Ciel: “never let fear stop you from accomplishing your goals”

Ciel / Cindy Li (Photo: Katja Ruge)


Cindy, I recently read a post where you mentioned that you feel way more relaxed these days with touring and traveling compared to a few years ago. Great to hear – even tho I have to say this comes by surprise as I personally experience traveling right now as so much more demanding in the kinda post pandemic but still pandemic climate. So I am curious to hear more from your thoughts behind that post.

Cindy Li: I said that in reference to how I’m mentally better at dealing with the emotional ups and downs of performing live. Of course in a post-covid world, it is a lot more difficult to travel, and that definitely still makes me feel stressed. But I think the last two years of time off from touring & performance & the competitive nature of the dance music business really gave me a renewed sense of peace and helped me learn to be more flexible. Between 2018 and the 2020 covid19 pandemic, I was in a constant state of anxiety and worry about my career and the drive for success really burned me out. I was traveling constantly and not taking care of myself and neglecting things that actually made me feel happy and healthy. I think that kind of environment was terrible for my anxiety and the time off to refocus my priorities during the last two years where I dedicated all my time to making music, spending time with my family and friends, as well as political organizing in my local community really just helped me so much.

You are generally very open in your social media posts – which I highly appreciate. There are two streams of important topics that sticked most with me within the last years: the difficult economic situation of artists and the explicit anti asian racism you experience during the pandemic.
Let´s start with the second topic. Did you personally experience physical and / or verbal violence? If so in which form? Or is this more likey a situation you are observing? And do you feel that the public is giving this enough notice and discourse? Is the situation getting better?

For me I personally experienced subtle forms of discrimination during the first year of the pandemic. For example, getting into a taxi with two other non-Asian DJs and the taxi driver only asks me to use the hand sanitizer. Of course having access to the internet allowed me to see much more disgusting and aggressive forms of racism. From February to May of 2020, it was a daily occurrence to log onto social media sites and see post after post talking about how Chinese people are disgusting and dishonest and unsanitary and we are to blame for all the world’s problems. I read in the news about violent anti-Asian hate crimes. A Chinese woman had acid thrown on her in Brooklyn when she went outside to take out the trash. My Asian friends in Toronto experienced verbal abuse on the street. I saw my Asian colleagues get bullied in the Hor chatroom, being called “kung flu”. I even saw artists circulate petitions online demanding that China close down all wet markets, which I wrote about on Twitter and Medium. There was just so much ignorance and misinformation circulating during the early days of the pandemic, people were panicking and acting with disrespect. After two years, I think it has mostly gotten better. But sadly the anti-Asian violence continues in the United States.

Regards the economic situation of artists. Do you feel that the sky is clearing as touring and festivals are back in operating, or is the topic here to stay with us?

I think the deeper issue of pay inequality between DJ and producer is an ongoing problem, and just because clubs are open and shows are back does not change that one bit. That is why I work with organizations like Music Workers Alliance, who are petitioning the US govt to change the laws around licensing and streaming so that producers and musicians are better compensated by streaming platforms like Spotify.

How was the financial support for artists in Canada during the pandemic? I know that in general the country cultivates a great funding system for the arts.

The Canadian govt was actually really helpful during the pandemic. As freelance workers, we were given monthly cheques of $2000 as a form of pandemic subsidy. These cheques continued for pretty much all of the pandemic until March 2022. I was also able to successfully apply for grant funding from the Canada Arts Council to write my debut album, which I completed this past winter and spring. That money as well as the covid monthly cheques was how I was able to focus my energy during the last two years on just writing music and doing volunteer work

Ciel / Cindy Li (Photo: Katja Ruge)


Cindy, you are based in Toronto, where you also organize a lot of events yourself and with friends. How important is your local community to understand you as an artist fully?

I am the DJ that I am today because of the DIY dance music scene in Toronto. Without it, I’m not sure if I would even be here. Ever since I learned to DJ in university after joining the university radio station, my entire relationship with music has been community-oriented. I love to make music collaboratively with other producers in Toronto, and running my record label Parallel Minds where we only release music from Toronto artists. Having this connection with a home scene is so important to me, and is a big reason why I have not moved abroad in order to pursue my DJ career.

Do you have a role model of high influence of you as an artist, not only when it comes to sound but also attitude and value cosmos?

For me, my greatest role models are my friends. CCL, D. Tiffany, Priori, the folks who came from DIY scenes, who not only DJ but also organize events, produce music, and help others in their community learn and gain access to the industry, those are the people I respect the most.

Which music was the first to touch/inspire/move you? What made it so special and standing to you?

I grew up in Albany, New York during the 90s, so of course the first music to inspire me was New York rap music. I love the vibe, the rhythm, the attitude, and poetry of this music, and I still do today.

What do you prefer, the seclusive working process in a studio or the live presentation of your music in front of the audience?

I have always felt uncomfortable performing in front of people. I’ve never been one of those people who felt comfortable dancing and smiling and letting go in front of a crowd of strangers. It’s something I got better at over time, but the experience of DJing and receiving live feedback from the audience in the form of body language is extremely nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing. After the last two years when producing became my whole life, I definitely feel confident in saying that I prefer the process in the studio over live performance. But studio work is not always something I do alone. In fact, I try to make music with other people as often as I can, and that relationship is a huge part of why I love to make music.

Ciel / Cindy Li (Photo: Katja Ruge)

What is your ideal space/place to listen to music?

On the train or bus 🙂

Please name female artists without whose music you wouldn’t be producing music?

Ellen Allien, Magda, Miss Kittin, Delia Darbyshire, Suzanne Ciani, ESG, The Slits, Bratmobile, Kim Gordon, Shanti Celeste, Lena Wilikens, Laurel Halo, Juliana Huxtable, Eris Drew, object blue, Loraine James, D. Tiffany, Yu Su, Kiernan Laveaux, wonja, CCL, Roza Terenzi, Lis Dalton, Beta Librae, DJ Fart in the Club and Cat Power

What empowers you or helps you to overcome obstacles and challenges in your work?

My mantra is “never let fear stop you from accomplishing your goals.” So many things I’ve done in my career were things I had never done before, and was afraid to do and fail. When I feel fear, it is a sign that I should forge ahead. Even if I do it and it’s less than I expected, I can be at peace with myself that I gave it a try and learned something from it. That is how I overcome.

What’s a secret guilty pleasure, an idiosyncrasy of yours or something that would surprise people about you?

I am absolutely obsessed with skincare and watching skincare videos on Youtube. 🙂

What is your favorite app/technology/instrument to create sounds with?

Ableton Live and Native Instruments plug-ins 🙂

This interview with Cindy Li is part of the ongoing photo-project “Electric Lights – Women in Electronic Music” by Hamburg based photographer Katja Ruge and Kaput co-publisher Thomas Venker focused on the role of women in electronic music.

Each photoshoot is accompanied by a short interview, based on a personalised questionnaire. The interviews will be published on the kaput website on a monthly basis, before finding their way into a book.

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