Meet Jayda G, the scientist-turned-underground DJ repping Canada around the world
'This was not the plan at all. I was supposed to be doing my post-doc now!'
It's not an easy time to release new music, but it just might be right for Jayda G.
The Canadian scientist-turned-underground DJ and producer is a rising global star — on the DJ circuit and club scene — and on July 3, Jayda G dropped a dance track with a serious summer-saving vibe. "Both of Us" revels in its nostalgia. Embedded in the song's DNA is the old-school warmth of funk, soul and disco, a radiant triumvirate that diffuses like a sunrise before and after the drop. Somewhere in the track is a light breath syncopating along in our ears, transporting us onto the dance floors of our favourite clubs, the sensation of moving your body with abandon, unafraid of touch. The accompanying music video depicts G in the neighbourhoods around her London, England, home, a young Black woman moving and dancing and living in a world in which her safety and liberty and autonomy are fully assured.
"Joy is very important, and that is a protest in itself, especially for Black people," Jayda G says.
"Both of Us" is one of two tracks off Jayda G's new EP, Both of Us/Are U Down, the followup to her 2019 debut, Significant Changes. When she wrote, recorded and produced the song with award-winning producer and songwriter Fred, they knew they had something special. But they didn't know what it would come to symbolize. The EP dropped approximately three months into the COVID-19 pandemic and six weeks into a global uprising against anti-Black violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
It's been a heady decade for G, who went from growing up in rural B.C. to university science student in Vancouver to professional DJ/producer, first in Berlin and now in London, playing celebrated sets around the world including Amsterdam, France, and South Korea. She might be the only underground house DJ/producer in the world with a masters specializing in Environmental Toxicology. She's definitely the only one to grow up in Grand Forks, a small town about five hours north of Vancouver.
Last year, Pitchfork praised G for creating "some of the most rapturous disco house to come out of the 'Canadian Riviera' scene" and "Both of Us" perfectly carries on that legacy. It's a piano-heavy dance track, the keys twinkling lightly over a subtle but substantial bass line, a steady beat under a frolic of notes. The relationship between the two dichotomies is evocative. It's a trust exercise at a summer camp; it's two hands finding each other in the dark; it's the necessary balance for an ecosystem to not just survive but thrive.
Jayda G is back in Grand Forks for the bulk of the summer, hunkering down pandemic-style in her parents' house, with a makeshift studio of her own design. Sitting on the deck of her childhood home, mountains in the distance, a forest of trees behind her, she spoke with CBC Music via video chat about science and music, releasing new tracks amidst the movement for Black Lives Matter, and how it's always a dance club in her heart and head.
Your EP has saved my summer. I thought I was just maybe too old for clubs now, but I didn't understand that I missed them and I guess it's always a club in my heart, you know?
Yes! I'm so happy. That means a lot. I constantly have a club in my heart, too, and in my head. I try to work out every couple days and you put your headphones on and you start doing whatever and it's like it's a club in my head. Or, when you're walking down the street and you're dancing in the street, that's what I live for. Well, what we are living for now because we can't be with people so I'm really happy to hear that, that's really awesome.
I watched the video and I was just like, "Oh my God this is pure joy." Were you involved with the art direction and concept?
Yeah, a bit. Me and my team — I tour a lot, I'm touring every weekend so you're trying to make a music video that's relatively easy to make but also allowed me to connect with my audience. A lot of those initial clips for the music video were done — I hired someone, Lou [Jasmine], who's the director, she would come with me to shows and film stuff and we always had the idea that we wanted to feel really nostalgic because that's the vibe of the song.
We had stuff around my neighbourhood where I live in London and then it kind of strangely all made sense once COVID hit [laughs]. Like, I couldn't have planned it better. So I had the initial idea of wanting to connect people, and me with the audience, and having that kind of old, VHS kind of feel to it. When I described it to her, she was like, "Yeah, I totally get it." Then I just let her go for it. I really trust her. She's an amazing director and we're really good friends. And we speak the same creative language, which is really helpful. [Laughs]
One of the things you just said, you can't control the context of when you release the song, you don't know that you're making this and it's going to coincide with a global pandemic. Usually, anyway. You also don't know that it's going to collide with this massive anti-racism movement and this second wave of Black Lives Matter. Having this video depict Black female joy felt really powerful as well.
Oh, that's awesome and yeah, that's exactly it. It all just really came together. It was confusing, too, with the Black Lives Matter movement: is this a time to be promoting an EP? And, you know, I was just really honest about it. Like, yes, it feels strange and I don't want to make it about myself but also joy is very important, and that is a protest in itself, especially for Black people.
Obviously in this pandemic, we're working a lot with our fear [laughs] and I think that's something I really do try and push myself. If it scares you, then you should definitely do it.- Jayda G
This is the song of my summer, so thank you. I've been thinking about your bio and how it talks about you growing up remotely and coming to Vancouver to study environmental toxicity and simultaneously discovering your love of DJing and how maybe it all ties together? Growing up in nature, quite isolated, observing your environment and being inside all of these different ecosystems. And that's what your tracks are! These little ecosystems. You understand the balance of how things feed each other in this really specific, observational way but also in this experiential way. And I think that really comes together musically.
Wow, that's a real compliment, thank you! [Laughs] I try. It's funny, music's always been such an important thing in my life. When I'm making tracks and stuff, there's certain feelings that I have felt, when I'm at the club or listening to music when I'm driving here [Grand Forks] — like that was a huge thing for me! I used to work for the CFIA [Canadian Food Inspection Agency], and I would do insect trapping all throughout this region and I would put on DJ mixes and be driving all throughout the Kootenays, and it was hugely formational for my musical tastes. But also experiencing certain emotional pinpoints that music can give you and that's always what I'm trying to aim for when I'm making my songs because then for me, that's actually meaningful and creating something for others to experience.
Was nature a comfort to you growing up? Did it seem special?
It just always was fascinating to me. And obviously this is literally where I grew up, like you're seeing my backyard, I was born and raised here. I would hike those mountains right there and just be able to be by myself as a kid in the woods, looking at things and digging for things and climbing things and having that freedom as a child that's just so rare now. My parents also, they're total back-to-the-land hippies. [Laughs] I remember when I was a kid, I found a snake that the cats had kind of gotten at, and it wasn't moving super well, and, like, let's try and save this snake! We put it in a little box and tried to keep it safe and everything, and then of course, I'm in elementary school, so I go to the library and find out what kind of snake it is and all this stuff. So, it was always an innate curiosity I had with nature. That's in all facets of my life really, so yeah, my environment really shaped me.
Curiosity makes great artists. It really increases the sort of risk-taking and the longevity of great artists and their vitality. You can kind of feel when people stop being curious.
Oh yeah. Or fearful as well. Obviously, especially in this pandemic, we're working a lot with our fear [laughs] and I think that's something I really do try and push myself. I kind of have this life mantra, if you will: if it scares you, then you should definitely do it. How else are you going to learn about yourself and grow as a person as you move through this life, right? And that's art. Art is about sharing your experiences and showing your observations and creating conversations with that and other experiences for other people. So how are you supposed to do that if you're not curious?
Talking about the freedom you had growing up, that's one of the words I wrote down while watching your music video but also watching your DJ set on YouTube. There's this palpable, joyful freedom in just how in it you are, it looks like freedom. So what does freedom mean to you in that way?
Freedom means being able to be in the moment and being able to really let go. They both kind of blend together. DJing is really letting go. For lack of better words, I go to a different place when I'm DJing because I feel like I am as honest as I am onstage as I am DJing in my bedroom. I actually picture that a lot, especially if I'm nervous or something. Like, I'm not here, I'm just at home in my little hovel or whatever. Trying to be grounded in that, that's freedom for me, when you're able to just truly be yourself and be able to express that. I think it translates because it makes me happy so then it gives room for everyone else in the audience to be the same. Because the thing about DJing, it's like, yeah, you're playing the music, but it's also creating an experience so that everyone is together in something. That's what music does, right? They're all experiencing the same thing at the same time on the same wavelength, whatever that is.
With your education and outside interests, you could easily pivot to something else if you wanted to at any point. Is there freedom in that, too?
Yeah, it's funny because I didn't plan to be a DJ/music producer, that was not the plan at all. I was supposed to be doing my post-doc by now. [Laughs] Music gives me a lot and so even throughout my studies, I was always obsessed with music, looking stuff up, listening to things. It would be happening even if I wasn't DJing. I'm just a well rounded person, I have a lot of interests and I have a lot of things that are important to me and I attribute that a lot to where I grew up, because when you grow up in the middle of nowhere in British Columbia — well, Grand Forks isn't nowhere but it's, like, 4,000 people, it's small — so you have to make your own fun. You have to make your own interests. And, I'm a millennial kid, so I remember when there was dial-up. You didn't have the internet to entertain you endlessly. I have hobbies, I had other interests, and now looking back on how I was raised and everything, it all kind of adds in to how I approach my work and how I am creative really.
If I do end up carving a place for myself within the mainstream Canadian dance scene, I will not say no to it!- Jayda G
Let's talk about the Polaris Prize acknowledging electronic and dance music. Kaytranada won previously and he's on the short list again this year, and Junia-T is on the short list. Tell me a little bit about your relationship to other artists in Canada who might be peers of yours.
Well a lot of my peers — this is underground electronic music, so it's not on the radar in the big, national scheme of things. Like in Vancouver when I moved there, I was super getting really deep into the history and what's happening within electronic music and house music specifically. When I moved to Vancouver, I was really fortunate enough to find like-minded people. There's a crew called Mood Hut in Vancouver and they used to throw parties and stuff. That was my first time I kind of met a group of people who had the same musical interests as me. Growing up here [Grand Forks], electronic music is not a thing here. It's as niche as being into, like, hardcore heavy metal or something. It's not the norm.
There was another DJ, she goes by LNS, and she was quite formative in my beginning DJ experience, because we were both learning at the same time. So we would work together a lot, or we would just DJ together a lot and kind of cheer each other on and, you know, encourage each other to keep going even though you're making mistakes. To have that community, to help each other in that way, I feel really fortunate. Being in Vancouver, that's a very different music scene than being in Toronto where that is the Canadian music scene. But I always looked up to people like Kaytranada; I was like, "This is dope!" This is the kind of stuff I want to be part of or do. And A-Track and things like that, like electronic and EDM and things like that, all of that was the little bit of influence, Canadian-wise, that I had at that time.
Do you see a space for yourself in mainstream Canadian music as it stands right now? Or do you want that?
Oh, that's a good question. If I do end up carving a place for myself within the mainstream Canadian dance scene, I will not say no to it! [Laughs] I don't know anyone like me here in Canada. I would love to know like, maybe — I kind of live under a rock when it comes to knowing other people within the scene, I just keep to myself a lot, but I don't really see a lot of myself out there in general. So if that is my role within the Canadian music scene, so be it. But I think it's more important for me to stay the course that I always have of just trying to be true to myself so that can allow others to do the same.