Haiti's Michael Brun Talks EDM Stardom and Launching Kid Coconut Label
Photo by Michael Raveney
In 1804, Haitian drums booming through the mountains helped the country overthrow slavery and gain its independence.
In 2014, that same throbbing beat has established Haiti-born, Miami-based Michael Brun as an emerging international EDM powerhouse.
And with his own freshly minted independent record label, Kid Coconut, he's determined to further integrate his Caribbean homeland's roots into the international tapestry of electronic dance music.
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Haiti's official motto, proudly emblazoned on its warrior's flag of cannons and bayonets, is "L'union fait la force," and Brun is adamant about the historical legacy he represents. "Haiti is the first independent black nation in the Western hemisphere," he says. "And I want people to know that I'm from Haiti."
His own blood is a mix of Portuguese, Guyanese, Chinese, Haitian, and French. He was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, and he wants to help people soak up some of his country's rich musical heritage. "I grew up listening to Caribbean Sextet and Tabou Combo. My dad was in band called Skandal in the '90s. I'm influenced by everything that comes from home," he tells Crossfade.
"Kompa is like the Haitian equivalent of salsa, a very dancey romantic music with a touch of zouk. The snare hits on a very specific beat, like ta-kata. All the islands have their trademark dance style, and that's ours."
But one native style that Brun loves even more is rara, a rally music incorporating infectious rhythms, call and response, and simple, catchy melodies blown through homemade vuvuzelas and tubas. "It's my favorite kind of Haitian music," he says. "It's so simple and stripped down and focused on percussion and beats, and it has such a hypnotic vibe that when everybody comes down the street dancing, it really gets you.
"The coolest thing about rara," the DJ adds, "is that all the different regions have their own beat, their own trademark sound. You listen to the beat and know that it's from that certain place. It's inspiring. They've got these crazy-deep horns that you really feel in your chest. It's like nothing else I've ever felt. It's so special."
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As for vodou's ceremonial drums and chants, Brun says: "That religion is really interesting, and it has its own unique backstory that plays into the music of Haiti and rara specifically. I've listened to a lot of it, and it really has a magical appeal to it. I've been thinking about putting that sound out for so long, but I never had an outlet till now."
Certainly, dance music is nothing new to Haiti, where native Taíno, African, Spanish, French, Arab, and every other trading culture in the world has converged, coalesced, combined, and sometimes clashed for centuries.
But even though Haitian music has been tinged by many cultures, the most significant influence has always been the drums of Africa. As Brun explains: "A lot of the sounds and the people come from West Africa and its rhythms and culture, which transferred over when the colonies were created."
That is an inextricable link to the origins of popular dance, and Brun is committed to combining his Haitian musical heritage with his passion for EDM -- a fascination that flourished when, around 15 or 16 years old, he convinced his parents to install an Internet connection that was "not too fast."
Through his late teens, the aspiring DJ-producer spent hours upon hours on the Axwell and Laidback Luke forums. He would watch YouTube tutorial after YouTube tutorial. And he'd devour each and every issue of Future Music and Computer Music magazines, from cover to cover.
Soon, his parents sent him off for two years at an Indiana military academy, where he honed his skills like a machete blade, teaching himself the mixing and mastering techniques that allow him to finish a song on his laptop in just a few hours before dropping it through the million-dollar speaker systems of VIP clubs that same night.
Late, even while a pre-med student at Davidson College in North Carolina, Brun refined his music production abilities with a focused intensity.
"Mixing and mastering was one of the things I learned through the forums," he says. "It's one of the hardest parts of production. There are so many techniques. You don't have to have a big setup or have crazy equipment. The concept of the song is the strongest thing. A weak concept that's overproduced is still weak."
His initial releases were bootleg remixes and original tracks that he released via his favorite forums. The best cuts filtered out through the blogosphere, eventually netting buzz from influential websites like Hype Machine. That led to a couple of well-received track signings by Hardwell's Revealed Recordings and Dirty South's Phazing Records Then interviews, gigs, and money followed.
Before long, Brun had become Dirty South's latest protege, and he decided to take a hiatus from med school.
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This past March, the DJ-producer, then 21 years old, became the first Haitian to play Ultra Music Festival. His main stage set channeled the energy of rara culture through the sound of progressive house.
On that same trip, he hired a manager and signed a booking deal with WME. Soon after, he was making official remixes for artists like Alicia Keys and Armin van Buuren.
Now with the launch of Kid Coconut, he's created an independent outlet for himself and others. The label roster, Brun says, will include "a mix of some of my friends in the industry, and a real focus on getting other Haitian artists and anyone who doesn't really have an avenue to get into electronic music.
"A lot people just don't have access to the industry," he adds. "Dirty South brought me to a huge audience through his label, and that's what allowed me to tour and develop a fanbase. I want to open my label up to the people who don't have access and create a platform for the world to hear their music."
Brun likes to think of himself as a musical ambassador. And he relishes the opportunity to meet new people, travel the world, and contribute to the exchange of cultures across all borders.
"I gotta tell you," he says, "Central America and South America, it's crazy to go to those places and they know all the music and the lyrics. When I went to Honduras and Guatemala and Panama and Costa Rica, I had no idea what it would be like there. It gives me goosebumps just talking about it. Electronic music is so international now and all these cultures connect through it.
"Even if I'm just somewhere for a day I make an effort to go meet the people and experience the culture. I'm sure that when people go to play Haiti, they have no idea what it's going to be like and they may have the wrong idea about it too. But every place I've been to has been beautiful."
Michael Brun. With Dave Sol. Friday, July 25. Story, 136 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 11 p.m. and tickets cost $30 to $40 plus fees via wantickets.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-538-2424 or visit storymiami.com.
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