CCL: “I will always be organising something”

Known by many for their talents as a highly skilled DJ and producer, CCL happily assumes positions both in and out of the booth. Stranded in Seattle after a mistakenly missed flight, they became involved with organising events and festivals, such as Decibel, Action Potential and Research, before later coming into contact with a collective of like-minded peers via Facebook group, TUF.

Inspired by those among them, TUF came together under a collective to develop the multidisciplinary, all-day and all-night festival now known as TUFFEST; a project CCL pours much of their heart and soul into. Informed by previous studies in Psychology, the world of CCL is seen through the lense of a realist. Their work consistently sees this remarkable organiser pushing to do better for marginalised groups and create a level playing field within their local electronic music scene.

This year, CCL took on one further project as they joined the curatorial team behind Vancouver’s multi-disciplinary music and arts festival, New Forms. Bringing together all they have learned over the years, we had a chat with CCL to find out just how their organisational and curatorial road-map has taken shape.

You have been promoting parties in Seattle for some time now, however, I understand that you didn’t mean to be in Seattle for a long time. When you first started curating parties in Seattle, what was your experience of the scene? What challenges did you face?

At first, I mistakenly felt like there wasn’t much going on in Seattle, so I didn’t feel very excited. I also didn’t know a single person, so that was difficult. People are pretty introverted here, they keep themselves to themselves, so it took me quite a while to meet people. Once I started taking on different small projects and attending shows, I started to see there were so many amazing people, they were just very low key. There hasn’t been a history of people from our regional scene who have ‘made it’ in a traditional sense, so no one has that expectation to reach that level. No one is trying to reach that level either, they’re all low key and just doing it because they love it, which I think is quite beautiful actually.

There is also the case of, until recently, there hasn’t been an interest in the story of this place, it wasn’t like the media were gunning to speak to someone from Seattle. I still see people act shocked that we even have electronic music here. There’s such a focus on either larger cities in North America or just straight up only Europe, it often feels like people are completely ignoring all the things that happen elsewhere. Despite this, there seems to be this momentum now here, it feels like something has taken off, even if it’s not on most people’s radar. Things are starting to get a lot busier, there are more parties and a general buzz in the air.

There’s huge boom of talented DJs and producers; livwutang, Sharlese, T.Wan, DJ Gag Reflex, DJ Having Sex, Eve Defy, Flora FM, Apt E, IVVY, 214, Myla, Reverend Dollars, Jen Greene, Succubass, Chloe Harris, Sighup, ASDFS aka DJ Rat, just to name a few. It’s actually a really cool time because there’s a bunch of different music generations that are working together to start new projects, collectives and labels. There are younger people starting up new projects that are really going to change the scene for the better.

Despite this lack of focus that you’ve spoken about, artists from across North America and Canada have been gaining some positive attention such as Peach, Ciel, D Tiffany, Nathan Micay, Minimal Violence and more all making their marks internationally. What challenges does this lack of focus on Seattle pose?

It’s interesting for me to see people talk about those who have “broken through”, such as Minimal Violence and D. Tiffany, as these newcomers on the scene, because they have all been doing things for such a long time. Sophie (D.Tiffany), Ash and Lida (Minimal Violence) have been making really amazing music, were in various bands and doing amazing DIY events that really fostered their scene for so long; and they have an extensive discography. 

It’s kind of astonishing, to see their comparable peers in Europe having more notoriety. Even for DJs such as Venetta and ZamZam of NuZi who I see as unique talents, I wonder how much more notoriety they would have if they were in Europe vs a far away region of Canada. There’s still very few people of color from Canada who have gained the same attention as their white peers and I think that’s a huge issue.

One thing that is both a setback and an asset for us here in North America is that while in Europe, electronic music is part of mainstream culture, in North America it’s not. It’s becoming more popular (despite the fact that it was literally born and developed in North America), but it’s still not a part of mainstream culture. This means if you’re interested in it you need to go out of your way to seek it out, it’s not like you’re just born into this culture where everyone knows about techno and it’s being played on the radio and in every club. 

The parties are also smaller, less people come out to shows than they would in European cities, so the risks as a promoter are steeper. However, this makes things feel different. I find I have a lot more in common, on many levels, with people who seek this music out in this way, it feels more political and self selecting. The people who come to DIY raves (for the most part) are there with specific intention and do not take such things for granted. They seem more grateful, they understand the stakes are high and and open-minded because there is less of a president and less rules on what should and shouldn’t be played too.

How do all of the things you have mentioned affect the scene in Seattle?

I have noticed that it all makes our scene unique and I think that is appealing for those who are just discovering it. Here we don’t have this giant techno monoculture, so your sound develops in a way that is completely of your own intention. There is definitely this DIY “fuck you” attitude descending from the punk scenes that existed in both Seattle and Vancouver. I’ve noticed that people are like ‘wow, these sounds are so unique’, that’s because they have developed without the need to conform to a specific sound that is often very Eurocentric and linked with sustaining a lucrative capitalist industry. No one over here is doing this for money, or fame, everyone is just trying to survive, music is their way of healing themselves and others in a world that is often very hostile.

With this in mind, how has the scene in Seattle changed since you started putting on parties?

There’s always been parties here in the scene, but there wasn’t really much international recognition, as far as I know. I would say that when I first started there wasn’t a tremendous amount of parties every weekend, but now there is a lot! Kremwerk, was pretty integral to that because it’s a queer club; it’s owned by a trans woman and is electronic music centric.

Before Kremwerk, as far as I’m aware, there wasn’t a legitimate club that was both queer and electronic music centric. I feel like a lot of our community is always there every weekend, quite a lot happens there, from fetish nights, to drag shows, to queer focused after-hours, and international DJs. Kremwerk means we are regularly in contact with one another in the same space, which I feel is an asset for building a strong community. Kremwerk is able to stay open until 4am which is rare in America, the liquor license caps at 2am so a lot of clubs want to close then.

Seattle has a history of DIY and warehouse events, but lately they have all been shut down at an alarming rate. Now we don’t have any venues left and there is this huge demand for more DIY events, where we are able to control aspects of the party in the ways we desire, but the only thing remaining for us, pretty much, is Kremwerk. There is a hunger for more venues, but the hurdles you have to go through to open one are so intense, you end up giving up; I have a few times. The stakes are really high and very few people are able to take these kinds of risks.

So, what sort of regulations do you have to meet and what challenges have you faced with venues?

There has been a huge crack down on fire safety because of what happened with The Ghost Ship fire. In some ways, this is a natural response, but it comes as a punitive measure rather than one that helps forster prevention and safety inside spaces that already exist. For example, you need a sprinkler system which can cost around $15,000, you need to have several accessible exits, and if you don’t have this then you’ll get shut down. Very few spaces can accommodate what they’re asking for as it’s such an expensive structural amendment. That’s why we’ve been halted in our tracks, with every single potential venue that we’ve found and wanted to open. I still really want to open a venue and hope one day I will find a space that works, but I’m starting to wonder if it is at all possible in Seattle with the rising rents and existing structural issues.

There is also this thing that, Seattle (like many other cities) is being being taken over at an alarming rate by tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, and they’re allowed to construct in the city with no regulations. For example, right next to Kremwerk, there is a giant skyscraper condo that’s been built, we can see it towering over our heads every time we go out. Kremwerk is our last remaining venue and it doesn’t look good, considering the propensity for sound complaints.

With New Forms, we had some pretty outrageous venue issues that caused us to have to spend quite a bit over our budget, cut programming and scramble to find several new venues last minute. We had secured and been in good communication with a venue that New Forms had been using for over 10 years, and on the day of our programming announcement we were informed that the long standing relationship was “going in a different direction” and we lost our venue. This was based on all of the land being sold to a particularly problematic developer; we put the news out in an open letter.

Despite all of these odds that are stacked against you, what is most important to you when you’re curating your own events?

Some form of empathy is so important. We try to support all different kinds of artists in the community as much as possible, from the spaces we use, to the vendors, visual artists etc. With TUF for example, we try to think about what it’s like to be at the party when your day to day reality can be so hostile. Our latest events sold no alcohol but had non-alcoholic drinks, free food, fans, free reusable water bottles and snacks to help replenish ravers at a 13 hour event. After the dance portion is over, we have a wind down ambient session so people have time to relax, reintegrate and share quiet time.

The event also has a dedicated safety team, who are trained specifically to approach all attendees with concern and empathy.They are there to help those that may be having a difficult drug related experience, take them to a quiet place, they are also NARCAN trained etc. We a dedicated area for you to lie down if you need a nap, and a more private room if you need some space to be away from people too. It can’t be perfect, but by reflecting on the experience and getting feedback, this helps things evolve to a place where events are reflective of an intimate caring community. At times the parties are a much-needed escape for people, so we are always thinking about what that means.

How does this level of care translate to the line-ups you put together?

I try to book people who haven’t had this massive mainstream success, who are just creating great work. We want to look after those people and provide a moment for them. We also want to cultivate an environment where people come through regardless of who is on the line-up, trusting that we always book people who are super talented. We still fail sometimes, sometimes people just don’t come through. With New Forms, we did bring a small select few artists who are creating distinctive work in Europe, but we tried to focus on bringing people from North America who don’t usually play at larger festivals.

Within a lot of the work you do, there is a massive focus on making a difference to the scene in North America and having inclusivity. Internationally there has been a big push for the inclusion of women, but not necessarily other marginalised groups. Where do you feel the international music scene is at right now with regards to inclusivity on all fronts?

For sure, there’s been so much focus on fixing the “gender gap”, which I have seen taken as mostly “more white cis women” but almost no work has been done to acknowledge, race, disability or class, so I feel like we haven’t come far at all. For sure, I think the first step is booking more of these individuals. I saw this stat that said 0.5% of festivals have any black artists on their line-ups, which is ridiculous. There needs to be more booking, but also if you book people and you’re not making sure that their audience is able to attend, for whatever reason, that’s also a problem.

Work needs to be done on all fronts. More people in these demographics need to be hired as bookers, editors, festival leads etc. Aside from individual artists, I would also like to see more support, sustainability and resources for people and entities who have built their life around supporting and creating spaces and platforms for others. Without these people our scene would literally collapse, people like Frankie and Christine from Discwoman, Soraya who founded TRUANTS. These people are fighting the individualised nature of the music industry, and are often the most exhausted, overworked and frequently burn out.

You often use social media to voice opinions and ignite discussion on important issues, such as the ones you have just addressed. In an age where social media is often condemned, how do you feel it can be used positively?

At this point, I’ve been trying to use it to talk about people I’m excited about. For me, the real positive aspect of social media has been connecting with people who I maybe wouldn’t have been able to interact with in real life. I’ve discovered so many talented thinkers, musicians and just regular people online through Soundcloud or Twitter and formed friendships and collaborations. These networks have also helped a lot of the North American collectives, DJs and artists stay connected, to help and support one another. There are many issues with social media, but I still feel like it’s a tool that can be used constructively. I see more senior music industry folks denouncing it all the time and while I respect that desire for boundaries, I hope they are also keeping up on and supporting new artists in the same way. I think you have a responsibility to do so.

This year you worked on New Forms Festival. How did you feel about the opportunity to work on this project?

It sounded like a really exciting opportunity because it gave me the ability to work on something from the ground up, while also working with a name that had been going for quite a while. I’ve always really liked New Forms because it has an intimate vibe, it’s not a festival where you have to book crazy headliners, you can get away with booking weirder more underground talent. What was also interesting for me is that I didn’t know Lauren or JS very well, I only knew their work and felt a lot of admiration for what they had done. It felt exciting to be working on a project with people who you have a lot of respect for.

Lauren started on VIA Festival in Pittsburgh, and also works with Hot Mass, and gFx. I always admired VIA as it seemed very adventurous programming-wise and the first of its kind in many regards; they booked a load of people who would have NEVER been booked in North America if they hadn’t. JS is a talented musician who founded the label Ascetic House, they’re a part of the s.M.i.L.e. collective and also really involved with the DIY scenes in Vancouver and Arizona; a person who is very thoughtful and engaged in many ways, politically and otherwise. They both have really wide ranging interests and sonic palettes and I was really interested in working with people who could challenge me and who I could learn from, as they’re both experts in a lot of different areas.

Now that New Forms is over, what’s next for CCL?

You know, I’m not sure. I have recently cut back on a lot of my commitments after burning out quite hard this summer. I feel like I’ve done a lot of organising over the last few years, working four different jobs at the same time, on top of DJing, running festivals etc, and I don’t want to become jaded. I’ll probably take a break for a bit but I will always be an organiser and I will always be organising something, it’s just something I can’t get away from. I want to focus on some personal projects, a few specific things, with more focus and intention, so we’ll see how that goes.

Words: Sophie McNulty

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