Cindy Li is the Toronto DJ, producer, radio programmer and club promoter operating as Ciel.
At the forefront of her city’s vibrant electronic scene, Ciel heads up the ‘It’s Not U It’s Me‘ and ‘Work in Progress‘ parties, which focus on innovative electronic music produced by women and female-identifying artists, and advocate for the safety and presence of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.
Also hosting her Work In Progress radio show on Montréal’s n10, she released her much-anticipated production debut last October via Shanti Celeste’s Peach Discs imprint which, aimed at the dancefloor, skilfully fused bass heavy electro patterns with the dreamy sequences she is known to favour in her eclectic DJ sets.
Having been name-dropped as one to look our for by a number of artists and publications, her first effort of 2018 comes via Toronto’s forth crew, a party turned label who’s Forth Vol.1 compilation features some of the best local underground artists, with Ciel appearing alongside the likes of Kontravoid, Hadi and Joel eel.
In celebration of the release, we caught Ciel for a minute to get a rundown of some of the musical pieces that best represent her Work In Progress platform, so tuck in below to hear some of the most interesting and timeless compositions of electronic music to have been created by female artists.
1. Sarah Bernett – A1 from The Rhythm Impulse (1993)
I’m forever on the hunt for obscure, tough as nails techno made by women during a time that was even less hospitable to female artists than now. This one, released in 1993 on German label Propulsions 285 is a recent Work in Progress favourite.
2. Elise – Crocodiles love Coriander (2017)
JUNO describes this sublime 2017 release as “Deep house excursions for the eclectic mind.” It is not only eclectic, I would go one step further and say calling it deep house does the release a disservice. It’s dub, its electro, it’s ambient, it’s broken beat. It’s so many things, and the sounds and arrangement on each track demonstrates a massive talent with a keen ear for leftfield sounds and a palate for diverse styles. Big big ups.
3. Pauline Anna Strom – The Unveiling (1982 / 2017)
This is taken from my favourite reissue of last year. It is a collection of otherworldly sounds and shimmering melodies that take my mind on a trip thru my past lives & dreams. That sounds pretentious but it’s really hard to describe in words the experience of listening to this record. It’s strange but also familiar and evokes so many emotions in me when I listen that I really enjoy opening my show with it.
4. Delia Derbyshire – Sea (1964)
Kind of mind-boggling to think this was made in the ’60s, and the ambient sounds created from tape loops cut into strips and rearranged. But you know Delia Derbyshire was no joke. Her work ethic and dedication to her art is a massive inspiration to me as a producer, and I can only hope that some of her genius will rub off on me. This is from a collection of recordings of people talking about their dreams, created for the BBC. I personally am a big fan of talking in opening tracks for radio sets and mixes, and have played a load of her music including this one on Work in Progress.
5. Sissel Wincent – Investigation (2016)
The mandate of Work in Progress is to play the best and weirdest in underground electronic music created by women. Sissel Wincent’s compositions fit that to a T. Her tracks are incredibly atmospheric and put me in a very foggy headspace. They very much exemplify electronic music’s power to transform you out of your physical surroundings.
6. Gene Tellem – Who Says No (2017)
But of course it’s not all experimental excursions on WIP. Majority of tracks I play on my show are still selected to make you wiggle your bum in your chair. This one is from my fellow Canadian, a past WIP guest DJ(every show features a guest DJ in the second hour), and someone I respect immensely. I just love her take on soulful deep house! And I fully expect her to have an illustrious and enduring career in dance music.
7. Beta Librae – Buu (2017)
Beta Librae is an artist based in Brooklyn, hands down one of the most forward thinking dance music scenes for women in the world. She’s a very underrated producer and has a keen sense for deep grooves and sampling. I played the fuck out of this track when it came out on her Allergy Season release last year. It’s deep and hypnotic and should be played not just on the radio but in clubs the world over.
8. Bergsonist – Colonial Revolution (2017)
The downside of a music industry that favours male artists is that a lot of male producers get props for producing fairly simple, uninteresting music. Bergsonist is someone who doesn’t have the luxury of resting on that, and as such doesn’t get a lot of press but could produce circles around most people. She is incredibly prolific and all of her tracks are really complex and also could blow the pants off a dance floor. Everyone should try and catch her insane live sets in person.
9. Powder – Humid Wind (2015)
Powder is a DJ and producer based in Tokyo, Japan. She is also a Work in Progress alum, having appeared in Toronto last summer for one of my favourite WIP parties. Her music suggests a highly accomplished musician, as she has a great ear for melody and incredible drum sequencing in her production. I love how dreamy this particular track is, and in a different pair of hands would probably turn out quite boring. But Powder elevates it with those almost abrasive-sounding metallic snares and deeply meditative melodic loops.
10. K-Hand – B1 from Project 5 EP (1997)
Imagine talking about female producers and not mentioning K-Hand? Hands down one of the most inspiring women from the early days of Detroit techno and house, her tracks have this incredible rawness and groove that is hard to find these days. This track appeared on one of the earliest episodes of Work in Progress, and still rears its head in my sets on a regular basis.
Bonus. Oh Yoko – Seashore (DJ Sprinkles’ Ambient Ballroom) (2013)
Work in Progress is a radio show, but it’s also a long running party series in Toronto booking women and non-gender-binary artists. Although I still have yet to play this particular remix on WIP, DJ Sprinkles’ other music are a mainstay on the show, and her appearance a year and a half ago at a Work in Progress party in Toronto still remains the most emotional day of my life. Her critical writings on queer and trans theory as well as her personal story as one of the first openly trans artists in house music is no small feat, and represents so much of what inspired me to start WIP — namely that dance music has always been political, that queer people and women and people of colour are a foundational part of this community, and to truly embrace those roots is to truly understand what dance music is about.
Forth Vol.1 is out now. Order it here.