When the COVID-19 pandemic began shuttering clubs in March 2020, Toronto’s Ciel, aka Cindy Li, was in New York to play a party. “We were still deluding ourselves that maybe it won’t come here,” she told Boiler Room Radio. Needless to say, the party got canceled. A last-minute backup booking came through at Brooklyn’s Bossa Nova Civic Club, where the Discwoman collective packed the booth with other DJs whose gigs had been shut down. “It felt like a meaningful night,” she recalls, but it was hard to enjoy, knowing that it was likely to be the last event of its kind for a long time.
A few weeks later, back home in Toronto, Ciel stepped behind the decks for Boiler Room’s Streaming From Isolation series. It was an intense time, full of conflicting feelings, and you can sense them from her playing. Ciel’s selections are as varied as ever—she drops techno, breaks, deep house, garage, and even trance—but what’s particularly notable is how much emotional terrain she covers. There are beatific passages, anxious moments, brooding bits, and long stretches of sheer, unexpected joy. “I didn’t want to overthink it,” Ciel says. In contrast to her first Boiler Room in 2017, she didn’t plan much, but simply sifted her folders for recent club faves and new material she wanted to play out, even if she wouldn’t get the chance for a while. “I just knew the first three songs, and then I kind of went for it,” she says. The story she ends up telling with her records is both spontaneous and cathartic, a testament to the power of music in the toughest of times.