Photo: Thish Vara and Valerie Lacroix (Ciel)
Where to start with Ciel? The DJ and producer has left her mark on regional and international dance music scenes as a radio host, event organiser with Work In Progress in Toronto, and co-owner of the Parallel Minds label while also touring throughout the world. Ever since debuting with the Electrical Encounters on Peach Discs in 2017, a clear highlight that year, she has also been very prolific in the studio and has recently started performing live. Having just released a collaborative EP with Ali Berger on the ever-reliable Jacktone, she is currently working on one, or rather two solo LPs while putting the finishing touches on several EPs made together with other artists—and that’s not even the end of it. Ciel’s mix for our Groove podcast also provides plenty of input, bringing together two styles of dance music that, until recent times, have existed in isolation from each other.
In a recent post announcing a set at Dance to the Underground, an event series run by Mike Sallot, the business manager of the Queen’s University in Kingston’s CFRC radio, you talked about taking your first steps as a DJ with a programme in the mid to late noughties there. How did it come about that you eventually started playing in clubs?
In the 2000s while I was studying at Queen’s and volunteering at CFRC Radio as a programmer, I had already started DJing in clubs and DIY house parties. I even tied for first place at a campus DJ contest! After university ended, I moved to Korea for two years to work and during that time I was totally not DJing at all. It wasn’t until 2010 when I moved back to Toronto that a friend of mine from Queen’s asked me to DJ with her and from that point I made my gradual return to raving. Between 2010 and 2015, I was just getting to know the underground nightlife scene in Toronto, making friends with other Toronto DJs, and meeting my future collaborators. This time was invaluable in the process of re-familiarizing myself with dance music, which had changed a lot since 2007. Nowadays because dance music is more popular than ever and the technology is a lot more accessible, new DJs are impatient to get started with their DJ career. But I still believe in the slow and steady approach to really digging into the music and gaining a deeper understanding of it before even touching DJ gear, so that you can make those intuitive connections in the booth on the fly. As time went on, I got more and more involved with Bambi’s as a resident DJ, and I started to book artists as well, so after that things kind of just spiraled really quickly.
You haven’t lost touch with radio, hosting a Rinse FM show for which you regularly invite other DJs. What’s important for you when programming the show?
Well the sad truth is that because I’ve been so busy with gigging coming back this year and so many collaborative and solo releases I’m working on, I’ve really lost the time I used to dedicate to my radio show. But theoretically, the things I usually focus on are 1) digging deep into older, out of print music and 2) playing tunes from emerging artists, especially from my home country of Canada. Before the pandemic, I really yearned to play non-club music on my Rinse FM show that I couldn’t play in the club. Because I come from radio and open-genre DJing, it is important to play the songs that represent my taste that I never get to play in nightclubs. Post-pandemic, I have stuck with mostly club music because I craved it so much during lockdowns and that desire has been building for so long. My big plan for my show next year is doing more genre-themed shows, deep dives, and home listening specials.
Besides that, you’re the founder of Work In Progress, an event series in Toronto. What is the concept behind it?
Work in Progress began as a radio show on the now-defunct Toronto-based online radio station, TRP, back in 2015. Because I already had a long history of only playing female artists and because I’m just not very imaginative, I founded Work In Progress as a show that spotlights women producers. In 2016, I began booking international artists and was really tired of the male-dominanted dance music scene in Toronto, so it just made sense to expand Work In Progress into a party series, which I launched with a Discwoman party in 2016. Back then there was no other party in Toronto that was focused only on cis amd trans women artists and because I had carved out this niche, I was able to connect with a lot of amazing women artists all over the world. The party series still runs till this day though these days there are many other collectives like Work In Progress in Toronto, which is amazing because I don’t really have much time these days to dedicate to throwing events.
You are also involved in the record label Parallel Minds together with Daniel 58 and Yohei S. Your focus lies on Toronto-based artists. How do you do your A&R work, and what is important to you musically with the label?
Parallel Minds is a label we launched to give a platform to emerging artists based in Toronto. We realized back in 2017 there were hardly any labels that were based in our city, so when local artists wanted to put things out, they were at a total loss of where to go. I already had a ton of experience being a booker but I felt and still feel today that a music scene can’t subsist on parties alone. Toronto has tons of problems with housing and inequality but no shortage of talented artists, so I felt that a label was crucial to keep Toronto a place where artists wanted to make work in, rather than just a place to abandon for Berlin or NYC. We do the A&R pretty casually, usually we just hit up friends of ours that we know are making music we like. But that means the consistency of output still needs a lot of work and it’s something I’d really like to rectify in 2023. Musically there isn’t a specific guideline, like only club music, no house, etc. Daniel, Yohei and I love bass and dub-influenced records so you can hear that in all of our releases. But if the right ambient or techno record came along from a local artist, we would 100% put it out. It just has to sound fresh, be made by someone from or based in Toronto, and we have to like it.
Your newest release is a collaboration EP with Ali Berger for Jacktone. Ali and you have been friends before, but this is the first time you’ve worked together. How did that come about and what did your working process look like?
I believe it was in the fall of 2019 when Ali hit me up. He had just relocated to Pittsburgh from Detroit and wanted to come up to Toronto to visit me and some of our mutual friends. We had been friends since we met back in 2017 when I played at Hot Mass. Ali wanted to make tunes when he got here and even though I was still pretty green and way more terrified of collaborative studio sessions, I was very down because Ali always just made me feel really comfortable and at ease. At the time I was really obsessed with my Electribe ESX1 so he just came over with a couple pieces of his own gear and we got to work. We made “Damn Skippy” on day one, and “I’ve been reaching for the stars” on day two. “Mise-en-scene” was made much later, in late 2020 when we started talking to Jacktone about the release and realized we should make a third tune. That was the only tune that we made long-distance, where Ali sent me stems of melody and I added drums and vocals and arranged it all after. It just felt really easy, even if we didn’t agree on every creative decision, it always just felt like a very equal and non-judgmental working relationship.
The EP follows up on another collaborative record together with Kilig for unknown – untitled, a label that doesn’t reveal the artists involved when the music is being released. What did you like about that concept?
The concept really excited me because I had felt for some time that I wanted to release something and not have people know it was made by me. I was worried people didn’t take me seriously as a producer because I was a “feminist DJ,” or they just didn’t like me because I have such a strong personality. What made this concept even better than just an anonymous release was that our names would eventually be revealed after the release came out. This was important to me because I think it’s super important to be accountable for everything I put out there. Kilig and I had already collaborated quite successfully on another track, “Hearing Voices,” when unknown – untitled hit me up. From there we made three more tunes, much like how me and Ali made “Mise-en-scene.” I have done many remixes in my short career and I find that way of working on stems someone else sends me very effective in collaborating with people who don’t live near you.
In 2021, you have started playing live sets as well. How did your live debut go and what was your motivation to start performing live in the first place?
I was really proud of what I made and performed at Mutek. My only regret was that it happened in 2021 when there were still lots of lockdown rules in effect, so I had to perform my very-banging live set in front of a seated audience. Mutek had asked me to debut a live set with them for a couple of years already when I finally said yes for Mutek 2020. Then the pandemic lockdowns hit and I was too depressed to work on my live set, so I asked Mutek to postpone until 2021. Ever since they first asked me I had wanted to play live. The main motivation is I wanted to learn how to perform original music live because my tracks up until that point were so studio-based and took forever to finish, and I believed that learning to play live would make me a more spontaneous, faster producer overall. In general I want to do as many different things as I can while I still have the opportunity so I can learn as much as I can.
What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
As a DJ I have long felt like inside me there are two opposing selves – the one who loves euphoric and melodic trance and the one that loves percussive bass music. The problem is that those are two genres that are thought of as being on the opposite ends of the genre spectrum, one is deep and mysterious, the other is exuberant and sincere. I love the challenge of trying to combine things that people perceive as non-compatible and all summer long I have been playing this combination of driving trancey techno and bassy club music. Luckily in 2022, there are lots of new producers that are marrying these stylistic markers in the same tune, so you’ll get a dubstep track with gated synths or vocals, or a driving trance tune with dubstep wubs built into the drum groove. That was the main idea driving this mix. The secondary idea was wanting to incorporate two tracks I had recently finished that fit this concept, one is 90/180 bpm while the other is 144, so I used them as markers to guide the overall sequence of songs.
Last but not least: What are your plans for the future?
At the moment I am getting ready for the promo of my next solo release: a 2LP compilation on a new label started by a personal hero and friend. I’m also working on the mixdown of my first album, which will see a release date by summer of 2023. I’ve also recently signed three more collab EPs with labels I love so I’m just trying to get the tracks finalized and remixes done for those. And then over the winter I plan to work on my follow-up LP, which will see the ideas from my live set turned into fully fleshed-out tracks. I think in between I’m also supposed to play in South America, Australia, and the US, and I will return to the EU in March 2023 for another round of DJ gigs. I’m hoping that by summer of next year I will be able to tour a brand new live set in Europe and the US.
Stream: Ciel – Groove Podcast 357
01. Ineffekt – Vesper Bands of Yellow (Oceanic Patchwork #1)
02. Davis Galvin – Vertisone play
03. Nightswimmer – Silver Flying (Ciel’s Enchanted Forest Dub)
04. SnP500 – Dus
05. Elisa Bee – Alla Prima (Neville Watson’s Wet on Wet Mix)
06. Omaar – Paisajes
07. Hugo Massien – Fuzzy Logic
08. KTM – Dark Knight
09. Floyd Lavine – Vaseline
10. Joe Rolet – Six Minutes
11. Resistance D – Echoplexing (Rozzo mix)
12. Abdul Raeva – Melbourne Mist
13. Jeigo – IHaint
14. Jonny from Space – Skin on Skin
15. Mariiin – Impasse
16. Olin – Uncertainty Machine
17. Bolam – Ozone
18. Asphalt DJ & Gzardin – Now & Zen
19. DJ One Finger – House Fucker (Umek Mix 2)
20. Noise Casino – Grit
21. Interplanetary & DJ Cosworth – Untitled
22. Salomo – New Land
23. Paurro – Galavision
24. Unknown Mobile – Bog Juice
25. Black Girl White Girl – Agent of Chaos
26. Bailey ibbs – Jungle Splash
27. Ana Luisa & Seb – Trashdrum
28. Muholland – ION-9
29. Dj Plead – Louca
30. Salty CLs – Tilda’s Goat Stare
31. JR2k – The Assist
32. Scaefa – Overflow
33. Product Toss – Goodnight, Amen (Nova cCeq Remix)
34. Invt – 4play
35. Maara – Princess Express
36. Kundai – Seance
37. Ngoni Egan – Ikalanga
38. Dj Katapila – Kata Yeke
39. Assafrão – Deeep Cuts (DJ No New News Remix)