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Stepping Into The Light: CC:DISCO! on First Light Vol II, finding the love of music and being ready for the next challenge

19 May 2021 | 5:07 pm | Emma Jones

CC:DISCO! is one of the country’s most beloved party starters. We chat taking chances, ones to watch, and all about her release.

It's no cliche to say CC:DISCO! is one of the country’s most beloved party starters. Real name Courtney Clarke has become one of our most prominent selectors, and has gone from strength to strength over her incredible career which saw her start off at her local radio station in regional Victoria. She's since played some of the world's biggest stages, festivals all over the globe, sold out shows, a renowned residency at PBS radio and now a much-loved RINSE FM show. She remains one of the best to do it both on the decks and behind the scenes, with her finger on the pulse not only to unearth some of the best gems to whip dancefloors and streams into frenzies, but also to showcase the next crop of artists she reckons we need to hear — and it's exactly this that tastemaker label Soothsayer have tapped her to do.

Debuting on the label back in 2018 with her first compilation, aptly named First LightCC:DISCO! recruited a stellar cast of up-and-comers from Australia and New Zealand to be included in an expertly curated VA. Now, she's joined forces with the label once again for round two, and this time has cast the net even further to include some international talent as well.

A fierce advocate for less chin stroking and more dancing, as well as for shining a light on those who have caught her attention, CC:DISCO!'s ethos is one of exploring the genuine joy music can bring. She loves nothing more than having her "moments," from that particular song at that particular moment, or looking out and connecting with a punter having the time of their life while she mixes in anything from the most niche of underground dance to iconic 80s anthems. She continues to explore sounds bravely, unafraid of the "rules" or what you should do, and is instead driven by a mission of just wanting to have a good time with good people. This can be seen in everything she does, from the sheer joy you can hear in her voice as she takes you through her RINSE FM show and her new discoveries, through to the once again excellent curation of her new release, to her one-of-a-kind sets and more.

I was lucky enough to chat to Clarke upon the release of her debut compilation back in 2018, and it was a joy to chat with her again for round two. Here, we chat the world as it is now for live music in the wake of COVID-19, taking chances, who her next picks are for ones to watch, and all about her second release.

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It's so nice to chat with you. The compilation is coming out, it’s very exciting! How are you feeling?

It’s really exciting and awesome. It was made two years ago now, so it’s nice to see the project coming to life after the shitstorm that was 2020. 

It's kind of like an interesting snapshot into the evolved future of dance music. Is that how it feels to you as well?

I definitely this one has evolved a little bit more. There’s some different styles on there. It definitely feels like it’s gone to a little bit of a different direction from the first one.

You've opened it up to include not only just homegrown artists, but artists from all over the world this time as well. Was that intentional from the start, or was it a matter of you just stumbling across artists that you couldn't resist including this time around? 

I did the Australian one and I think it was great and it was super easy to do because Australia just has so much great stuff. But I think because I do talk to a lot of artists who are from Australia, for me it was an easy progression to go outside of Australia and look to places like China and Russia and different sort of places like that.

There’s music on this compilation from a lot of places on this record that aren't your immediate go-to places when you think about burgeoning dance scenes. Did that play any part in where you were looking for music to include? Did you set out to look at places that weren't London or New York or places like that? 

Definitely. I think it comes from touring. I've played in Russia and Asia, and I think Asia for me, there is just so much talent in Asia. Every time I go there, I discover something new or a new DJ and I'm just always blown away. So I think having the touring experience and just meeting people on the road and stuff like that. Manami, I met at like 9 am at Glastonbury. Little things like that. You don't come across artists unless you meet them or you're deep digging every day Soundcloud so yeah, it's just kind of been a natural progression of people I've met on the road basically. 

In terms of the actual process of curating this time around, I know that you're someone who is always collecting records along the way. Was it a similar process in that regard of just finding things that you really loved or was it more keeping an eye on artists that you definitely wanted involved this time?

There’s a bit of both. I had a list, I always have a list of my ultimate people that I want on there first and I always go to them. But even when I'd finished this one, there were a couple of tracks from newer artists who I've been playing a bit and I just reached out like, “Hey, do you have any tracks?” And a couple of were really last minute additions to the end [result]. You just don't know what's out there and what could come when you're given a timeline. I was stressed at one point that I didn't have enough tracks and then of course I ended up with too many. 

That's the beauty of having the individual tracklist as well for the digital release and the vinyl release. Why was that so important to include this time around for the second time? 

Basically when it comes to vinyl, if we did four vinyl releases, it would just be so expensive so we've kept it down to two just because the price point is such a big thing. Having only two records and then having a full digital release to go with it works a lot better. Even sometimes when you’re curating the vinyl, not all tracks can fit on there genre wise so in the digital you can explore a few more harder options in that kind of thing. 

It is such a beautifully curated piece of body of work. It is like a set of your own which has always been the main priority with these releases. It's hard to pick just one favourite from this record, but I think if I had to go with one it would be Steady Weather's Burning So Hot with Allysha Joy. Can you tell me a bit about this one? 

That was a late addition actually! This was one of the last ones picked. A friend of mine, Tamil Rogeon — I remember sitting on my balcony in Lisbon at the start of lockdown and he sent me this track. He's like, “I've just started making some dance music, do you wanna hear it?” I remember just being like, “What the fuck is this mate?!” I just got those chills like you know, the hairs on my arm were standing up. I was just like, “What the hell?! This is your first dance song you've made?!” He was like, “Yeah!” so I was like, “This is crazy!”

And having Allysha on there as well. I’ve heard Allysha do neo soul and modern soul, all those sort of acts that she's in and solo stuff. But, to hear her do soulful house, I was like, “Who is this sassy girl now?!”

Those chills are something that are so important to still get. You’ve got so many years in the biz, to be able to still get chills and have music hit you in that way I think is so important to maintain. It's really important to still be listening to music that gives you that impact, would you agree? 

I remember getting the feeling yesterday! I was practicing DJing on this new equipment that’s just come out and I was just kept playing this one song over and over. It's the best feeling ever. I’m so happy that I still get that.

It would be so sad if you were to lose it! You've been in music for so many years, it would be easy to kind of forget that good feeling but it's amazing that you still get it. 

I think lockdown last year when I was on my own, I had CDJs with me so I just DJ’d to myself the whole year basically. I realised with music, I do it for myself and I do it for the feeling that I get when I listen to music. It's a very different feeling for me when I'm playing something to myself and just the chills I get [compared to] when I'm in a crowd. I'm always worried about this or that or this person's looking at me like they’re bored. Last year really cemented that feeling that you know, I just fucking love music.

I wanted to talk to you about last year because we all went into that pandemic at the same time but you were by yourself for a really long time! That would have been a period of almost forced reflection. So that's clearly something that you learned in that time?

I landed the day in Paris locked down, it locked down around me. Then I got out of Paris and got to Lisbon, and then the next day it locked down around me. I just decided, “Well I'm in it now!” I really love Lisbon as well but it was pretty intense. I think it was like 80 days or something I did on my own. And no one was breaking the rules there either. You'd message a couple of friends and be like, “So are you really bored?” And everyone was like, “No! No one's meeting yet!” So I didn’t break the rules. It was intense, and it was more intense not knowing the future. You thought you're gonna be going back to work that summer, but you know fast forward a year later and I just tried to go and play in Perth the other day and it was cancelled when I arrived. It's really kind of a big struggle to know that your whole industry is literally like hanging by a string at this point. It's definitely nice to have a purpose again because even with the gigs now, I just don't know if something's happening until the day or until I'm actually playing as I saw in Perth.

Three years ago, we chatted about the first volume which was very interesting. I loved rereading that chat between the two of us!

I remember the couch I was sitting on when we did that interview!

I remember where I was too actually! You spoke to me then about your belief that sometimes you think that maybe selectors underestimate audiences and stick to within one sound when in reality, none of us really only listen to one genre. It's interesting because since then, I think the diversification of sounds has really exploded even more. You hear it in the club or at parties, on compilations. Do you think that in your own experience that has started to take off more?

Definitely! I think in the DJ world as well, you should never think that you're gonna be playing one thing as well. I think you're always gonna grow, and your taste will always change. I keep going back to things like Italo house. I'll shelve it for a year and then I'll be like, “Oh my god, I love this stuff!” Even some other stuff I’ve been really getting into like DJ Plead. I was practicing yesterday and I decided to go on this percussive, tribal tip for ages. That music is so beautiful. I definitely think it's involved so much. I think the younger kids are actually doing it a lot more because they've kind of been told that that's thing to do, but it's also something you build up over time as well — to really learn your sound and learn that you can take bits and pieces from so many different genres. I'll play tribal to boogie to Italo house to R&B, and there’s still a common link between it all. I think it's just cheesy uplifting music [laughs], I think that's the common link. But yeah, everyone's got their own path they can choose from when they're going down the different genre path. 

Your ethos of less chin stroking more dancing is something I always come back to. It's a good way to live. I feel like I'm seeing that from artists all over the world with some really big sets through to local DJs. Why has that been so important for you to maintain over the years, and do you think that it's become more important now? 

I think so. I remember back in the day, I'd be kind of teased if I played a pop tune or something so that's where that whole chin stroking thing came from. I have a real thing that a tune’s a tune. It doesn't matter if it was a big hit or something like that. I bloody love Jennifer Paige’s ‘Crush’. I played that at Glastonbury. It's definitely important for me to not to get too serious. It's a party. People do get kind of caught up in this “I've got to play stuff that no one knows” and that's all well and good, but I remember seeing Wax’o Paradiso the other day and I fucking just lost my shit because I knew all these songs. I was like, “This is the best!” It was just so nice to watch them and know a few tunes -not know all of them obviously- but just get around stuff you know and be uplifted by stuff, and not get too serious or bogged down in the new trends or not having to play stuff that you know no one knows. It's always gonna be a part of my thing. Don't get me wrong, I’m still trying to bring in a lot of tunes that maybe people don't know, but I like to have a really good mix of that.

Last time we spoke, I asked you for some artists coming up at the time that you're particularly excited about and looking back now it's quite funny because unsurprisingly, you nailed it. You picked Silentjay, Jace XL and Roza Terenzi. So I wanted to put it to you again, are there any artists that you're particularly excited about at the moment? 

Budino! Budino is originally from Italy and she lives in Berlin now. She's only like maybe 28 or 26 or something, so she's young but her knowledge and her sound — I just love it. I know that on the sly, she's making tunes and I feel like they're gonna be absolutely incredible so she's one to watch out for. I just think her DJing is just fucking great.

A second one would be J. Caesar. He lives in London and I heard one of his songs on Skylab in Melbourne. I just meant looking through his Spotify and I was like, “What the hell! This guy!” I don't even think he's signed and I've just been sending his stuff to anyone and everyone. I'm like, “Sign him!” It’s so well produced, so well written and he's a singer as well and it's just, these songs they're just ready to be big pop anthems. They’re kinda like an RnB/pop vibe.

You're back finally playing a few shows after what has been a really intense few months. You're someone that's always shared in the joy of moments that you have when you're playing to crowds. I remember you talking about Meredith and all those really big moments back then. Can you talk to me about the feelings that you have been having now you’re finally able to play again?

The first show that I played was Sun Cycle in Melbourne at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl and that was just like, just getting back here and being able to play that show was such a struggle. It took me five months to get back and I almost had to cancel it so many times because I just couldn't get back to my own country. The anxiety of it all was just like next level, and even that week when I got out of that quarantine business — that wasn't very fun either but at least I had Sun Cycle to think about. just kept thinking it's gonna be cancelled, which can happen and that's the thing. But as soon as that day rolled around, I was so nervous and just I couldn't even eat or anything. 

I remember it was like, as soon as I got there, that nervous energy was back and it was the biggest stage you could play on in Melbourne and it's the most iconic one as well. So just getting back there, it was really nice to see everyone working as a team again. My job’s just playing bloody music, but if you look around, there’s the photographers, there’s security staff, there's the catering, there's all the promoters, and of course all the art centre workers as well. There was just such a huge team of people [and I think] that you forget that those people got jobs. There was just this really beautiful feeling in the air that night. It just felt amazing and I just couldn't get the smile off my face. The first mix, I was just like shaking as I do all the time, and then I fuck it up as always do, and then I just was like, “Screw this!” and I just danced and played a much better set after that first mix. I just had the time of my life! And playing ‘No Promises’ by Icehouse at the end, and being in Australia playing that… I've played it in Europe before and people loved it, but it just doesn't resonate like it would in Australia. It was just so, so nice. It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my whole life.

You've got some overseas shows being booked as well, which is very exciting but I feel like it would be really nerve-wracking as well! You went to Perth and it was canceled the day of or something like that last weekend, right? 

This is it. I think at this stage of my life, I do love a challenge. This is the thing, you don't know what's gonna happen so everyone's gonna be living in a bit of a state of anxiety for a while but I just decided to give it a crack. I worked so hard to get over to Europe and just don't want to lose that. Having these opportunities given to me, I don't want to let people down and I want to play them.

'First Light Volume II' by CC:DISCO! is out now via Soothsayer.

Interview by Emma Jones

Image by NashDoesWork