Cindy Li – Tour Diary Asia

Ciel “Hao! Feeling the year of the pig in a big way”

Cindy Li aka Ciel in Seoul (Photo: Cindy Li)

This is my first time back in Asia since fall of 2013 when I went to China to spend time with my then-ailing grandmother. I was born in northern China in 1985 and spent my childhood in Xi’an until my mom and dad finally successfully got their visas to immigrate to the US in 1993. Though my memories of those early years are quite hazy, I feel a gentle tug in my heart every time I return there, even if there are quite a lot of things about life in the mainland that I have difficulties accepting or adapting to now.

In my 20s after graduating from uni, I also spent two years teaching at a middle school in Busan, South Korea, hoping to earn some money to pay off my student loans and get to know my East Asian heritage a little better. I spent my time off visiting my extended family in China and travelling to nearby cities like Taipei, Bangkok, and Tokyo.

So to say that touring in Asia meant a lot to me would be an understatement. Unlike jaunts to Europe, Asia is where I feel like I’m returning home in a lot of ways, and I had anticipated this tour for most of last year. Not only would I perform in many parts of China I’d only dreamt of visiting, I would also be visiting my family with my partner who decided to tag along on tour with me for the very first time.

We spent our first week in China in a constant state of excitement, shock, and “oh my god can we please eat that???” You read the news about the smog being bad in parts of China but it’s quite a different experience to be in it, especially in the winter. Some days it was challenging to even walk for extended period of time outdoors. I was impressed with the mobile technology there – everybody paid with their phones, nobody carried cash, and every business we saw, from high end restaurant to roadside food stalls, had portable cell phone battery packs you could rent for cheap. Convenient!

Shenzhen (Photo: Cindy Li)

I played my first show in Shenzhen at Oil Club, and it was a truly an amazing experience and one of my all time favourite clubs in the world. I found turntables to be quite scarce in China, but the booth at Oil was built perfectly and the turntables worked like a charm.
It was my first time playing to a Chinese crowd, and I don’t know why I always thought that Chinese people would be quite reserved, but the opposite was true. Everybody was hooting and hollering and stomping their feet yelling “hao!” which means bravo in Mandarin. And I wasn’t playing very straight either so it was cool that people were just so down for the deep stuff. For the first time on that trip I felt a little choked up playing to my people who gave me such a warm welcome.

The second show I played was the hometown show. Now I was surprised that my agent even got me a show in Xi’an, because in all my times going there I had never heard of there being a dance music scene, so before playing I was a little apprehensive and thought for sure only two people would show up and one of them would be my bf. In reality, I played to a screaming audience of about 60 people, and in that small basement club in a scene that’s still in its infancy, it felt like a success. That was the second time I choked up during my tour, as people were dancing and screaming with more gusto and fervor than even the night before. Afterwards I surprised all the Chinese club kids by breaking out in Mandarin, and had the most delicious hotpot of the entire trip at a 24hr hotpot restaurant just outside the city walls of Xi’an.

I spent the next week with my mom’s side of the family and showed my partner around the place of my birth. We ate absolutely everything and I’m still recovering to be honest but it was absolutely worth it because Northen Chinese cuisine from Xi’an is absolutely the most delicious regional cuisine in China. It’s super fun to be in China this time of the year so close to the Lunar New Year. All the tourist attractions and skyscrapers were dressed in twinkling lights and red lanterns. By the time we left for the next stop of the tour I was already feeling the year of the pig in a big way!

Shanghai (Photo: Cindy Li)

In Shanghai I got to visit Uptown Record Shop and pick up a couple of dub & Japanese city pop goodies. Tzusing took us to his favourite hot pot spot, its spice level paled in comparison to just how high the temperature of the broth was, which did a number on my mouth and eye! Club All was such a trip. By this point I was used to the wild abandon and exuberance of Chinese audiences, and this one was no different. Dancers were bowing to me and playing air synth along to some of the trancier fares. It was my first time hearing people yell-sing along to the synth lead and it was extremely enjoyable. The only downside is the police came because of a noise complaint and that put a bit of a damper on the festive mood.

After a short trip to Chengdu where I played in a super vibey concrete room in the basement of a shopping mall, me and my partner spent the week in Wuhan with my dad’s side of the family. My dad grew up in a small fishing village outside of Wuhan called Jiayu and we decided to go there to visit our uncle and spend the night at a natural hot springs. The smog was nonexistent outside of the city which was a big relief. Blue skies for days! It is customary in that part of China to eat salted fish and pork around the holidays and everywhere we went there were fish & racks of pork hanging from clotheslines drying in the sun. At night we spent time eating and singing karaoke (obviously)! By the time it was time to leave for Korea, I felt a bittersweetness in my chest as I said goodbye to my family so close to the biggest holiday of the Chinese calendar. But there was no time to dwell on that.

We arrived in Seoul freezing our buns off. Luckily the hotel was close to Contra, and I played an especially fast and banging set, I think partly to keep everybody warm and sweaty. This was by far the loudest, most effusive crowd I played to. There were times when it was hard to hear the banging sound system over the sounds of young Koreans yelling “빨리빨리빨리!!!” (which means fast fast fast). I threw them a bit of a curve-ball in the second half by dropping some UKG. At first I thought maybe I’d lost them, but ultimately found it to be a lovely end to an exhausting night.

Seoul (Photo: Cindy Li)

The next few days were spent mostly sleeping in our Airbnb as we had both caught a cold, although I found the energy to return to Itaewon and meet an old pal from my Busan days and hit up Pistil and Contra (again) to catch some local DJs play. By the third day we checked out Gyeongbok Palace and a couple of museums, I played a really fun show at Seoul Community Radio, and my friend Airbear took us to a super vibey vinyl bar in Hongdae that only played Korean records from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Seoul (Photo: Cindy Li)

I also took my boyfriend on a cable car ride to the top of Namsan Tower and then to Lotte World, which is the largest indoor amusement park in the world! The rest of the week was pretty much a blur of buying cheap threads and not-so-cheap records. Check out Clique records if you’re ever in Seoul! Incredible selection of house, techno, breaks, trance, and non-dance music too. Strong recommend.

By the time we left Seoul, I was feeling a bit of that mid-tour malaise. My partner was flying home to Canada while I went back to China for two final shows, one in Beijing and one in Hangzhou. It was lovely meeting the organizers of Zhaodai, truly some of the nicest people I met on tour. The club had an incredible sound system, although I felt I didn’t really play 100%. My body felt sick and unhealthy and I was mentally exhausted from travelling. After that I desperately craved some down time to decompress and reset for my final show in China.

Beijing (Photo: Cindy Li)

Hangzhou (Photo: Cindy Li)

Hangzhou (Photo: Cindy Li)

When I arrived in Hangzhou I was taken aback by the beauty and serenity of the city. It was so *clean* and the air felt incredibly clear. It really rejuvenated me! I ended up having a lot of fun playing at Loopy that night and went places I didn’t expect. I felt so grateful especially that the booker was so kind and that my friend from Canada was there in the crowd, and afterwards we got to hang out with some of the Chinese fans. All tour I hadn’t really had much time to really really shoot the shit with the kids there so I valued that time so much. We talked until the sun came up! I spent my final day in Hangzhou exploring the West Lake and historical night markets.

Tokyo (Photo: Cindy Lee)

After Hangzhou I was elated to go to Tokyo where the internet is fast and not behind a firewall. Since I was still feeling under the weather and since I had been to Tokyo before and done the major sights already, I didn’t push myself to do a lot the first couple of days and instead caught up on laundry, work, and a remix I was past due. The wonderful promoter from Procare that booked me, JR, really took amazing care of me all week despite having to work a very demanding full time job. I was extremely grateful to him. On our first night out we had dinner with PLO Man (who was also in town for a show) and a few of their mutual friends in Shinjuku. During my down time later in the week, I visited the stunning Edo Open Air Museum, took the ferris wheel on Odaiba, strolled through Ueno Park, caught the night time view of the Tokyo skyline from Mori tower in Roppongi, and gawked at wares in Ameyoko market. When I wasn’t sightseeing, I pretty much lived in one of the countless record shops in Tokyo. JR took me to most of them, although when I visited Dubby’s house and spent an embarrassing amount on Japanese records, I was solo. The week ended on a wonderful note, as I played one of my favourite shows of the tour at WWW. Whereas in Seoul I felt more pressure to play tracks that had maximum dancefloor impact, in Tokyo I felt the weirder I went the more excited the crowd got. Many folks had traveled quite far to come see me play at that party, and I felt truly overwhelmed with emotion.

Unfortunately the tour ended on a bit of a downer, as I got sick again with the stomach flu and had to check myself into the hospital as soon as I landed back in Canada. But even knowing all of that, I wouldn’t change a thing about this life-affirming month in Asia, and what I hope to be the first of many future tours out there.

Upcoming shows of Ciel:
15.3. Brussels – C12
16.3. Strasbourg – KALT
23.3. Stockholm – Club Backdoor
28.3. Secret show
29.3. Liverpool – 24 Kitchen Street
30.3. Copenhagen – Group Therapy
05.4. Toronto – Beau Travail at Bambi’s
13.4. Montreal – Planet Euphorique
20.4. Berlin – Renate
27.4. Paris – Weather Festival
27.5. Detroit – Movement


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