MK: PIONEER OF THE DUB MIX
The ‘Dub Mix’ was a concept that took off around the same time that disco ‘died’ (i.e: moved underground and became electronic) towards the very end of the 1970s. A cluster of producers such as Shep Pettibone, Francois K, Walter Gibbons and Larry Levan, in an idea similar to that of Jamaican Dub, began stripping back the vocal and instrumental parts of tracks, emphasizing the drums and bass, and re-arranging/remixing what was left over to create a harder, more repetitive version that was better suited to the specific demands of their core audience: The floor of the nightclub. Since then the concept of the ‘dub mix’ has evolved into the foundation for an entire universe of music – the central ethos at the bottom of house, techno and all their myriad offspring. Riding high on the list of pioneers striving to further the idea of the dub concept in electronic music, including everyone from Francois K, through to Theo Parrish and Joy Orbison, is someone who is so synonymous with the idea that, in certain circles, he has his own sort of subsection genre, known simply as The MK Dub.
Born in Detroit in 1972, Mark Kinchen developed his musicality early, taking music in school and starting to produce his own stuff at home by the age of fourteen – home made versions of the music he was into at that point: Depeche Mode and European electropop which Kinchen says was called ‘Alternative’ music in Detroit at the time. In 1988, age sixteen, he hooked up with a couple of friends who also produced music and the group released a track called First Base under the name Separate Minds, which came out on the small Detroit independent label Express. Kinchen sampled the sounds of the computer game Metal Gear on First Base and it comes off sounding like some demonic futuristic techno hybrid; right from the start Kinchen showed a rare flare for soulful rhythmic strangeness. This caught the ear of Kevin Saunderson who licensed First Base to a compilation he put out on his KMS imprint showcasing the current sound of Detroit Techno. Saunderson helped nurture Kinchen’s talent by giving him 24 hour access to his own home studio, with use of top of the range samplers, sequencers, synths and drum machines.
By the start of the nineties Kinchen was making music under the name MK and had begun working with the vocalist Alana Simon. In 1991, still out of Kevin Saundersons studio, Kinchen cut a track called Burning with the young singer and released it on an imprint he had set up himself, Area 10. Burning was a slice of moody, sultry Detroit deep House and set the clubs of the East Coast, as well as the UK, alight. Not at the time a DJ or particularly into clubbing, so unaware to an extent of the records effect on the dance floor, Kinchen relied on the numbers of copies being requested by distributors to measure the tune’s success. Without any fanfare or real promo, the 12” eventually shifted 20,000 copies, and with it, MK was catapulted into a new world of high demand and big money.
By 1993 MK had moved from Detroit to New York, was soaking up and shaping the NY House and Garage sound, hanging out with Kerri Chandler, Todd Terry and Masters at Work, and remixing 3 or 4 tracks a month, for $20, 000 dollars a pop. He was working with pop acts that wanted the MK trademark dub mix to push their song into the thriving club world, with everyone from Betty Boo to the B52s commissioned an MK mix. Kinchen honed a trademark sound, stripping out the vocal melody and instead using the vocal as a sampled instrument in short, cut up bursts, against a landscape of shuffled Roland hi hats, stuttering drums and organ bass. These mixes were usually handed to the label with a more conventional mix that kept the original vocal more in tact – that acted as the safe mix, while the MK dub was more abstract and how Kinchen envisioned the track should actually sound. These were always called some variation of ‘MK dub’: The MK Dumb Dub, MK NY Dub, MK Deep Dub etc, and for a while, during the mid nineties peak, they were ubiquitous. The biggest, most ubiquitous of all, of course, is his ‘Dub of Doom’ mix of the track Push the Feeling On, by nineties Glaswegian house heads, The Nightcrawlers, which became an absolute monster club hit.
As legend has it, Kinchen worked up a mix that pushed the musicality of the piece and, happy with it, submitted it only for it to be turned down by the label. Kinchen was then coralled by his manager into doing another mix, which he did, begrudgingly, in half an hour and one take, on one speaker (the other was broken at the time), with his mixing desk sprawled across his apartment floor, stripping back and chopping up the vocal and giving it to the fed ex man as he rushed out of his NY apartment to catch a flight back to Detroit. He listened back to it on his return to NY a fortnight later with his brother (the producer Scotti Deep) and the pair knew instantly and instinctively that the track would be massive, which it absolutely was. MK says himself that he’s never met anyone since who hasn’t heard his mix of the track, which sounds ridiculous, but you tend to believe him.
Kinchen pushed on from there, churning out remix after remix after remix (literally hundreds of them) in trademark dub style for everyone from The Shamen to Inner City, and in turn influencing a few key up and coming producers. Most notable and obvious of these was Todd Edwards. Todd ‘The God’, so influential in the formation of the UK Garage, 2 step sound, is on record as saying, matter-of-factly, that no MK would have meant no Todd Edwards. His own trademark style is a direct continuation of what MK had started – the snappy shuffle, the bass sound and, especially, the vocal cut ups. So MK is a sort of Grandfather of Garage in the UK, and as Garage continues to twist and morph in all it’s futuristic new directions, you can still hear the ghost of MK’s dubs rattling about in there – twenty years on.
By 1997, Kinchen had, by his own admission, exhausted the possibilities of the remix and wanted to move on to a new challenge and scene. He began producing for R&B artists and was signed as a producer by none other than Quincy Jones. This led into work with some of the biggest acts of the time: Monica, SWV, 702, Tevin Campbell: R&B pop royalty. For the last fifteen years he’s continued in this vein, producing tracks continually in Big Studios for Big Artists. Most recently he’s been working as in house producer for Pitbull, both artistically and monetarily, a million miles away from his beginnings in Detroit. But then, last year, in 2011, the story came full circle, with a re release (on a split 12 with Omar S) of the MK dub of a track called Given (which Kinchen first put out as a b side in 1993 on his own label, Area 10), garnering support from diverse corners of the electronic music world and, being backed by the Omar S track, putting his sound into a different context. As the sounds of nineties House and Garage are reappraised by a new generation, the MK dub stands tall as a seminal sound signature of the era; and with rumours of releases of previously unheard MK material from his early nineties period potentially in the pipeline, as well as last years House Masters comp on Defected and new work with Morgan Geist, he may yet come to be viewed as even more of a pioneer than he is already.
By Joe Evans
MK – Given