© Karl Halliday

©Karl Halliday


One of Toronto’s finest, CIndy LI aka CIel chats all things life, music and beyond, get to know this absolute gem below.

Where did the name Ciel come from?

It’s literally just my initials, as I’m not too great with inventing names. Its pronounced Ci- El, like how they say sky in French, The EL part of my name is pronounced name use to be just my initials but I had to change my artist name as there is a k pop singer called CL and her management asked me to change it. 

What is something not many people know about you?

Before I started running dance parties in Toronto I was a northern soul DJ for two and a half years. I use to run a night called Soulvation in Toronto, I did it with another girl, we played northern soul, funk, disco and nobody came, except our friends on occasion. It was a complete labour of love, I did it for nearly two years, I can’t believe I did it for that long actually. 

Did you grow up in a creative household?

Yeh, my parents really loved music, I wouldn’t called them creative per-say as I don’t think my parents were writing music. My dad would always play guitar at home and sing for my mum.

Did you learn any musical instruments as a young girl?

I started piano when I was around four years of age and trained hard, around four to six hours a day. My parents were super strict, I was an only child, they wanted me to succeed in everything I did, I would get in trouble if I lied or didn’t practice hard enough so you could say that my relationship with music hasn’t always been a positive one. I trained solely in classical piano up until the age of sixteen until my education became more of a focus. 

Did you have any interests in pursuing anything academically related?

My parents really pushed for me to become a doctor, I was horrible at physics and hated math, I was decent in biology and chemistry though. I loved books, my favourite thing growing up was listening to rap music and reading books. I studied literature in university, which my parents were not really into…now that I’m older I actually wish I had studied to become a doctor because then I would have been giving back to the world and helping and contributing. After I finished studying I worked in publishing for five years working for a magazine and book publishing company and I fucking hated it. 

© Karl Halliday

©Karl Halliday


I’m aware you didn’t grow up in Toronto…how was your time studying at Queens University?

I was born in China, then moved to New York in the early 90s, then moved to a suburb just out of Toronto in 2000 with my family. I went to school at Queens University, which was three hours out of Toronto, that’s where I studied English Literature. This was also when I began playing music on the radio. I was really excited to share my love for music, and this was when I first began playing exclusively music made by women artists on the radio. I did this for four years, completely open format/genre anything from riot girl punk to electro clash to soul music. This was how I learned to dig for music. Then when I was 19 I taught myself how to use CDJs and started to get into dance music around this time. 

Did you have a group of friends that you shared this time and discovery of dance music with?? What were your earliest exposures to dance music that you remember? 

Yeh for sure, people I had met through the radio station, generally older, on their way to graduating, they got me in to dance music, I was a band kid so at the time I thought dance music was wack, I did love Aphex Twin and IDM. Anyone that loved Radiohead at that time, IDM was like the entry into dance music, their gateway drug. My friends at the radio station were into electro clash… Goldfrapp and Fischerspooner, I was listening to more post punk bands like Joy Division, so it was an easy transition for me. I then got into minimal techno like stuff on Kompakt Records, Matthew Dear as Audion, m_nus. A lot of my other friends were really into Blog House, things like Justice, Boyz Noize, the Klaxons, the Presets, Spankrock, which I was also into but was also a bit snobby about at the same time.

The word dreamy pops up a lot in relation to your sound are there any specific artists or people that influenced you back in those earlier years in regards to your sound?

In college that’s where I discovered marijuana and i was listening to a lot of bands that were kind of weed friendly. I really loved shoegaze, artists like Slowdive, Ride, Lush, Jesus and Mary Chain. That jangly style of guitar I just love it. From a very young age I daydreamed a lot, I was an only child so I spent a lot of time by myself, I would always just listen to music and read at home, this was my form of escape. I love ambient music as well and movies, I studied film a little bit in university, so I’m a huge fan of moody films, those ones that capture a moment in time that don’t necessarily have a huge storyline. The wonderful thing about music is that it has the capacity to evoke a memory, a thought or a feeling and you can project what ever that feeling may be onto it and maybe the person who created it may have been thinking something completely different. I hope that people listen to my music and can do the same, feel things and go to a happy or special place with it. 

© Karl Halliday

©Karl Halliday

Whats your Star Sign??

I'm a Capricorn! But maybe you wouldn't think that right away.

If you could live in another city were would that be?

I would move to Montreal in a second I love the scene there I have a lot of friends there also, it’s the perfect city for creating, you cant leave your house for eight months of the years as its so damn cold, so everyone just makes music, which is awesome, but of course Toronto is my home, my partner is there also, I have a lot of ties to the place so I’m not going anywhere for now. 

What’s the best response a fan has ever given you??? 

I met a woman in New York last summer when I was playing a Discwoman party, we split a cab together, and she realised who I was, she said ‘are you Ciel?? '…at the time my record hadn’t even been released yet, but I had posted the track ‘Elevate’ on Soundcloud months before. She then went on to explain how she had discovered this track and how obsessed she was with it and how much it came to mean to her and the woman she had just started dating. She’s actually a DJ and I ended up playing with her at Berghain with ShyBoi this past year when Discwoman did a showcase there. It was so nice to think that other people can have a relationship with something that I had made, definitely one of the nicest things anyone has said to me, I’m also still in contact with her and she is still with her partner to this day.

You have your incredible radio show turned party collective Work in Progress, alongside that you run a second party series Its Not You Its Me, are there any significant differences or goals that set them apart or do they follow similar values and motivations?

Similarities for sure, they're both community oriented events. We really try to take into consideration what the music scene/party scene want. Obviously the one major difference is Work in Progress prioritises women/non binary artists, with the headline act always following suit. Its Not You Its Me, the lineups are more 50/50 and in a way I think that’s most representative of a community. We worked hard on the safer spaces policy and all these other things came together holistically. We ran these nerdy meet up groups with DJs, promoters and enthusiasts to come and hang out and discuss any issues they had, how we could improve etc. This user feedback felt very empowering in a way as everyone was working together it felt very collaborative and community based. ‘Its Not You It’s Me’ is actually on pause at the moment, for reasons a little out of our control, lack of venues is a big one and also financially it’s a struggle at times. ‘Work in Progress’ is my baby, I have gone from throwing six or more parties a year to now four as I travel too much now and there’s just no venues. 

Have you noticed a change in the music scene in Toronto from when you first starting throwing parties to now?? 

I threw my first party in 2014/2015, our first party was a home run we sold out of tickets weeks before, so from the beginning people seemed really enthusiastic about it, because we were filling a void, there weren’t any female prioritising events or collectives in Toronto. The positive thing is now we aren’t the only collective booking female DJ’s anymore, I have a lot of friends that are throwing these progressive kinds of raves now. There was a time when it felt like a super close-knit scene, going to a party felt like going home. Nowadays things feel more fractured, but I'm positive this is just a temporary thing. 

2017 was a pretty massive year for you; do you think 2018 is on par, any specific highlights??

I suppose but in a different way, I was touring non-stop this year, so in that regard it was a big year. I have done so many things and seen so many places I would have never dreamed of, in that regard its been extremely positive, in saying that I have missed home and my connection there with my parties etc. I haven’t had as much time to make music this year as I would have liked. I remember explaining to my friend that this year has been like a giant freight train and I don’t know how to get off, it’s been hectic!

Have you had any thoughts of starting your own record label?

Yes, well its something I have already started with some friends from Toronto, our first EP is in production right now. I have wanted to start a label for quite some time now, a label that is a snapshot of our city to the world. I’m just waiting to hear from the plant as to when I can release a distribution date; early next year is looking promising. I’m just waiting for this first EP to be put out so I can start pumping them out as I have so much amazing music from my friends that I want to share via the label. 

Can you name an amazing artist from Toronto we should check out?

My good friend, Acote - live modular artist

Whats on high rotation in your record bag at the moment?

Project One ‎– Cheeba E.P.

Upside  ‎– The Niteworks EP

Hawke ‎– Party People (We're Gonna Change The World)

Robbers Of Antiquity – Nocturnal

© Karl Halliday

©Karl Halliday

Being aligned and connected through Discwoman must be an absolute honour, what do you love about these ladies the most?

I love that I can truly be myself around them, I never have to apologise for who I am. Right from the beginning when I booked them to play in Toronto in 2015 we made a special connection, especially Frankie and Emma. They have always been so generous with me, giving me opportunities; I would not be here if it weren’t for them, especially after joining the agency, they’re like the sisters I never had.

What is one of the most special places you have visited and why?

An ancient fortress in Tbilisi called Narikala, you get this incredible panoramic view of the city, when you get to the top there is this incredible statue of this woman holding a sword, known as the protector of Tbilisi. I visited this place on the day that I was playing and it gave me an incredible energy and strength.

Are you reading anything at the moment???

Unfortunately not… I read a lot on the Internet haha, articles and what not. I do love a good 80s Sci-Phi novel.

If you could be an animal what would you be???

Everyone says I’m like a cat… I’m temperamental; sometimes I want attention other times I want to be left alone. I feel like I have a cat like face too. 

If you could pick one song that played every time you walked into a room what would it be???

Soichi Terada & Shinichiro Yokota ‎- Got To Be Real

What’s on the horizon for Ciel?

Alongside a bunch of tours and our record label my next EP is due out in March via Ghostly International, I have been doing a tonne of remixes which will get released sometime next year including a remix via Violet's label, Naïve. 

© Karl Halliday

©Karl Halliday