maschine is in the ’90s when I did my dubs I used an Akai S1100 for my samples.
I can use that with my eyes closed. And then when I got back into remixes, I didn’t know what to do my dubs on, because the S110 was obsolete by that time. I bought a Maschine.
For the first six months, it sat there, because it was too confusing. But then I’m like, “All right, I should probably figure this out.” I finally figured it out, and that’s my go-to piece now.
Luke: Right. So that’s become really integral?
MK: Yes. I have a travel one, one at home, well two at home. Three at home.
Luke: You do travel a lot. Are you working on the road quite a lot?
MK: Yeah, I do. I’ve done a couple remixes on the road. I did a remix with Sub Focus.
I did a song called “Ghost in the System” with me, Lee Foss, and Anabel. Our group called Pleasure State. I did it on an airplane. I prefer to work at home, but sometimes I’m forced to work wherever I am.
Luke: You mentioned Lee Foss. You work with Jamie and Lee quite a bit. How does
that dynamic work in the studio?
MK: It’s interesting because they’re DJ’s first and producers second, where I’m a
producer first. I think the first time I worked with Jamie was about three years ago. I was at Jamie’s house and we did a track.
Jamie played me a couple things that he wanted to make a song similar to. It was like a ’90s track. I was like, “That’s it?”
Luke: You could do that in your sleep.
Luke: Does one take control of a certain area of production, or something like that?
MK: Yeah, we kind of just vibe it out. Usually we’ll get together and we’ll just hang
out for a minute, or an hour. Just talk, watch TV, eat. Just gradually get into the production. I’m like that with everybody actually. I never really like to just walk into a studio and get to it.
Luke: Cool. I’m sure that you guys have got some questions as well. Let’s open it up.
Who wants to go for it?
member: I find that with music production, mix downs are the hardest part, and I find
arrangement, creating the sounds that I want, I can do that, you know, if I’ve got a sound in my head, I can make that sound. But when it comes to making them all work together in one mix, I find that is the most frustrating part.
MK: It is. Even after 20 years of doing it, that’s my main problem. Even today, I’m
like, “I should go to engineering school.”
Member: I mean, the relationship between the bass and the kick drum and then all the
other sounds is the hardest thing. So what would you . . .
MK: At some point you just have to let it go. You’re just like, “Does it sound all
right?” You just kind of go with it. I have that problem every single mix I do. Literally, every mix I do.
Member: So there’s no work around?
MK: Nope. You’re fucked.
Member 2: How do you get inspired to do make new tracks? If you get blocked, how do you
MK: That’s why make the dub. Because a lot of times I’m blocked a lot. I’ll do an
example. When I do a remix, I’ll find the key of the song, I’ll lay the chords. Not necessarily chords I’ll use in the mix, but just chords. And I’ll take the vocals and I’ll chop them.
I’ll use any type of vocals that inspire me, to make a melody. Once I get that, then I’m inspired. Then I start over. I just kind of make my own inspiration.
Luke: So you would take a vocal, get a melody out of that, and restart from scratch
MK: Exactly, yeah.
Luke: Cool. Go for it.
Member 3: Hi there. Once you’ve laid down some beats and patterns in Maschine, what’s the
next most useful feature that you find with Maschine?
MK: For Maschine? Really once I get the dub down and the drums, I’m kind of done
with Maschine, at that point.
Member 3: Would you export? Would you bounce that down fairly quickly, then?
MK: Yeah, pretty much.
Luke: On that, do you find that working with audio, like bouncing stuff out, that
obviously restricts you to a point, so you’re committed at that point. Does that work for you?
MK: No. I did music in the ’90s. It’s different. You go to tape, then you’re committed.
In digital, it’s like nothing.
Luke: Any more questions, guys? Right, at the back?
Member 4: You said you use Logic and also Pro Tools. Do you use them both for
arranging? Or do you just use Pro Tools for the mix?
MK: No. I use Pro Tools for vocals. Although I just ordered that new mixer. The S6,
the Avid one. Have you seen that? I just ordered one. So I’ll be using Pro Tools more next year. But right now I use it for vocals. I don’t arrange in it though.
Luke: Any more?
Eddie: I got a question.
MK: Eddie Fowlkes. Eddie Fowlkes, ladies and gentlemen.
Eddie: I saw your video, Mr. Kinchen, of how to make a beat from Maschine to
Traktor. So I’m like, yeah, okay. So, the question is, I love the drum beats. They are so simple and so effective. My question is . . . Is there a swing? Or is this a natural feel? Because you don’t quantize your bottom beats.
MK: I don’t quantize my dubs. The vocals parts I don’t quantize.
Eddie: I mean the kicks, the hi-hats . . .
MK: No, those I quantize.
Eddie: Those are quantized?
MK: I swing them. But I don’t necessarily swing the whole kit the same percentage.
Eddie: Okay. I’m not trying to steal your groove.
MK: Yeah, you are, Eddie. Yes, you are.
Eddie: I mean, you know man, I’ve got to respect . . .
MK: I swing my hi-hats differently than I’ll swing different parts of the song.
Eddie: Okay, because the process on the video, it was sweet how you went from
Maschine to Traktor. And I was like . . .
MK: Well, on Traktor . . . I use Traktor when I DJ. I use three decks and I use one
remix deck. So I usually take parts of my remix, have the loops, and set up my remix set. That’s what I was doing in the video.
Eddie: Okay, I have one more question. You’ve got to understand, I respect you. I’ve
seen MK as a young kid. So now . . . The bassline, bro, is . . .
MK: I do have to say this. I did “Burnin’” in ’89. Eddie Fowlkes is the only one that
liked “Burnin’” in Detroit, when I first made it.
Eddie: I thought it was hot.
MK: He was the only one. I don’t even think Kevin liked it.
Kevin: I don’t know?
Eddie: “Burnin’” was the shit!
Kevin: I think I liked it.
MK: I don’t think you liked it, Kevin.
Eddie: But no, it’s the MK bassline, the MK style that transcends the whole persona.
And how you play your bassline. It’s like how we started, with the broken beat style. Because you play more like . . . Is that more from a past history? Or a music history?
MK: Yeah, it’s more from listening to alternative music. Listening to everything else
but house. I didn’t even like house when I made those songs. No, I’m serious. I didn’t like house music.
Luke: What were your influences in the early days?
MK: A lot of alternative. Depeche Mode is my favorite group, ever. I listened to
Depeche Mode all day long.
Luke: Cool. Yeah, go for it.
Member 5: In “Electricity”, what drum machine did you use?
MK: I used Maschine. I went to Lee Foss’s house. Lee played me “Billy Jean” by
Michael Jackson. If you listen to it now, you’ll get it. He said, “Let’s do a track that’s similar to this groove. So I did the drum kind of like “Billy Jean”. I used a couple of drum samples, and made it like . . .
Member 5: From that track?
MK: I didn’t sample from the track. I just made the groove similar to it. Same tempo.
Kind of groovy. But it was Maschine.
Luke: Any more? There must be some more questions.
Member 6: Why use Maschine? Is there any special setup that you use with Maschine?
MK: I’m just used to using it. I think it’s the best drum machine out. I know Akai has a
new one out, but I haven’t even tried it out yet. But Maschine, what it does, and what they’re trying to do in the next couple of years . . .
If you don’t have one, you should probably get one. I know over the next years, they’re trying to make it a standalone unit. If you know it now, in three years it’ll be like the new MPC of the ’90s.
Luke: I also wanted to ask about DJ’ing. You did mention when the Hot Creations guys
called you up, you didn’t know how to DJ. You’re using Traktor now to play out?
MK: Well, I knew how to use Traktor, I just didn’t want to.
Luke: Right, okay.
MK: I didn’t want to carry ten crates of vinyl.
Luke: Now you don’t have that problem. You’ve just got a laptop.
MK: Yeah, I’ve just got a laptop.
Luke: Being on the road and touring that much, what do you see for you going on
in the future? Continue to DJ and make house music?
MK: Yeah, just DJ’ing and doing the production.
Luke: Do you see going back to the pop world at all?
MK: No, I don’t. I don’t want to go back. Only because doing remixes like “Storm
Queen” for example, that song may be 1 or 2 on the pop charts. That remix was exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t talk to anybody. Nobody said, “Hey, change this. Change that.” It was exactly what I wanted to do.
In the pop world, you have managers, artists, their friends, artists’ friends, the president of the label. Literally, it’s like 20 people. So you’re making a track for these 20 people. It’s a nightmare.
Luke: And I guess what you want gets taken out of the equation.
MK: Yeah, I hate it.
Luke: Yeah, go for it.
Member 6: Do you use the iMaschine app at all? To create basic ideas?
MK: I bought it for that reason, but I don’t use it for that. I just mess around. Ideally,
that’s what it should be used for.
Member 6: I find it so useful. I’m always writing grooves on it.
MK: I do, but I never figured out how to save it and then send it to my actual
Member 6: You do it through iTunes.
MK: Oh, do you? I did do that in Garage Band though. I did a track on my iPad, and
then sent it to Logic. I have done that before though. As far as iMaschine, I just mess around with it.
Eddie: I’ve got a question.
MK: Uh oh. Eddie Fowlkes.
Eddie: What’s the next MK big plan? What are you trying to change?
MK: I’m doing an album. MK album.
Luke: Oh, you are doing an album? Is that on Hot Creations?
MK: No, it’s not signed anywhere yet. Only because, for the reason that whole pop
thing . . . every label’s calling my manager every other day, but I don’t want them involved. I just want to make music the way I want to make it.
Then, once it’s done, then I’ll figure out what I’m going to do with it. Right now I don’t want to talk to them.
Luke: And how far in the process are you of the album?
MK: Half way.
Luke: Okay, cool.
MK: I did a track with Duke Dumont the other day. I have a track with Shadow Child
I did, a couple of things.
Luke: Are those kind of collaborations done in the studio together, or . . .
MK: Duke was in L.A. last week. He came to my house. We did a track. And I did
two or three with Shadow Child.
Luke: Cool. Look forward to hearing it, man. So yeah, massive round of applause for
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