Ciel serves up an energetic fusion of grade A underground cuts for our latest Oddysee mix instalment.
With her work in constant flux, evolving, darting in new directions, and reaching new heights, Ciel is one of the most intriguing artists in today’s scene. Honing her craft in Toronto, she is equally known as DJ, producer and booker, with a commitment to elevating local artists and supporting women and queer people of colour. Pair that with her technical finesse and omnivorous tastes as a DJ and selector at the fringe of cutting-edge club culture, and you get why she has become one of the breakout stars of recent years. Her sets, seamlessly transitioning across a diverse spectrum of moods, and traversing trance-inducing house cuts, tripped-out breakbeat, UK garage vibes and ceiling-threatening jungle stylistics.
This turbo powered set was recorded at Red Bull Music Festival in late 2019. To accompany the mix, Cindy also gave us an open-hearted and authentic insight into her year during lockdown, her hopes for Toronto’s scene and the evolution of her own production work, including her recent collaborative record on X-Kalay.
Hi Cindy, how are you and how is life in Canada right now? Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel over there?
Hi, Tom. I’m good, thanks for having me to do this mix and the interview. I really appreciate it. Life in Canada is good. I feel like this is like the most positive I’ve felt since probably last fall when we locked down for what felt like forever. I’m really starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially because I found out like a week ago that my favourite underground and pretty much the only underground dance music club [in Toronto] is reopening late August. So that’s really amazing. Until now, I really had no idea if there were even going to be any venues left by the time we were legally allowed to open them. So that’s really exciting. I’ve also got a pretty cool show that I’m going to be playing at the end of August. I can’t announce it just yet, but it’s going to be my debut live set. So that’s what I’m going to be working on all summer, plus a few other remixes that I have going this month.
I finished a big chunk of my own music in the winter and fall, and that’s kind of going to be coming out now till the end of the summer. We’ve got the Cloudsteppers EP that’s coming out in early July. And then I have my next solo EP that’s probably coming out end of August, early September. I believe we’re just trying to get the masters ready. So, yeah, things are good. I’m playing my first DJ set in front of people this Friday as well in Toronto. It’s like outdoors at a park. You know, I’ve played streams here and there. I don’t really love [them] to be honest. It’s hard to get an energy or a vibe going when you’re just playing to a wall. So I’m looking forward to actually playing in front of people, especially people that I largely haven’t really seen for over a year. I’m sure maybe some of the readers and you guys can relate to that. Due to lockdowns I kind of lost touch with a lot of friends that I knew from the music scene because our connection was the music scene. You know, without it, it was kind of hard to maintain those connections and that sense of community. So I’m really, really excited. I’m panicking a little bit, hyperventilating, thinking about Friday, even though it’s just like a one hour DJ set. But yeah, it’s good, life is good.
It seems throughout the lockdown you have kept pretty busy with regular mixes via your Rinse FM show, plus other guest spots and forging ahead with new music and collabs, did you / do you see any changes in your approach and musical output?
Hmmm, that’s a really good question. Well, first off, I just want to comment on your observation that I kept pretty busy with regular mixes. I feel for a lot of people that choose music as their life work, a big part of what we love about music is its therapeutic potentialities or its therapeutic effects. And I mean, I’m sure it goes without saying that this last year has done a number on a lot of people’s mental health, including my own. You know, I’m just not used to this much time spent at home living like a hermit, essentially as I’m a pretty social person. There would be days when I wouldn’t even leave the house at all. So doing music was my way to sort of process all of that. My inner turmoil, loneliness, and also just sort of working through some feelings. I feel like it was a year of transitions for me, in my personal life, my social life. I mean, nothing has really changed. Like, I still live with my partner. We live together with our cat. But politically and how I spent my free time in terms of organizing things with my local community has changed and in a positive direction. But it took time for me to get there. During the first year of lockdown, there were a lot of feelings I had that sort of made me feel like I was a ship without an anchor, just lost at sea, not really sure what’s to come. And I think before what kept a lot of people sane and happy or mentally well was having goals to work towards and having something to look forward to. Then the overall political climate of the world has just been very chaotic. I think partly because it exacerbated a lot of issues that were already there. And it really was reflected inside of me as well.
Working on music, at first, was really difficult. I found it very hard to be creative and to think about my own shit. It felt at times narcissistic or wrong, I felt guilty about it. But I was also very cognizant of the fact that before the lockdowns, what kept me from really learning quicker with regards to production and making music was my tour schedule. So I wanted to make use of this time to take advantage of this downtime, to learn more, to improve my workflow, to really build my technique and practice. In the beginning, I didn’t really have the energy or the mental aptitude to work on my own music. So I ended up making a lot of edits or working on remixes. It was a good way for me to work on my practice without having to really think too deeply about it, like, “where am I going?” “what’s the concept of this record,” etc. These questions can feel really overwhelming when mentally you’re all over the place. So I made a promise to myself last summer that no matter what happens, I have to keep making music. Making music makes me feel really good. It’s like a dopamine injection. If I don’t do anything else, if I don’t even shower or pull myself out of bed but spend even just one hour working in Ableton, that makes me feel so much better at the end of the day. So I promised myself that I would work on music every day during the week, Mondays to Fridays. And I’ve stuck to that. I work on music every day. It keeps me focused on a future that is still mostly foggy.
I also felt last year , do I need to pivot? Do I need to find a new career? Can my career withstand, you know, however long this lockdown will be? And, you know, after everything that’s happened, I’m less concerned about making it in the, you know, “business techno” world, I just want to be able to make good work and be able to produce and compose music. To have this be my life work and be able to live off of it. I don’t have to be rich. I don’t have to even be middle class. I just want to be able to survive, pay rent and take one day at a time. I never really had any aspirations about becoming rich. And I think to make it to that level of success in this industry, it requires sacrificing certain aspects of myself that I’m not willing to do. So those are the kind of things that I reckoned with myself mentally last year. Whilst continuing to do my Rinse FM show, inviting guest DJs onto my show, doing B2B, doing mixes for other platforms, working with my friends to make records and so on. This was really like, I’m going to keep it moving. I’m going to keep doing my thing. I don’t need to participate in some kind of rat race in order to pursue my passion. Even when all of this is on hold, I can still continue to do this because I don’t do it for that. I do it for me. I do it for how it makes me feel and how it makes me mentally connect with the world. And I do it because I love it. That’s the most important thing.
So in terms of changes in my approach, I think some of the most concrete examples would be I’ve improved significantly in how I make music, how quickly I’m able to arrange music, how I’m able to realize a concept from ideation to completion. I think most producers can probably relate to that feeling in the beginning when you were just kind of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. And most tracks were sort of the result of a series of happy accidents. I mean, I love happy accidents, but there is something to be said about being a lot more deliberate and intentional in how you make music. In terms of deejaying, I just do my thing. I play the things that I care about and I love. And if people like it, great. If they don’t, you know, that’s fine. And it’s really hard to say if that’s changed in any way because I haven’t been able to really deejay all year. But I’m looking forward to deejaying again to see maybe there has been changes in the last year in terms of how I play in front of audiences, maybe I’m a little out of practice with regards to reading the room. I guess that remains to be seen.
Alongside your own music, you are of course a long standing promoter / community builder in the Toronto scene, we’d be really interested to hear from you, what you think the long lasting effects will be both locally and / or internationally?
I don’t even really know if I feel comfortable answering this question, because I was mostly not doing that much in terms of throwing parties and community building as I was away so much, especially the last year before covid hit. I still booked parties for sure, mostly just at Bambis (which was the club that I mentioned earlier). And I would just book friends that were coming through. I think what the last year has taught me is that we can’t predict the future. There are so many uncertainties in this current paradigm. I don’t even know if we can guarantee that things will reopen and will stay open for a long period of time, with all the variants and the vaccine effectiveness being a question mark still. I think Toronto more than maybe a place like London, people tend to feel this sort of insecurity about the talent locally. There is definitely the sense that it’s not a banging party unless you have an international name, you know, on the bill. I find that very harmful. And to the health of a scene and a big part of the work that I’ve done in Toronto, setting up my label, Parallel Minds, inviting local DJs or teaching deejaying and production to women and queer people of color is an attempt to rectify that, and really foster artists from here.
So I’m hoping that this will be a time that we will really learn to appreciate the artists that we have here. I’m already starting to get emails from agents asking me to book their artists and, you know, they’re just doing their job. So it would be unfair of me to get annoyed by it. But a part of me is sort of like, I need to focus on the people here. Especially in a place like Toronto where we don’t have comparable infrastructure to a place like New York or London. Every club we have is precious. It’s not like there are a hundred clubs. There’s like three. And so it’s limited the amount of space that we have. And, in the beginning especially, I don’t want to rush into immediately booking out of town artists, What about the artists here? I’m not the only one who spent the past year really working on their music. And those people should be encouraged and appreciated and loved. We have a wonderful scene right here. What little we have, we need to preserve for our locals. On the other hand, I don’t think the permanent solution is to just stay in your own communities and to be overly insular. That’s not good either. But I do think a period of time where we’re just booking local artists is going to be really invaluable, to get the audience here to understand or feel a sense of pride about the local scene and show promoters that they don’t need to book a big name to have people come out. So I hope that will last.
We’re big fans of your Cloudsteppers release on X-Kalay, your collab with Dan Only. We understand the tracks were made back in 2019 taking inspiration from jungle, tech house, UK club music. Can you tell us more about how this concept, your relationship with Dan Only, the release itself and if there is more new music to come from the collaboration?
Danny is somebody that I’ve known in the scene for years, we have lots of mutual friends. I wouldn’t say we were super super close, but we got closer over time as we started working on music together. He reached out to me and said, hey, do you ever want to jam at my studio? He’s got this really wicked studio. And actually, now that I recall, one of the tracks from my first record that I made [Electrical Encounters], I used a Juno sample from a sample pack that Dan had made. So we’ve been chatting for years about making music and stuff. And in 2019 he was just like, come on by if you want to collab or whatever, we could jam and stuff. And I was like, yeah, I’m down. You know, I love making music with other people. I think making music with other people is one of the greatest learning opportunities, especially when you’re starting out as a producer. I think we have this tendency in dance music to really put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do everything by ourselves. And if we don’t do that, there’s like something wrong with us or we’re less of an artist because of that. And I just don’t agree. I think music is as much a community activity, as it is a solo one. We learn from each other.
I grew up having a very solitary relationship with music. And then in university, I joined a community radio station and that really just made the love so much deeper. I think community and music are inseparable, especially within electronic music, when so much of it is about the rave and DJs and having that connection between audience and DJ… So, yes, I welcome the opportunity to jam with anyone that asks me. But with Dan especially, he’s just really humble and open and knowledgeable. He’s been making music since he was a teenager. His studio is insane. And we just really hit it off. We made the first song, which was ‘Slinky Bork’ in like three hours, Because Dan has a full time job, I would go to his studio after dinner at like seven or eight. I’m always late, so it’s always eight. And then we just work there until midnight. We couldn’t stay there for very long because there’s no bathroom at the studio. So if I did, I would have to pee in the driveway or in the alleyway. So it was kind of inconvenient, especially during covid when we made the last two tracks, when the cafes and public bathrooms were closed. But, yeah, I liked working with him because, if you jam a little bit with people, you kind of learn over time that not everybody has the same priorities or goals when they’re jamming. Some people are just there to have fun, vibe, jam out some music, hang out and chat. And that’s really great. I love that. But for me, this is my work. I can’t just aimlessly jam for days. I need to produce things, a finished product.
I really liked working with Dan as he’s easy to work with, he’s knowledgeable and he’s open to my bossiness. Like, I’m constantly apologizing, sorry I’m being so bossy, but he’s just really chill. And I think we just gel well in that regard. And we both like a lot of music, like the UK sound. And he’d been sending me a lot of music he was making before we started. So it just happened organically that way. And there was really no concept. We’d start a session and be like, what do you feel like making today? And then we’ll kind of talk about it and then we’ll just kind of go for it and it never really felt like it was pulling teeth. It felt very natural. The only track that took longer than one session to finish was ‘The Limit’, and only because I think it is the most ambitious and the least melodic out of the bunch. And Danny and I are both very melodically minded people. And that was really the only kind of quasi concept of this record. And we only realized it during the session for ‘Trigger Happy’, if I remember correctly I was saying, let’s limit how many melodic ideas we put into it. And then that was always present in the back of my mind with every track we made.
I think ‘The Limit’ has the fewest of those [melodic] components. And in that respect, it was the track that required the most out of both of us. Maybe I’m speaking for him. Maybe it’s not true. But I got the impression that it definitely took the most out of both of us to think outside the box and do something different . Danny and I are itching to get back into the studio. We’re working on a follow up record for another label in the UK. I don’t want to jinx it or talk about it. So I’m just going to keep it hush hush, especially because he’s been really busy. So we haven’t had a chance to do it. But I’m going to get my first vaccine jab this weekend. And after that, I think in July, we should be able to head back to the studio to work on something new. So I’m really looking forward to that.
Also recently, your ‘Rain Dance’ track was included in Danilo’s fabric live mix, how did that come about?
I don’t really know. I just got an email from the label coordinator a few months ago. She was like, hey, your track is going to be on this Fabric live mix. It’s really neat because a few years back especially, I was a really big fan of Motor City Drum Ensemble, when I was more of a funk and soul deejay. You don’t know about this, but before I played the music that I do now, I actually had a party for a couple of years where I only played Northern Soul and funk, and most of the music I listen to was like that, or jazz or disco. And I loved his mixes so much, I thought he was so, so good. So that was really special and obviously. Fabric, you know, when I was a teenager and in university, were some of the earliest mixes I ever listened to. So it was really special and a very big honour to have that included. And he was really sweet and invited me onto his radio show on Worldwide FM and we had an interview too. It was cool. He’s a really nice guy.
In addition to your own music, your label Parallel Minds has also served up 3 high-quality releases since 2019, anything new on the horizon?
So with Parallel Minds, we actually have the next two releases lined up, we pretty much know who the artists will be, one of them, we’re just trying to figure out which songs we’re going to put out. And the other one, we’re still waiting for the tracks to be finished, but they’re coming. We just have them on hold because my partners on the label have been dealing with their own work / life and what they have to do. So I didn’t want to put too much pressure on them to release anything during this time. But now that things are starting to open up again, I’m hoping to really make an effort to at least get the next release cemented really, really soon.
Then it’s just a matter of manufacturing. I think that we just didn’t want to compete with all of the pressure. There’s a lot of pressing plant delays right now. I think there’s some kind of a bottleneck situation going on. And I really have to revisit the vinyl paradigm. But it really feels like I’m holding on to this thing that serves very few people and is really bad for the environment. So I don’t know. We have to discuss it. But the releases are definitely there. I’m hoping that at least Parallel Minds 3 will be out in the first half of 2022. Cross your fingers.
And finally the mix itself, we know came from one of the last sets you played in Toronto before covid lockdowns – at the Red Bull Music Festival in late 2019. Its make us crave to be back on the dance floor, what can you tell us about the event, memories of the night and the mix?
Well, this mix is from a recording of my set that I played at Red Bull Music Festival in Toronto in late 2019. I actually have a really vivid memory of that night. You know, it really speaks to my mental health before lockdown. I think I was really burned out by playing gigs all the time, going on tour and the effect that had on me and my relationship with my own scene. It felt like I was really disconnected from my own city while also not really having that much fun when I was going out raving whilst on tour, because none of my close friends from home were there. So it’s a feeling like you don’t belong in either places. I don’t know how to describe that, but I felt quite angsty that night because I was overwhelmed. There were so many people there and I didn’t really recognize most of them. I felt like a stranger in my own community.
Having a connection to my own community is so so important. I think that’s the biggest reason why, you know, I didn’t move my entire life to Europe once I put out my first record. I moved around so much when I was a kid and it really fucked me up. So as an adult, I like having roots somewhere. You know, I did that in my twenties. I adventured and I saw the world. I traveled and lived in Asia, and that was really great. And now, I have roots here. I have aging parents that live here. I have my partner of over ten years, our cat. And I really love the music scene here. You know, my friends are here, I miss seeing everybody and even just after a year of nonstop touring, it could be a little bit alienating going back to that scene. And you’re like, wow, there’s all these new faces and I don’t recognize them. And they’re all really, really young. So it was kind of a weird night. I was just walking around in a daze. I had actually booked Madam X to play with me in Toronto on the same night. And when Red Bull Music Festival asked me to play the show, I told them about my previous arrangement and they said can we have Madam X join the show as well? And it just kind of worked out. The booking and the lineup was so good. I really thought it was the perfect marriage of out of town and local artists. Including some really amazing Toronto artists like Bambii and Korea Town Acid. City Dance Corporation played an insane live set. And it was cool. But when you do this for a living and you’re getting older like I am, I’m going to be 40 in four years, crowds just don’t really do it for me like they used to, especially when there’s like a thousand people in a space, and I really know like 30 percent of them. Whereas before, when I didn’t travel as much and I was just the girl about town who deejayed and threw parties, I felt like I knew everybody at every party. And I kind of miss that, you know, that kind of cheers feeling where everybody knows you. I felt that night that it was just kind of a rude awakening, that I was touring too much and I needed to make more of an effort to stay connected to my local scene.
So, you know, in terms of what I took away from that, I definitely think that even after things ‘go back to normal’, if bookings are back or they return to what they were before in terms of frequency, I still don’t really want to ever go back to that level of touring. So I’ve been working really hard during this past year to make connections in and outside of dance music, so that I can commission my music, so that producing is a bigger part of my income rather than putting all of the financial burden or most of it on touring. It’s just not sustainable. So that was the memory of the night. Sorry. It’s kind of an emo answer. It was overall really great, I really enjoyed playing my set and it was so busy, you know. I really had to pay my dues to get to that point in Toronto to play in front of such a large audience, so to get to that point felt like a massive honour, even if my emotions were kinda all over the place.