Donate to the Transgender Law Center

Why House Music Went Mainstream, According To MK

The producer headlines the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival tonight.

November 06, 2015

MK’s “Dub Of Doom” mix of Nightcrawlers’ “Push The Feeling On,” is a pillar of ‘90s house music: the beat is crass and hard-headed, the synth cartoony, the vocal twisted into a narcotic loop. In a story that now verges on the stuff of myth, MK whipped the mix together right before hopping on a plane.

“I was desperate,” he explains over the phone from an L.A. studio. “I had done a mix, but the label turned it down. I’m like, ‘Shit, man.’ I plugged everything in; everything I did was a first take. I was in Detroit for like two weeks; I got back to New York and I listened to it, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing.’ It was like a different record.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Born in Detroit, Marc Kinchen decamped for New York in the ‘90s. His version of the Nightcrawlers’ track may be his best known tune—the song made it onto the charts, and was sampled more recently in Pitbull’s “Hotel Room Service”—but other edits are just as impressive, like his relentless attack on Jodeci’s “Freek'n You” or his vicious update of Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Surrender.”

He subsequently left club music for a career in pop production, spent some time as Will Smith’s main producer, and became a member of Pitbull’s team, eventually finding his way back to house music more than two decades after he started. The FADER recently caught up with him to talk about the latest phase of his career and the evolution of house music since the ‘90s.


You were born in Detroit, but your sound is very distinct from the early Detroit techno stuff.

I was doing music in Detroit, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was probably the least techno out of anybody there. I always liked the Chicago and New York styles more, it was a little grittier. I just thought what the hell, let’s do it—I picked up and moved [to NYC]. I just kind of listened to a lot of New York mix shows, went to a couple clubs, and that sound—this is it. It helped my production hearing the New York DJs, hearing Tony Humphries, Frankie Knuckles, Masters At Work. I found my missing link.

When you started making house records again more recently, did you have to adjust for 20 years of changes in production?

It took me maybe three records to adjust. Then I did a mix for Lana Del Rey, “Blue Jeans,” that kind of took off. And then I did a mix for Hot Natured, a couple more mixes, and then I did Storm Queen. And that went to No. 1. I kept going, and I got signed to Sony for an album deal. I’m doing the album right now, I have two really good singles coming out; I’m excited for 2016. The remix requests that are coming in—there’s at least one a day. Sometimes they come in and they’re almost begging. I have to turn down so many because I’m doing my album.

What have the biggest changes been in the world of house music since you got your start?

ADVERTISEMENT

I think the only big difference is that it’s so easy to make music now. There’s so much music out where I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It’s hard to tell who’s really talented and who just pressed the right button.

Why do you think the sound has broken through into the mainstream in such a major way?

House music is the best kind of dancing music. That’s why the format hasn’t really changed in all this time. You hear it: you want to dance. Everyone wants to hear a song with a good beat. And with the internet, it’s more accessible than it was before.

What does it feel like seeing the extent of your influence? There are hip-hop tracks now that sound like MK beats with different drum programming.

It’s funny, I hear music on the radio on mix shows; I’m like, I thought that was my record! Of course it’s flattering. It keeps you on your toes to reach out and try something different.

Do you think there has been a cost to the mainstreaming of house music? Last year, Derrick Carter suggested that the music had lost its roots as it went more mainstream.

But that happens with any kind of music that becomes popular. It happened with rap. It happened with rock and roll. It’s one of those things you can’t avoid. You can bitch and moan about it, but you sound like everyone else did 30 years ago. There’s still plenty of underground raw stuff, that pure house music out there. There’s just a lot of other stuff, and you have to work your way around it. Most producers who really want to be producers, they don’t want to just stay underground. You don’t want to make music that only ten people like, trust me. You want to make music that everyone likes. Not that you want to sell out, but you want to make the dopest underground record you can make. And usually that means a lot of people are going to like it, which means it could end up being commercial.

More from FADER Video
Why House Music Went Mainstream, According To MK