Our next Mixed By comes from Toronto-based DJ, producer, and community organiser: Ciel. You might recognise the name Ciel via her Discwoman affiliation, or you might have read all about her on Resident Advisor’s Breaking Through. You might have listened to her record released on Shanti Celeste’s Peach Discs last year. You might have heard about her inclusivity and safer spaces work in Toronto through her projects Work In Progress and It’s Not U It’s Me. Or else, you might have simply just seen her name plastered on bills all across Europe and North America non-stop this summer.
The mix she kindly recorded for us, self-titled “My House Is Prog House”, is an hour or so of pleasantly tuneful yet decisively hard-hitting rave music. It’s an elated flurry of uplifting trancey keys, feel-good euro-dance vocals, shuffley breaks and hard-house basslines, all sandwiched between a dramatically poignant climax at open and close.
Listen to the mix whilst reading Ciel’s reflection on touring, promoting and producing over the past year… then dance, shed a singular tear doused in pure euphoria, and dance even harder.
Thanks for chatting and for sharing with us this mix, Cindy. What was your process behind putting it together? Is there a specific idea or feeling you were trying to communicate, are these tracks that you’ve been playing out a lot recently, record finds from digging whilst on tour etc. ?
I make a lot of mixes. Depending on how busy I am, some mixes are a reflection of things I’m playing out in clubs and on tour, and some are more of a love letter to a particular mood or genre. I had some time at home the past while so this mix fits more within the latter category. Growing up as a nerdy teen who didn’t drink and spent most of my time in the library or on music message boards, I very early on in my life built my identity around being a music snob. This intensified when I went to university and joined the campus radio station. Music snobs are very dismissive of entire musical genres, especially genres they’re told aren’t “cool” and they aren’t particularly familiar with. The past 5 years of being a DJ has involved a lot of active unlearning of this way of thinking, and learning to give every genre a chance. In dance music, there are so many styles that are especially hated, whether that’s trance, tech house, goa, dubstep, etc. It takes a lot of guts and confidence to proudly defend genres to people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. So I decided to make a mix of some of my favourite progressive house tracks, as a thank you to all the people who told me to give it a chance when I derided it without knowing much about it at all.
It seems you’ve been DJing away from home quite a bit this year! But the next few weeks you’re back in Toronto, putting your promoter hat on. How do you find balance between your life as a touring artist, and your personal commitment to being a community leader in your local scene? Do you feel there is at times conflict between these roles, or more that experiences in one would enhance and enrich your work in the other? In what ways?
There is absolutely a conflict between the two and I have a feeling it’s going to take me quite some time to figure this one out. Touring is a necessary part of my job as a DJ, but it’s also important for me to maintain my roots in Toronto and continue to bring artists here when I have time to throw events. The act of being a promoter is itself a social job, you have to know people in the scene, build relationships with local artists, attend other people’s parties, etc. Being on the road a lot means I can’t do a lot of the things that once made me a good promoter, even though the more I tour, the bigger my name gets, the easier it actually becomes to get people to come out to my events. I just end up missing a lot of things because I’m always away, and aside from being a promoter, it has been hard on me emotionally to miss out on so many important milestones & moments in my friends’ lives. I’m still figuring it out. Sure, sometimes I see really cool shit when I’m performing in some of the best European clubs, and I’ll take photos and send them back to my AV partner, but the positives don’t always outweigh the negatives. It’s just a matter of chatting with friends at home and finding out from them what’s new in the scene, showing up as often as I can when I’m home, and establishing firm boundaries with my agents so that I get plenty of time off in between tours.
This past year has brought along with it many milestone moments for you – from DJing Boiler Room Toronto, to being signed to Discwoman, to your Resident Advisor Breaking Through article. Apart from these obvious achievements, what have been some special moments for you personally in your development as an artist? And what are some goals or dreams that you are looking to work towards achieving for the next year?
For me, one of my fav moments of this past year was playing at Club Toilet during Movement Detroit. It’s consistently named the best Movement party, and being asked to perform at the time slot I did, performing before my friend Russell Butler, looking out into the crowd and seeing my personal hero Titonton Duvante cheering and dancing super hard, and hearing from countless people that I played their favourite set of the weekend really meant the world to me. Playing Saule in Berghain for the Discwoman showcase was of course also really special. In general, this past year I have played a lot of dream gigs and venues, places I never thought in my wildest dreams would be possible, and that has been super exciting. But touring can be extremely stressful for me, I’m hard on myself and anxious when I’m on long tours, and whether I am pleased with my performance often depends on so many factors that I can’t control such as crowd (and how male the crowd is) and familiarity with the local scene. As such it’s not always what I think about when I think about my fav moments. For me my proudest moments were receiving my first record in the mail with my name on it, signing my next EP, doing my first and second remixes, and getting my first advance for music I made. As an electronic artist, I will always think of myself as first and foremost a DJ, but most of my future goals and dreams centre around making music, playing live for the first time, signing my next releases. Making music feels more enduring than DJing, and the ego in me is really looking forward to making more music that leaves an impression on people, people who don’t always have the means to come see me play in some sick club in Europe.
I’ve read around that you have an EP coming out soon with Coastal Haze? This will be your second released record after last year’s Electrical Encounters on Peach Discs, which was premiered on Bolting Bits actually. How has your sound and production style evolved from the first record to this? Have you acquired any new gear? And have you found that your production sensibility has influence your take on DJing at all?
Actually two of the tracks on this EP were made not long after my first EP for Peach Discs, during the summer of 2017. They were made entirely in Ableton with built-in instruments, some samples from video games and records from my collection, and an axiom 49 midi keyboard. Most of my tunes are still made 70% in Ableton, with drums or synth parts recorded from gear I have started to incorporate in my production, namely a Waldorf Blofeld synth and a Korg Electribe ESX1. the third track on my new EP, the longest one, was made mostly using the Blofeld and arranged in Ableton. i bought a new drum machine in the past year as well, a Boss DR202, on the recommendation of my friend Umfang. but I haven’t had much time to play with it. I absolutely love my ESX1 and use it like a drum machine. I like to use it when I jam with my friend Wiretapping, we’ve recorded quite a few jams which were later arranged in Ableton, with additional parts added, and turned into more complete tracks. Two of them will appear on my next release, which I have signed with a respected American record label whose name I can’t divulge just yet. I think in that release, you will see a much more noticeable departure from my previous “sound”. Although to be fair, if you listen to all of my music, including the one-off tracks released on VA comps in the past year or two, I’ve made everything from electro to techno to stuff that sounds almost like dubstep. So much like my Djing, I eschew any kind of “sound”, but I understand if you only listen to my EPs, you would think I only made house / breaks.
Interview by Maria.