Michael Brun doesn’t know what he’ll play until he’s on the CDJs, scrolling through the goods stored on his flash drives. Some nights, he might rely heavily on his own productions; others, he may dig for tracks made by fellow artists. On this particular Saturday night, in the green room at Hollywood club Create, he says that the latter may be the case for this party. He has played the club before, leaving an autograph on the backstage wall, but he suspects that tonight’s audience might not be that familiar with him.
At 23, Brun is still cementing his status as DJ/producer, although he has been honing his electronic music-making skills for the past eight years. Raised in Haiti, he came to the US to attend boarding school at the age of 16. He was on the premed track in college when his music career took off, thanks to an online hit. After a bit of success in the dance world, he returned to his home country to collaborate with students at Haiti’s Audio Institute on his latest track, “Wherever I Go”; proceeds benefit Artists for Peace and Justice and the Audio Institute. The ensuing tour, which began a few weeks before his L.A. stop, is his first major North American trek.
On this night, Brun goes for an EDM party-rocker set. It is, after all, a fairly typical Saturday night. The table-service crowd awaits lingerie-clad waitresses who arrive on the shoulders of men while carrying large bottles of liquor. Fog machines crop dust the dance floor when the music swells. Brun mixes in hits contemporary and classic, and hidden beneath the flash of a VIP-crowded club is the message of his work on the decks and in the studio. It’s there when he pushes the beats to heart-racing tempos and drops in familiar lyrics, but it’s not obvious until he finishes the set with “Wherever I Go,” which melds Haitian music traditions with contemporary dance flourishes, and runs into the crowd to take a photo while holding a Haitian flag.
Before the show, the DJ/producer sits with us and reveals how his experiences in growing up in Port-Au-Prince led to “Wherever I Go.” Click on the embed below and read on.
With “Wherever I Go,” you ended up using music to help people in Haiti.
I basically went through my life with scholarships and, when I found out about Artists for Peace and Justice and Audio Institute in Haiti…I really loved the program because it was a music school, college-level, allowing students who are really talented and had a drive for what they’re doing to have a career in the arts, like a legitimate career and an education, for free. I knew how rare it was for anyone in Haiti to get the chance to have a job, to have a living and growing job, support your family, support yourself. To actually have something that you love doing on top of that is so rare. It’s almost impossible.
Can you tell me a little about how the track was made?
We planned the session last June; just a day session. Just did an open call with the students and said, “I want to create a track with you guys. Anyone who is available, please come.” Twenty-five students came, and professors. I didn’t want to bring anything in. I didn’t want to make it a collaboration just by name. I wanted to really do something that I had never done before. I wanted to create the song in the room with the students, with all those heads together working and figuring out what to do.
We really started the track from scratch. Some people were playing guitar or drums or piano or singing or rapping. Writing lyrics. There’s a film school at the Artist Institute, so there was a graduate from the film school who filmed the video. We had no idea what was going to come up from it. We did the instrumental of the song in six hours. We created it in the room together.
When in the process did you hit the point where you realized that this is something that could be released?
It was immediate. I realized immediately that they had so many amazing ideas coming in and were open to fusing genres and doing something really unique. It was so cool because we got a lot of traditional Haitian sounds that aren’t really ever used in electronic music into this production in a tasteful way. I was very careful about using Haitian sounds in my music because I didn’t want to make it cheap and I didn’t want to make it like a gimmick. I really wanted to make sure that it was incorporated in a very important and respectful way so that it would do justice to my production as an electronic music producer, but also to Haitian culture.
What happened after you released the song?
We did the instrumental in the room last summer. We had this idea that we wanted to do something positive with Haitian culture and just show that Haitians are proud of Haiti. When I got the top line—the writers of the top line were American, actually based in L.A.; they’re called Cheat Codes—they had written the top line without any knowledge of what he had done in Haiti. They just knew it was a song that we made in a school. When I got the top line back from them on the first draft, I couldn’t believe that the lyrics had such a parallel to what Haitians feel for Haiti. The lyrics, on the surface, are about a relationship and about always coming back to your love—because it doesn’t matter where you go; you’ll always love that relationship. That’s really how Haitians feel, no matter what. Good or bad, they’re proud of that. That message crossed over through the music to the writers and I knew that was powerful.
For me, I grew up as a mixed-race Haitian but identified always as Haitian because I grew up there and lived there. I love my country. I think a lot of the diaspora from Haiti felt the same and really connected with that idea. It spread to other countries as well. There are people from all over the world who were commenting and sharing their stories. It was insane to see that and then the song just growing.
Are there political connotations that come up with the song?
I think the focus of the song for me has always been unity. On a political basis, it’s just for us to unite and be able to move the country forward. There’s not anything that I’m trying to say with that aside from, we need to work together.
There was a lot of political instability because of the elections, a lot of different issues with elections. I think the climate of electrons in Haiti during the song’s release was another big factor for why it got as big as it did, because people really connected to that and understood the idea that you can discuss things forever and have your arguments, but you need to remember that we’re all the same. We can work together and figure things out to move forward. That’s my goal is to relay that message to everybody, whether it’s in politics or just in regular life, as a student or whatever it is. Just understand that we can work together. It’s community that accomplishes great things. This song was made through a community. It wasn’t made by one person. It was made by everybody there. That’s my goal: to show people this is how this is created.
It’s timely with everything that’s going on in the U.S. right now, especially in this current election cycle. Do you think it’s at all reflective of issues surrounding immigration and ethnic diversity in the U.S. right now?
I think that’s a huge deal because it’s affected the US and everything that’s connected to the US, which is most of the world. I grew up in Haiti, but I lived in the US for the last few years, so I’ve experienced that culture.
You want to have unity. You want to have acceptance, regardless of where you’re from or what background you have or your beliefs. You want to know that you can work together to accomplish things. That’s something I know best from Haiti, but I also know that it’s major in the US too.