CCL first came to my attention when they released their brilliant ‘Ode to the Queer Steppas’ mix for Honey Soundsystem. The mix changed my perspective on the very male-dominated scene and of course, I wasn’t the only one to pick up on this. The mix was included in a selection of best monthly mix round-ups including The Guardian, Resident Advisor and Pitchfork. Having lived in Bristol, Rome and London before moving to their current base in Seattle, CCL’s dynamic sets are the perfect blend of UK and Midwest US sounds.
More than just a fantastic DJ, CCL uses their platform as a way of supporting causes close to their heart, being involved in a variety of collectives and projects that support marginalised groups. A founding member of TUF, the collective focuses on community-building and creating visibility for underrepresented artists within electronic music and art. Alongside TUF, CCL has also helped curate festivals across the States including New Forms Festival, Decibel Festival and Corridor – showcasing their commitment and dedication to making a difference in the wider scene. It’s no surprise then that their global bookings have skyrocketed over the last twelve months with key dates in London, Paris and Berlin as well as ticking off major festival performances such as Movement Detroit and forthcoming dates at Flow Festival and No Bounds Festival. CCL has also bagged a residency at the newly-launched New York listening Bar public records where their first date will be alongside Call Super and released their first record in collaboration with Flora FM for Bandcloud’s charity compilation, ‘Missive’.
Debuting in Nottingham this weekend at Wigflex City Festival, we speak to CCL about their move to Seattle, the TUF collective, balancing projects and hobbies and experiences as a promoter.
You’re originally from London but now based in Seattle, what’s the story behind the move? How do you feel Seattle has shaped and influenced you, both as an artist and person?
I actually first went to Seattle to visit my mother (who’s American and has lived there for a while), and while I was born in London and lived there for a few years but I don’t really feel like I’m from there. It was quite a turbulent time for me emotionally and I ended up missing my flight back to England. At the time this seemed like a huge setback, but since I had an American passport I decided to get a job and try to earn some money before departing again. Over five years have passed now and while I thought it was a huge mistake at the time I really don’t think I would be where I am now if I hadn’t ended up in Seattle.
When I got there, I literally knew no one apart from my mother, and I was finding it very hard to meet friends or other people with similar interests. I’d say this period of loneliness and (honestly at times desperation) lead me to start DJing in the first place, because I needed something to pour myself into. As a city, Seattle has a very distinct lineage from punk, noise and DIY scenes. The people seem to be extremely low key, and while it takes a while to get to know them (there’s a lot of more introverted people) there are some exceptionally talented, dedicated people who really make excellent music, art and care about things in a way I find extremely compelling and refreshing. Seattle has many issues and challenges as a city, but the way the scene has adapted to face this I also think is interesting and I find this has led me to not take for granted the things I think many people do in Europe. I think a lot of the people I have met have influenced me honestly, people like Chloe Harris of Further Records, 214, Flora FM, second-nature, people I met through Decibel festival. The scene feels close-knit, pretty queer and I can go and dance and exchange smiles with people on the dancefloor and it feels so warm when it’s good.
Some DJs/producers in Seattle I feel I have been influenced by especially lately:
– Flora FM, Seattle via Detroit, chaotic but groovy IDM infected whiplash in technicolour high def
– Livwutang, buoyant electro, bass and about to run the world
– Apt E boys Cameron Kelly and Maxwell, three-deck wizardry, run an awesome label and party
– DJ Having Sex, chaos rave mistress
– Succubass, purveyor of bounce, bass and space
– sighup/nohup, played one of the most astounding DJ sets I’ve seen in recent times
– Eve Defy, gritty electro them-fatale
– DJ Gag Reflex, would probably turn Berghain inside out
– Baby Sam Deejay, the DJ I want to soundtrack my summer romance daydream
– CRÍA CUERVOS, gems strung together with thought and intent for emotionally transcendent and complex storylines
What were you doing before you were a promoter and DJ? What has your journey been like as a creative so far?
I guess I have felt like I’ve always wanted to be a creative but felt I haven’t fit the mould of what a creative person should be because things don’t seem to flow from me freely. Until I was about 17 I was a professional dancer but it felt like that something someone else wanted me to do versus a path I chose myself, I was really into directing and writing plays in school but I didn’t really feel like I was very creative talented – most creative things took me longer and felt more forced than they seemed for my peers and I certainly didn’t feel musically creative. I ended up going to University for Experimental Psychology and got pretty into research, and was committed to doing something that I felt like it would “make a difference” which manifested in various ways, at first I wanted to g.et my PhD in Rehab Medicine, and then I started to be interested in Social Work and community-oriented work because research seemed so far removed from the issues I saw happening in front of my eyes. At one point I wanted to pursue music writing, journalism and photography as well. I then started to get into organizing events and booking art and music together.
I have stopped and started DJing a few times, mostly out of frustration and my inability to progress – in fact, I felt like there’s no way I could ever be good at it. The same thing with producing, I’ve started and stopped many times, frustrated with my inability to finish things or figure out processes felt like it made creativity flow from me freely. It took a friend, Flora FM, who showed me how to use some gear to make music and also helped me work through finishing something to get over the mental block. I’m not sure I’d call my story a success just yet, but if there are any other people out there that are attempting to make things but have felt this way, I have had to tell myself there are many different ways people come to creating things and some things flow out of some people like a river and some people (like me), it’s more of a twisted extraction that takes many forms but is no less rewarding when you do finally get it out. In answer to your question if I have one my journey has been a hodgepodge of different obsessions and tangents that have seemed unrelated until recently.
You’re also part of the female/non-binary/trans music and art collective TUF, what sort of work do you as collective? What are your aims?
TUF is a collective that focuses on uplifting marginalized folks including people of colour, women, queer, trans, and gender nonconforming identities, it challenges white-cis-male power structures within electronic music, art, and media by creating spaces to connect and collaborate. What’s unique about TUF is that it’s not all DJs, and in fact, there’s been a lot of cross-pollination through different artistic mediums and skill sharing that’s created some truly unique artists. We do a free public event in a park that has workshops, panels, music and art as well as other more DJ focused DIY after hour events.
You’ve previously mentioned that you construct your mixes around a dialogue between yourself and the audience, could you give some examples of these concepts from previous mixes you’ve done?
For sure, since I don’t have an audience I often feel like I have to motivate myself to play a set to my blank wall and the dust that sits on my records so I create in my head a concept for a set I would love to play to an imaginary audience or situation – in that way it feels fun and fanciful and it helps me anchor what I want to achieve in the mix. For my Queer Steppas mix, I was thinking a lot about how I liked dubstep but the context it was presented to me in wasn’t something I’d want to go to again and I imagined the set I would play at the TUF til Dawn party that I help to organize after the light had started coming through the windows. The vibe is generally joyous, pretty queer and it’s very…psychedelic. For my most recent mix for Crack, that was inspired from an actual set that I played at Hot Mass where I felt I could push the crowd a bit more but was a reflection of my current mental state – cyclical feelings of tension and release that translated in some with tempo, moods, feeling of working through complex emotions – anxiety and release. Maybe this all sounds a bit pretentious but it’s this approach that helps me get excited about making a mix, and oftentimes I use mixes as a way to really work through snags I’m having with DJing and I’ve found them to really help me overcome real challenges I’ve had when I am DJing in front of people.
You have a close relationship with Eris Drew and will, in fact, be playing with her all night long in London this summer. With spirituality, a key factor in Eris’ sets and when choosing records, do you have a similar connection to your music? What is your relationship with the music you play?
I think seeing Eris’s connection to her music helped me understand how to better connect with my own – and seeing her play was one of the most important moments of my life for this reason. I have spoken with Eris before about how certain songs/memories sometimes hold turbulent memories or are made by people who are pretty far removed from who we are, but there’s a certain power in us playing them in the context that we do, and this reclaiming of this music is extremely powerful and transformative.
How do your personal life and outside interests influence your selections? Do you feel that your sets/mixes depend on the mood that you’re in?
Most definitely, I am sometimes too transparent if anything. I often use music as a tool to work through certain things that are going on in my life and it’s often impossible to separate them. I suffered a serious head injury this summer which caused a lot of significant psychological turmoil from me and I think you can hear it in my output, the sets I was playing etc.
Outside of electronic / club-focused music, what are some of your favourite artists?
The new Solange, The Cure, Tony Allen, The Durutti Column, Stevie Wonder, Arthur Russell and Missy Elliot.
You’ve also got a residency at Public Records – the new listening bar, store and cafe in NYC – as it’s outside of the normal club environment will you be approaching this residency differently to how you would a club set?
For my first residency I’m doing one club focused set, Call Super is playing too, and then I’m doing one more “listening” ambient set. I’ve said this before somewhere online but I often find sets without a unifying beat behind them to be more difficult because you have to be extra conscious of the energy level and the mood for them to feel like a seamless journey. I approach these sets differently by really making sure I am aware of the vibe or energy of each track, often writing notes or colour coding them in various ways so I’m able to remember (I have stickers that I use for my records and various tags or descriptors for my digital files). For sets where you don’t have obvious visual cues of people’s enjoyment like them moving their body dancing, I feel like you have to look for more subtle and intimate cues, and rely on your internal gut feelings – but I find this extremely intimate and gratifying in its own way when it’s in the right context. A set I have loved doing consistently is the Ambient Set I play at an event called “The Lodge”, which is a small event thrown by a group of friends. I usually play my set towards sunset and it’s projected into a beautiful valley with friends sitting around relaxing. I found soundtracking this very intimate shared moment where everyone was gazing off into the beautiful surrounding to be one of the most profound moments of DJing!
As your touring schedule continues to grow, do you find its harder to focus on things you’re interested in outside of music? For myself, with writing and my full-time job, I struggle to find time for anything other than reading by the time I commute home. Are you beginning to work out any routines or methods in order to keep the balance between both worlds?
Good question. 🙂 It is very difficult, outside DJing and attempting to make music/tour on a small scale, I help run a festival called New Forms in Vancouver, I freelance, I work as a Crisis Intervention Specialist at a Crisis Clinic which helps manage the national suicide hotline, work on projects for TUF and I am an agent for Discwoman.
The balance has been tricky, to say the least, and I honestly feel like I am never good enough at managing my time, but I think not doing music related work full time has been a real stabilizing force in my life and helped me to have perspective I feel like I need in order to not burn out creatively and maintain the love I have for my creative projects. I have always really enjoyed working on different projects – and while I love music and I love DJing (and parts of the scene) the way the scene manifests and the hierarchical and business side of it isn’t exactly for me. In terms of routines: I try to really block out time and dedicate my time to each project typically.
Your Instagram is filled with portraits of artists and ravers you meet along the way, how did you get into photography? What do you enjoy about it?
I think photography was probably my first love, as a pre-teen I’d buy cameras from charity shops that were broken and try to fix them (lots of times unsuccessfully, but I liked trying to figure out how each of them worked). I used to have a bit of an obsessive desire to collect cameras and had over 20, and worked in the darkroom developing and printing my creations. I did some photojournalism and some small fashion projects for a while when I got out of school but I have realized recently I love taking pictures of other artists (who often times don’t like having their picture taken (which can be challenging at times)) but I find this totally relatable and understandable because really, we live in a world that has an obsessive desire to commodify how people look. When I take people’s artist portraits, I try to incorporate a visual representation of their music in it and use more surrealist approaches vs a hyperrealist/ironic approach I’ve seen in a lot of vice-esque photography. For many people, having their picture taking is not a fun experience, can even be traumatic and trigger dysphoria – yet having press photos depicting your face as an artist seems to be a necessity. I like to know how people feel comfortable showing themselves and how they see themselves – generally I’ll try to ask them to show me a photo that makes them feel good about themselves (sometimes it’s just a self-portrait they’ve taken on their phone, a photo their friend took, sometimes they don’t have one at all), listen to their music and marry them into a surrealist interpretation. Lots of times I’m not as successful as I’d like (I’m still learning) but this has been the main goal for me in my approach for taking photos and this process has given me a lot of joy more than anything, and it’s been a way to know my subjects more intimately. It’s not that unlike DJing to this end, taking distinct moments and framing them in a way that recontextualizes the subject matter.
Where do you source inspiration for all your art forms?
People are always a huge inspiration for me, the complexity and nuance of the human experience, human connection.
You can catch CCL playing at Wigflex City Festival on the 5th May – buy tickets here.