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Ciel: Disrupting the status quo

Sunday 18th, November 2018 / 17:06
By Paul Rodgers

CALGARY – Toronto’s Ciel, a.k.a Cindi Li, is a perfect fit for the 2018 Alberta Electronic Music Conference as she embodies so many facets of what the event represents. She’s a promoter, a DJ and producer on New York City’s Discwoman collective, as well as a radio host and an advocate. She’s no stranger to panels either, having spoken at Amsterdam Dance Event, Nu Forms Festival and several events in Toronto.

“All of the panels that I’ve done in Toronto have been not as part of a bigger dance event, because Toronto kind of sucks for any kind of major dance event, we don’t really have that,” Li says. “Lack of infrastructure I think is a big part, I think there is an interest so I don’t know why we don’t have that, but I think it’s just challenging to throw events in Toronto.”

While many DJs get into promotion well into their careers, Li did it backwards. She began throwing events first, because she wanted to DJ and was having a hard time getting bookings, plus there were a number of artists that she wanted to bring to Toronto, and nobody was bringing them.

“So two birds with one stone and I started to do that and I found that I was quite good at it and I liked it and the production came later.”

Since day one, Li has sought to utilize her career as a way of advocating for the representation, safety and respect of women, people of colour and the LGBTQ community.

“It was a no-brainer because I’m a woman myself so thinking about these issues it’s personal for me,” she explains. “I feel like being a feminist, the feminist values that my mother instilled in me, it kind of was always part and parcel with my music stuff from the beginning.”

She started a campus radio show while attending Queens University called Lady Flash and only played music made by women, it was then that she learned to DJ as well. In 2014 she started a new show called Work in Progress.

“Around that time, it was 2014 people were starting to have this  [gender representation] conversation a lot and I like a challenge and everybody told me that it might be quite challenging to maintain the show for a really long time.”

But, she maintained for four straight years, a two-hour monthly show until recently, when she put the show on hiatus in order to accommodate her touring schedule, and it was her show that led into her party series, Work in Progress and It’s Not U It’s Me.

Since throwing shows and advocating for more equitable representation, Li feels that she now sees that it’s more common that female artists are booked in her own city, to the point where it’s “passé if you don’t have a female artist on the bill.”

“That is not just what I have done, I think I’ve managed to start doing this around the same time as a global trend and also because I’m quite confrontational with how I deliver my message, to the point where sometimes I think that male promoters in the city are a bit wary of me, but I think that to really make an impact sometimes you have to disrupt the status quo, they might not like you, but the message and the fight is worth more than being liked.”

It’s only fitting, given her prolific history, that Li will speak on the Visibility: Exploring Cultural Diversity in the Music Industry panel on Saturday, November 17. She outlined what she hopes to get out of the panel and what she intends to bring to it, saying that she’s been on some that feel like a talkshow, talking to guests and audiences that already agree with them.

“I hope that this is a place where people can talk back and forth and we can really learn from each other,” Li says. “In terms of the panel itself, the things that I want to touch on are really just practical solutions on how we can put into action our vision for this sort of utopian dancefloor.”

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