Michael Brun doesn’t speak like a typical 21-year-old.
There’s maturity in the Haitian artist’s voice that belies his years, perhaps drawn from an adolescence spent surrounded by his Caribbean country’s endemic poverty. Though Brun grew up on the green side of Port Au Prince’s deep social divides, it’s clear his heart strayed into the city’s sprawling slums.
“I always wanted to be a doctor due to living in Haiti,” he says. “I was in a very safe environment where I didn’t need to worry how I’d get my next meal. I had a home and a family that took care of me, and I went to good schools. I realized how lucky I was and how I needed to be able to help people around me who didn’t have those opportunities.”
This samaritan sentiment is reflected in the launch of Brun’s new label, Kid Coconut. While acting as a vehicle for Brun’s musical output, such as dynamic debut release, “Zenith,” on July 21st, the label will also seek to showcase and develop Haitian artists who would otherwise lack access to such exposure.
“The success I’ve had is a mix of hard work and also the right things happening for me,” he says. “You can’t just keep that help, you have to reciprocate it. That’s exactly what I want to do for Haitian artists, because a lot of them don’t have a chance to meet artists from outside the country. Their work can be great, but it comes a point where you just hit a wall and you can’t continue developing unless you get some outside help.”
Raised on violin and guitar by a musical family, Brun spent his first 16 years in his native Haiti volunteering for hospitals and making admittedly “terrible mashups” using Virtual DJ. A key moment came in an unexpected invitation to attend Culver Military Academy in Indiana through a family friend who had opened a full-scholarship school for underprivileged children in Haiti. Military school may seem an odd fit for an artist, but Brun considers it crucial to his creative development.
“The stuff I learned there about discipline was so important to the way I work now,” he says. “The schedule was so regimented. I have really kept that whole mentality up until now.”
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This newfound discipline helped Brun achieve a full-scholarship to Davidson College in North Carolina, where the freshman began pursuing a pre-med major path while continuing to hone his music production in parallel.
“The medical path was really appealing to me because I wanted be able to do something that could help in most immediate way,” he says.
Brun had plenty of reminders why. In 2010, he recalls departing Haiti for Culver two days before the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and leveled much of the capital. Brun’s mother and sister had left the country the same day, but his father was initially counted missing.
“I tried calling my dad immediately, but all the phone connections were dead,” he recalls. “I didn’t hear anything from my dad for two weeks. We had no idea how he was. Luckily, everything was fine, but it was a really crazy time.”
Brun’s music soon began taking off in the blogosphere and he found himself fielding offers from an enviable array of labels. In Dec. 2011, Hardwell’s Revealed Recordings released his first single, “Dawn,” an energetic big room number that earned support from top DJs and caught the ear of Australian artist Dirty South. Dirty South signed Brun’s next single, “Rise,” to his Phazing imprint and invited the youngster to support him at a slew of Miami shows.
It was quickly becoming clear to Brun that he could not achieve his goals in music and medicine simultaneously. While many might jump at the chance to trade their textbooks for turntables, Brun deliberated at length on the difficult decision. Ultimately, the support of Davidson’s faculty and their open invitation back to their halls helped him choose music.
“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to work with people you look up to and influence what you’re doing, and to have the chance to have a good team around you,” he says. “I was 19 when that stuff came up and the average age for medical school was 27, so I felt I had a lot of time ahead of me and had such amazing opportunities right now.”
Those opportunities blossomed into his No. 2 Beatport-charting “Gravity” EP, bookings at Coachella’s Sahara tent and Ultra Music Festival’s main stage in 2014, and headline gigs at top New York and Miami clubs like Pacha, Marquee, Liv and Wall. But while he has now worked with and remixed many of dance music’s biggest names, his homeland is never far from his mind.
“Dance music is relatively new in Haiti, but it has really boomed in the last three or four years,” he says. “There are so many producers coming up now making cool stuff and actually really unique genres by mixing tech house with more traditional Haitian music like ‘rara,’ which is very percussive music with horns used in parades. I feel like it’s really fresh, and there’s so much there to tap into and bring new sounds into the scene.”
Brun aims to do just that with Kid Coconut, which he envisions offering artists the “continuous mix of development and support” that he initially expected from labels when he entered the industry. By growing his fledgling label as a family, he hopes to fulfill his goal of giving back, albeit through different means than he once envisioned.
“I’m realizing how huge the reach in music is and how many people you can touch in a really positive way,” he says. “While it’s not a medical career and it’s not hands-on experience helping people one at a time, it’s still touching a huge community of people in a big way. Even though it’s a different path, it’s still kind of getting to what I wanted.”