Kirt Debique started his label Brick Lane Records to fulfill a personal passion: to build his own music community in the Seattle area.
Combining his 20 years at Microsoft and his own experiences as a musician, Debique aims to build long-term, sustainable careers for artists who are all trying to reach similar goals.
Based on principles Debique set down in collaboration with the six acts who make up the label, Brick Lane Records has already reached early success in it’s first year, with a combined total of nine albums and EPs released since the first band was signed in February 2013.
“Making sure that there [is] a true belief in community and that together we can actually do better, that’s what we talk about all the time,” Debique said. “We are always rooting for each other and helping each other sustain through challenges.”
Debique has always had a passion for music, but it was his interest in software and programming that brought him to the United States.
Born in Trinidad, Debique came to the U.S. when he was sixteen and graduated in four years with a degree in computer programming from the University of Miami.
His first trip to Seattle was for a summer internship at Microsoft after he graduated from Miami. Debique had planned to attend graduate school at Stanford once the internship was over, but instead took an offer for a job at Microsoft, feeling that Seattle was the right place for him to stay.
After working at Microsoft for 20 years, building code for programs like Windows Movie Maker, Debique rediscovered his passion for music and decided to build his own label from the ground up.
“I had gotten to a point where I still loved what I was doing there, but I was really focused on this idea of getting into music very deeply,” Debique said. “Both creating my own art and trying to do something that could create a community of artists and help them make independent music.”
Debique frequents Capitol Hill’s Liberty Bar, where he has met many of the musicians that he’s signed to Brick Lane Records.
According to Tendai Maraire of Chimurenga Renaissance, Liberty has been a popular hangout among many of Seattle’s famous musicians, including members of Pearl Jam and Death Cab for Cutie.
Liberty was the spot where Debique met the members of the first band he signed to Brick Lane Records, Iska Dhaaf.
After realizing they were all at similar points along the paths of their careers, they decided to join forces and help each other grow. Iska Dhaaf officially signed to the label in February 2013
The band, which takes its name from a Somali phrase roughly meaning “let it go,” had previously been a part of other labels and immediately saw differences in how Debique ran Brick Lane from the traditional label approach.
“I just feel really comfortable as far as access is concerned,” said Benjamin Verdoes, of Iska Dhaaf. “[Kirt] calls me once a day. Having access with someone to run ideas by or just to get a second opinion on is amazing. We communicate really openly.”
Communication and access with artists is one of the principles that Debique has used to help Brick Lane Records grow in just a short amount of time.
Debique has created a label where the artists are the most important part of the relationship. Instead of using the bands as quick cash grabs, Debique says he sees the artists as investments and wants to help them build a long, sustainable career in the music industry.
He isn’t afraid of having to wait a long time before his investments see success. Debique says he wants the process to build “organically” for his bands.
“He puts a lot up front before he expects to take anything. At many points in the process the bands could walk away and Kirt would take a huge loss,” said Stephen Robert, who along with Debique helped create Mayors of Liberty, one of the bands Debique sings for. “He sets the precedent early on that it’s more than just a label, more than just a name to slap on the back of your record.”
The bands are also encouraged to give their own input and cooperate together on decisions. Debique says he wants his label to run similar to a co-op, combining his opinions with those of the bands to make the best possible product.
“What I encourage and what I desire from them is to think about their band and their brand as a small business,” Debique said. “Really we are a collective and there is the label, and the label is investing in their brand and their business, and together we figure out how to make their band the way they want it to be.”
Chimurenga Renaissance is the latest band to release an album through Brick Lane Records, with their release of “rIze vadZimu riZe” in March. Singer Tendai Maraire, a native of Zimbabwe, has had a strong connection with Debique since he joined the label.
“I knew that because of his background, he had an understanding for my approach artistically,” Maraire said. “I wanted to be represented in a certain way and he knew where I was coming from.”
In June, Chimurenga Renaissance will release an EP that includes remixes of songs performed by Mayors of Liberty. The EP, “Renaissance Dreams”, will combine Mayors of Liberty’s indie rock sound with the hip-hop feel of Chimurenga Renaissance.
“I told Kirt I wanted to do some remixes for his songs, but I told him he couldn’t listen to it until it was all finished,” Maraire said. “When we showed him the final results he was just jamming it was amazing, he loved it. That’s just who he is.”
“Being able to manage yourself as a business, and being able to get those connections,” Debique said. “Some of that is based on business experience; some is based on connections in the community. The hope is we have built something that has actually helped the artists.”