Leading up until the Upstream Music Fest + Summit, KEXP will be featuring a new local artist from the lineup with an interview and suggested tracks for where to start. Today’s post features edgy beat-maker Kirt Debique, performing Friday, May 12 on the Brick Lane Records Stage.
Music as catharsis isn’t a new concept, but it’s still startling when an artist can break an emotional barrier and truly open up about their struggles. This is where Seattle-based Songwriter Kirt Debique excels best. His 2015 debut, Things Left Unsaid, was a living document of an uncertain era in his life; coping with a divorce as well as coming to realizations about himself over rumbling synthesizers. His deep, mournful voice echoes his lament. The starkness of his music and the candor of his lyrics coalesce into a beautiful, empathetic work.
Debique is one of the rare artists both performing and curating at the Upstream Music Fest, hosting a showcase for his label Brick Lane Records. We chatted with Debique about the healing through music, the familial dynamic of Brick Lane, and what to expect from his Upstream showcase.
You’ve described your 2015 debut as being a series of letters to your loved ones as you focused on healing from a divorce and coming to realizations about yourself. A couple years removed, do you feel like the album helped you find closure or are you still searching through music?
Things Left Unsaid was thematically broad and the conversations with my parents, siblings, and close friends while making it were transformative, so yes, there was closure. That said, the journey continues and music as tool for me to understand, interpret and communicate about life is a constant.
Two of the artists on your label Brick Lane Records, Benjamin Verdoes and Ephriam Nagler, co-produced the record. How did the collaboration come about? Do you often work with Brick Lane artists in that capacity?
The concepts of family, community, and collaboration are common threads in all we do at Brick Lane. When you look at the material (records, videos, etc.) we’ve put out, there’s constant cross pollination. It’s how we push one another to get better at making art and communicating. Family gives you honest feedback and encouragement without agenda. The themes discussed in our records are the themes we talk about when we’re with one another. It’s how we deal with and interpret our environment. Ultimately, we hope to put something good back out into the world that way.
Last year you put out the single “Descent”. Is there another album in the works?
Since releasing “Descent”, I’ve largely completed another three songs (“Leon”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, and “The Sound of Spacetime”). I’ve been performing them on the road and love using the live experience to experiment with those creations. As an artist, I have no choice but to make things. Over the next year, I’ll continue to experiment and converge on an overall theme for the next release. Stay tuned.
You have a really interesting, minimalist live setup. Could you describe a little bit of what you’re using and how you landed on that particular setup?
Thank you! Getting to that setup took a lot of imagination, work, and experimentation. Playing shows across the US and in Europe, I needed a relatively mobile setup that also packed a punch (sonically and visually) given my style of music and aesthetic. The core is Ableton Live with Native Instruments synthesizer plugins and my own crafted samples. In addition, I’ve written a Max for Live plug-in for video control and I program in track lighting changes on Chauvet cans timed to MIDI. I use my Akai keyboard as the full control center for everything I’m doing on stage. No messing with a computer and disrupting the flow as I’m performing. For video projection, I use a portable short throw that sits behind me so it feels like I’m inside the large scale visuals. This video (pulled together from a show I did in Portland) represents the vibe perfectly.
When did you start Brick Lane and what do you think sets the label apart?
I founded Brick Lane in late 2012, and it’s crazy to think we’ve been around for almost 5 years now. Starting with our first release of the Iska Dhaaf – “All The Kids” 7-inch, we set out to push boundaries as a family and be known as a collective that makes honest and bold work. We talk a lot about “a rising tide lifts all boats”, and everything is better when we work together and lift one another up. I believe that ethos shows in the art we’ve made.
Brick Lane is also curating a stage for Upstream. Obviously, you and Iska Dhaaf are on the label, but what were you looking for to fill out the rest of the lineup for the stage? Do you have anything special planned?
The Brick Lane collective has always been passionate about the Seattle (and Northwest) artistic community and it was immediately apparent the Upstream folks were on the same tip. For the lineup, it was important to showcase music that hits you in the gut and performers who light up the stage with their presence and visual aesthetic. Iska Dhaaf and Erik Blood are well known for that kind of thing, and after playing a show with DoNormaal late last year, I know she’s gonna kill it too. The whole night is going to be a feast for the eyes and ears kicked off by Raven Matthews and yours truly.