Cynthia Valenti Interview

cynthiaPortland based DJ and producer, Cynthia Valenti aka The Perfect Cyn has been holding it down as a house, techno and electro DJ for over a decade. Well known all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond for her sleek style behind the decks, she’s been building a collection of loyal dancefloor junkies who appreciate her breadth of musical knowledge. She tells us how it all began with Ham radios, Front 242 and punk rock among other things…

Femmecult: When did you start DJing and how did your fascination with it begin?

Cynthia Valenti: During college and in the years right after I threw punk shows in basements and took still photography of bands, and went to tons of shows and raves in the midwest US. These were the closest ways I knew how to be a part of the music. Around ’98/’99 I started listening to more electronic artists, and when I moved to Austin in 2000 I really got curious about how DJs put songs together. When I moved to Portland a year later, I met tons of people that were either huge electronic music fans, or aspiring DJs. I already had the itch so when I found myself between jobs in 2001, I started collecting gear. Over that year I taught myself to DJ and learned with friends.

Femmecult: Tell us about the evolution of your musical taste. Has your taste in other genres influenced your taste of dance music?

Cynthia Valenti: My parents liked music but they weren’t the music freak I am. I remember the first stuff I bought was pop, Michael Jackson Thriller, Huey Lews & The News Sports, Prince Purple Rain, Van Halen 1984. I was just listening to mainstream radio then, what my Mom had on. Later I started becoming interested in electronics, probably watching my Dad play on his CB & Ham radio equipment. My parents gave me a portable cassette player and I would just record the radio and listen to it again later. One of the tapes had JJ Fad Supersonic on it, and another had Beastie Boys. I remember loving the beat behind those and playing them over and over. Later when I started high school, my friends were skaters and who were listening to stuff like the Misfits, Naked Raygun, Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion. Soon after I found about The Cure, The Smiths, Joy Division, and New Order. My tastes continued to get less mainstream and more based in electronic production… I became increasingly interested in the Industrial music Chicago was cultivating, and some of my first club experiences were seeing bands like Ministry, Meat Beat Manifesto, Consolidated, and Front 242. I was always going back and forth between electronic and punk later in high school and during college. I had a long phase with Hardcore/StraightXEdge culture and music, and eventually I really got into post-hardcore/indie and riot grrl bands from the Pacific Northwest after college, like Bikini Kill and Built to Spill. I think I got a lot of the usual angsty youth stuff out through my ebbs and flows in musical tastes. And so when I started DJing, a lot of my previous taste came up in my selections. I took to original electro and Electroclash early on in DJing, which I directly attribute to those early days recording the radio, and the expression and energy from punk, skater and most forms of alternative music.

Femmecult: As you’ve been DJing for nearly a decade, how do you organize your library of music efficiently, keeping track of thousands of songs?

Cynthia Valenti: From 2001 to about 2007 I primarily DJed on vinyl. Having been an avid music collector already, organizing physical copies of music, complete with artwork, was something I was already accustomed to doing. Music that I collected soley for DJing was usually organized by genre, and then by label. When I started DJing again in 2009 after a brief hiatus, I found that I couldn’t afford the price of vinyl anymore. I still wanted to play, so I borrowed a Serato system from a friend and began collecting MP3s. Later when I knew I would continue DJing, I switched to Traktor and I’ve been DJing on WAVs using control vinyl ever since. I play this way so I can still have the same tactile feeling by using vinyl. But I find it really hard to organize music this way, actually. So I organize by the month I purchase, and make an playlist with every gig in mind, but many times this means the same track is copied multiple times all over my laptop.. and my hard drive space is shrinking by the second! I know lots of DJs save crates by genre but I haven’t ever done it that way. So short answer, I miss playing on real vinyl but I can still DJ because the cost of WAVs is infinitely more affordable… even if it is a pain in the butt to organize.

Femmecult: What do you look for in a track? What is it that makes you decide to add it to your collection?

Cynthia Valenti: I love surprises in music. Surprises in vocals, in the rhythms, in the dynamics of production. I love a killer hook, usually it’s in the beat pattern and how it compliments or interplays with the melody. I am a sucker for quality in production. A really raw production thrown into the mix for good measure is usually a good idea too.

Femmecult: Tell us about your experience making the transition from DJing to producing.

Cynthia Valenti: I have little experience with analog equipment, so I always felt like I would learn better on music production software. But every time I would get a copy of Reason or Ableton I would open it up and it just overwhelmed me. This kept happening for years until 2012 when a few more things clicked with I would watch friends use Ableton live. Then in 2013 I took 2 Ableton classes finally. I wish I had done this years ago because now that I have even a small understanding of this program I’ve been able to start some decent songs. I even played one out last year and I should have one coming out on a label based in Madrid in 2014. I can hardly believe it after Djing for so long without any productions under my belt! Super happy about it!

Femmecult: How have you been able to use your years of experience behind the decks to inform your songwriting? Is it intuitive or are you dissecting the parts of a song little by little to create what is in your head?

Cynthia Valenti: I definitely feel that experience as a DJ has made songwriting come easily – the hard part was understanding the software. The construction of a typical song comes very naturally. As far as the approach from there – I’m developing these tendencies as we speak. The first couple tracks I worked on I wanted to build out from the groove of the track. Now I’m finding myself making the groove but then switching to arrangement mode and writing from beginning to end.

Femmecult: How would you describe your mixing style, and how to you keep the energy of your mixes going in the direction you want them to go?

Cynthia Valenti: I like long, blended mixes, so I tend to lean that way when I play. Although some styles sound better with faster mixing and I can hang with that too. When I’m in a phase of playing pretty bass forward stuff I build the energy by pulling the bass out in unexpected spots and dropping it back in – it really pumps up the energy!

Femmecult: What are some little known facts about being a successful DJ that can overlooked by the inexperienced?

Cynthia Valenti: You have to just do your own thing. I think too many people jump on genre bandwagons, and especially in Portland where it’s pretty small, by the time everyone is playing that same genre, it’s over in the rest of the world. Successful DJs collect a lot of different genres of music and understand how to put it all together in their own way, and how to read a room and play what the room is begging for. Also no matter what delivery system you’re using, successful DJs will look at the audience and interact and play off their energy. There’s nothing more boring than looking at the face of a DJ whose face is buried in a laptop!

Femmecult: What are some challenges you’ve faced in making your way in the world of electronic music?

Cynthia Valenti: Early I felt I had to bring the artists I liked to Portland because nobody else was. It was hard work and expensive, and usually difficult to pull off a good set of my own with my focus spread over so many aspects of throwing events. So it was a challenge locally to both hear the music I wanted to hear, and play at the same time. I didn’t really ever aspire to be a world known DJ or producer because I have also always held down full time work in Advertising. But the longer you stick around in the dance music industry, the more people you get to know and everyone eventually keeps getting better exposure. So in the past couple of years I’ve been fortunate enough to have been asked to play in a lot of other cities and travel with friends to festivals and have some terrific access that I’ve never had before. Sharing my production work privately has helped me understand I really do want to contribute to the electronic music landscape at large. It was hard work getting here though.

Femmecult: Knowing your tracks inside and out is a big key to success. How do you prepare for recorded DJ mixes versus live performances? Has it changed over the years, in terms of using vinyl or a digital apparatus?

Cynthia Valenti: Does providing recordings from events I’ve played count?? Haha, no seriously, lately I’ve been lucky enough to get some of the sets i’ve played out recorded. These have been my latest podcasts, thankfully. I prepare for other recorded DJ mixes my having a look at a few sets tracks that have worked well together at recent gigs, and connecting them in new ways so the recording is unique to any gig I’ve played. I’m super excited for you to hear how the Femmecult recording came out!

Femmecult: What’s on the horizon for your musical career?

Cynthia Valenti:I’d love to get an original track out and have my peers like it enough to play it out. And down the road I would like to write a liveset and perform it some day. But most of all I want to keep it fun and keep meeting more incredibly talented people all over the world that share in the obsession of dance music!


Cynthia also did this month’s podcast for Femmecult. Check it out here and don’t forget to subscribe to us on Mixcloud so you never miss a podcast!


Femmecult-003-Cynthia_Valenti_Toast-Gazebo by Femmecult on Mixcloud


Check out Cynthia online: