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Jayda G: Breaking through, to a disco beat

DJing around the world, working on your debut album for Ninja Tune, and completing a Masters degree would be hard work for most people — but Jayda G is not most people. We talk to the breakthrough Canadian house and disco star about nature, uniting the dancefloor, and transcending cultural boundaries

A defining moment for Jayda G came in 2017, with her Boiler Room set during Amsterdam’s Dekmantel Festival. She gave a sweaty, euphoric performance that perfectly captured the charisma of the ascending Canadian DJ, producer, and eco-activist. Huddled with the crowd in the shade of an overhead stage, as the August sun beat down outside, from start to finish she was all smiles, dancing with her audience. 

However, it’s the boldness of her DJ selections that shine above all else. Jayda has a knack for the different flavors of funk and soul, disco and house, and how to fuse them all together. It’s this exact versatility that she’s showcased on her debut album, ‘Significant Changes’, which arrived on Ninja Tune to critical acclaim earlier this year. 

In that Boiler Room set, she was DJing at one of Europe’s most cutting-edge house and techno festivals, yet kicked off her set with the slow, soulful tempo of The Staple Singers’ 1975 classic ‘Let’s Do it Again’. She stepped it up, into disco and funk, with Debra Laws’ 1981 single ‘On My Own’, and led into a slew of classics like ‘Inner City Blues’ and ‘Ain’t Nothin’ But A Party’. Eventually, she pivoted into some turn of the milennium tribal house, with the Sao Benitez rework of Little Louie Vega’s ‘Congo’, before shifting into some deeper four-four selections. This included her own smash record from last year, ‘Diva Bitch’, the kind of sound that Jayda G is best known for. 

“The thing about creativity is that you have to do it for yourself, and for me, I’m a lot of different genres,” Jayda tells DJ Mag. “House and disco of course influence me, but also R&B, rock & roll, hip-hop. So many genres make up who I am. I don’t think we sit in these boxes, so I personally don’t think very deeply on these things. Whatever I feel like creating and want to put out, hopefully, it resonates with people.” 

RESONATING 

If the reaction from the music press at large to her debut album ‘Significant Changes’ is anything to go by, her approach has indeed resonated. In our review, DJ Mag described the album as a “another landmark in her skyrocketing career.” Meanwhile, Pitchfork offered a rapturous nod of approval: “The Canadian DJ, producer, and environmental toxicologist bridges worlds on her debut album, weaving orcas’ songs and conservationist messages into deep-diving tracks aimed at inclusive dancefloors.” And on it goes. 

“It’s been a lot [to take in],” she says, “but it’s been so gratifying to have people really love the album and follow me. It’s just been super positive, I would have never imagined it to be like this.”

“The album is a combination of many songs coming together,” Jayda continues. “I really did want it to have a dancefloor vibe, but... I didn’t want all the songs to be dance songs, you know? I also wanted the album to flow as you listen to it, like a story or essay if you will. It’s kind of... my [musical] thesis in lots of ways, as you have your abstract and then your introduction, your methodology and then ending with a conclusion. That’s sort of the form I took with the album, starting slow and crescendoing into a dance album. I guess I was writing the album alongside my actual Masters thesis, so I was influenced by that to some degree.” 

Considering it often takes producers years to develop and channel their sound into an artist album, she’s enjoyed a steady momentum towards the spotlight. After a few early collabs with Norway’s DJ Fett Burger, her debut EP ‘Jaydaisms’ arrived in 2016. This also marked the moment when her professional partnership with the enigmatic Fett Burger strengthened, released on the newly minted Freakout Cult imprint that she ran alongside him for the next few years. 

“I think the biggest thing was that he really believed in me,” Jayda says, “and gave me a platform, and taught me a lot in terms of how to approach music in a lot of ways and run a label, so I attribute that process to him. We ran it for a lot of years and had 10 releases, and at that point, we felt it was a good time to wrap up.” 

FIRSTS 

Winding things down with Freakout Cult coincided with things seriously taking off for Jayda. 2018 was unquestionably her breakthrough year, filled with wall-to-wall gigs and a definite momentum behind her. Touring wise, it’s been more of the same this year (aka extremely busy), though what’s changed is the level of attention she’s now drawing from outside the confines of club culture. 

“Releasing an album was my biggest ‘first’ of this year,” she says. “No one really talks to you about what’s going to happen. The type of press that comes has been really interesting, and the attention you get, no one really explains that! I also recently played in China and Japan for the first time, and that was amazing. I always presume that no one outside the EU and Canada knows my music, so when you go to these places and the people are so into it, this is really gratifying. Transcending cultural boundaries, bringing people together... it’s heartwarming, and reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing.” 

Looking at her summer tour schedule, it’s an impressive collection of shows that reflects her innate desire to keep things eclectic. Alongside broad-appeal festival favorites such as the UK’s Glastonbury and Lovebox, she’s booked for a slew of straight-up house and techno affairs across Europe, like Dimensions in Croatia. Wherever the party is, though, what’s consistent is her aforementioned energy behind the decks. If Jayda G is DJing, she is having fun, and wants to make sure that everybody else is too. 

There’s a lot more crowd interaction than you might get from your typical heads-down DJ set, and she has oft remarked that it’s the people in the crowd really going for it, and busting out the moves, who she is playing for. In fact, these sentiments are referenced not once but twice on her album, less than subtly on lead single ‘Move To The Front’, as well as on ‘Stanley’s Get Down (No Parking On The DF)’. Getting the chin-strokers to loosen up a little is her MO.  

“DJing to me is about trying to get a whole room of people on the same wavelength,” she elaborates. “You’re sort of the conductor, and if you can actively achieve this and reach this point, then it’s the most spectacular thing. It’s what every DJ is chasing, and what the people are there for. Because I’m eclectic, I can pick and choose and work with the crowd a little more. It’s about listening and watching, observing the crowd, feeling the energy and responding, making yourself and the crowd happy.” 

NATURAL HIGH 

Beyond extolling the virtues of funk, soul, and R&B to the straight-up house heads, Jayda has another striking achievement on her resume. It’s unrelated to music, yet nonetheless intertwined with it. A seasoned environmental activist, she has a decade-long history in biology. Back home in Canada, she completed her Masters in Environmental Toxicology, which is the study of pollution’s impact on the environment. Her pursuits are undoubtedly linked to her early years in the small town of Grand Forks, British Columbia, where she grew up in the fine company of mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes. 

“I always loved nature,” Jayda says, “and throughout my high school years, environmental consultancy was what I was going to do. DJing was always a hobby that became a bigger thing, and I really do believe that when opportunities come, you should not take them lightly, and that’s sort of what happened to me. I completed my Masters last year while DJing internationally and writing the album. It was a very busy time and it was a struggle in many ways to maintain a sense of self, to stay grounded and to not get stressed out. It can be difficult, but I’m really proud of myself that I accomplished these things, having completed my thesis and handing my finished album into Ninja Tune in the same year.” 

She remains active amid her musical ventures, hosting a series of JMG Talks that she describes as, “a platform for scientists to come and talk about their work and bridge that gap between the public and the academic world.” Additionally, although she’s now based in Berlin, she points to her Canadian roots as still super important, as well as somewhat responsible for keeping her grounded in the world of nature.

“I’m still very connected musically and it’s a big part of my identity,” she says. “I miss Canada a lot, as I was born there and its nature inspires me. I try to go back as much as my schedule allows me. We used to throw these parties in Vancouver, and at the end of the festival, people would be aware that we should leave the place as we found it, and everyone helped clean up so there was no trash after the party, and everyone was really into that. I think people can be pretty accommodating.” Amen to that. 

Pics: FARAH NOSH

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Angus Paterson is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter here