How Lee Foss and Anabel Englund Saved MK from Self-Imposed House Music Exile in Forming Pleasure State
The walls are talking...
MK's first single "Somebody New" came out in 1989, three years before Anabel Englund, his bandmate in Pleasure State, wriggled onto this Earth for the first time. The Detroit-raised producer has left an indelible mark on house music worldwide, perhaps crystallized by the seemingly eternal relevance of his 1995 remix of Nightcrawlers' "Push the Feeling On." Sometime around the turn of the millennium, though, he disappeared from the electronic music world and into the pre-dance renaissance of Los Angeles to work on production for mainstream acts. Everyone from Will Smith to Pitbull got a touch of the Mark Kinchen magic, but dancefloors worldwide wouldn't hear a fresh MK dub until nearly a decade after his quiet defection.
Around the same time, Lee Foss was enjoying a healthy taste of success after years simmering in the underground. His Hot Natured project alongside Jamie Jones took off almost immediately, and a chance meeting with Angeleno singer Anabel Englund offered a vocal outlet that matched the complex and abstract moods of his music. Try calling it fate if you want, but the manner in which the three came together is as mundane as it is exceptional. "I met MK through Facebook," explains Foss in MK's San Fernando Valley kitchen. "I was a huge fan of his production and we were looking for a headliner for a Hot Natured party in Miami in 2011. He's someone whose music I played a lot of, but I couldn't figure out why he was inaccessible and wasn't around."
"I was totally out of house music," confirms MK. "I think I was working with Pitbull at the time. House has always been my first love. I had small success in the mainstream world, but I was in that starving producer mode. But then Lee reached out. That's when I thought about coming back for the first time. It was who they were in the scene and how I saw what I saw in the 90s with them. It brought back a lot of excitement for me, how into house music they were. In the 90s, I would go out and see Louie Vega and Frankie Knuckles or Kenny Dope play one of my tracks out and people would run to the dancefloor. Seeing that again, with these guys, to me that was more fun than trying to place a record on a Katy Perry album."
The trio went on to collaborate on the undeniable crossover track "Electricity." Knocked out in quick succession, the tune captured a wholly unique energy, sexy and catchy and nigh-on unforgettable. Thus, Pleasure State was born. In a series of firsts for all involved, the Pleasure State project led MK to begin DJing for the first time in his almost 25 year career. "I never had a desire to DJ before that," he says. "I consider myself a producer first. In the 90s, I had decks, but it couldn't keep my interest long enough. I'm like, standing there trying to blend two records at Kevin Saunderson's place thinking "how much fun can it really be?" That thought kind of stayed with me until later on when I think the way that technology brought making and playing music together appealed to me. Now I can make a record and play a record in the same day."
Perhaps what also led MK to change a quarter century's worth of habit was the trio's creative energy. Foss explains what is it that makes their confluence so special: "I'm drawn to these two by their dyslexia. We have a musical dyslexia that makes it work because we like the weird things and were not trained properly. That is what immediately drew us all together, it's a left-brain, left-foot, left-eye, left-tongue thing. When we're sitting in the studio, Mark's gonna come up with an eerie or weird or unexpected chord change or bassline, and so will I. We found each other for a reason, in the same way that Hot Natured found each other for a reason."
Pleasure State's Ghost in the System EP is a three-track exposition that further elaborates on their unique sound. The titular track maintains their knack for eerie, abstract, but pop-driven melodies that burrow under your skin and don't let go – In particular, Englund's refrain of "the walls are talking" has a jarring, dissociative effect that brings the song into an engrossind 3D. "The intention is to tell a story and to show a narrative," says Foss. "Clearly, this girl's cheated on her boyfriend and is losing her mind, making excuses for it. She's lost in the self-destructive feeling of guilt and that moment of loss echoing around the house. I feel like when you tell something that honest and you have a voice like Anabel's, you're gonna reach people. It's gonna resonate."
The name of Pleasure State acts as a trojan horse, suggesting summery vibes when in fact the content is often dark. The track "Subject Matter," for example, is about Monsanto and the impending danger of GMO's. "I don't think people paid much attention to the song, but the lyrics are very opinionated and strong," says Englund. "It challenges people in a way they're not used to in a dance song and I don't think people even know what it's about."
Photo credit: Luke Dyson
Pleasure State's live iteration is brings a performative element with Englund's live vocals and MK and Foss' playing synth lines live. Foss explains, "We did one show live, fairly off the cuff last year, but we're doing CRSSD and We Are Festival…We haven't approached exactly how we're gonna do it at CRSSD, but everyone just looks at Anabel and nobody looks at us, so it's pretty easy for me and Mark!"
"The music part is easy, because we do it," says MK. "Some pop artists have no idea how their live music works." Foss is the only one of the three for whom that level of performativity is novel: "I get stressed out because I've been a DJ my whole life. It's easier for Mark and Anabel. It's new for me to do live stuff. I even rapped at our first gig. The first song, first live show, first thing. Anabel made me do it!"
It's that mixture of comfort, respect, and propulsion that has intertwined the the members of Pleasure State. But even more than that, it's just because they're the same kind of strange. "I can be playing something in the studio where other people wouldn't be into it," says MK. "But Lee and Anabel are like 'That's weird…I like it!' That's all I ever wanted."