Photo: Silvia Lopes
Jayda G Is The Environmental Scientist & House Music DJ/Producer The Planet Needs Right Now
Berlin-based, Canada-born Jayda G does it all (typically with an ear-to-ear grin), and the world is starting to notice. While she was researching environmental toxicology (specifically on killer whales) for her Master's Degree, Jayda started to take her record collection and love of funky beats to the next level by learning how to spin vinyl and DJ.
Within the last few years, she not only completed her thesis, but she participated in a major 2017 Boiler Room x Dekmantel (the annual "electronic mecca" fest in Amsterdam) set and toured the world playing more international fests. Now, in 2019, she's continuing to bring her infectious energy and groovy jams around the world with more shows and mixes, including for Mixmag and BBC Radio 1.
An ambitious, dream-chasing individual, Jayda released her debut studio album, Significant Changes, this past March on London's Ninja Tune. With the upbeat-yet-real album and in her recently launched JMG science talks, she melds her two loves in a very powerful way, bringing environmental activism onto the dance floor.
Before you catch Jayda at Secret Project fest in Los Angeles this weekend (she's playing at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday), read on to dive deep into her album, her biggest hopes for the environment, her record collection and more.
Where in the world are you right now?
I'm in New York. I just landed last night. I have a show here on Friday and I also have a record store little party for my album on Thursday as well, so that will be nice.
I have not tapped into New York's nightlife scene too much but it always seems like there's a lot of fun little pockets in there.
Yeah. I feel when it comes to the real golden nuggets of nightlife, it's always about who you know, who can show you around and be like, "This is the spot." I like playing in New York. There's a lot of really nice venues here.
And then you'll be playing at Secret Project next weekend over here in L.A., which is really exciting.
Yes, I play New York on Friday, Chicago on Sunday, and then I'll be in L.A. all week next week and playing at Secret Project. I'm really pumped for it. It's such a dope lineup, it'll be fun for me as well.
I've got to imagine that getting booked to play a festival that you want to hang out at after must be an added bonus.
It is. A lot of times it's not, so when you actually are like, "Oh, yay. I have friends on the lineup and then we can hang and chill," it definitely adds to the whole experience. And then it's more memorable for you as a DJ as well.
Is there someone at Secret Project you're most excited to have a fan girl moment with?
Oh, that's funny. That's a good one. Well, it's funny because I wouldn't say fan girl moment necessarily, but my friend Daniel Avery, I've known him for a bit but I've never seen him play. So it's more just things like that where you're just kind of like, "Oh, I actually get to check out my friends."
That's really nice and then Ben [UFO]'s going to be there, so that's always fun. I'm not a huge fan of techno, but he makes me love techno. It's always really nice to see him.
That's exciting! You released your debut album, Significant Changes, earlier this year. How did that moment feel for you?
Oh, gosh. It was a bit surreal, because as an artist you spend so much time making the album and for me, this is my debut album, so I have no prior experiences in terms of releasing something like this body of work. I've done EPs and stuff, but it's a bit of a different thing.
You spend so much time making the album and making as close to your vision as possible, and that's the work. And then you're like, "Okay, it's done. Great." And you just move on, but then there's all this aftermath that I didn't really expect, that was really positive, obviously. It was overwhelming in a good way. I didn't expect people to respond so positively.
You just really never know because it's something that, for me anyways, the album was just a personal body of work that I wanted to put out and hopefully it would reach a few people. Yeah, it was really quite a real good moment in that sense and looking back, I'm really hyped about it. I was like, "Yeah, I did that and it worked out. Awesome."
I would love to hear a little bit more about your specific vision for this album. I'm especially curious about the intersection of environmentalism and dance music because that's just so cool.
While I was making this album, I was also writing my thesis in environmental toxicology at the same time. When you're an artist, you pull from your experiences and that's kind of what I was pulling from. It was a compilation of my thesis and being a touring DJ and relating to the experiences I was having at that time.
Half of the album is about what I'm seeing on the dancefloor, like "Move To The Front," where you end up with a whole group of men at the front and women at the back. And me being like, "Wait, no. Come closer. I want to dance with you while I'm DJing." That kind of messaging that would happen in my head. I wanted to portray that in a song. Or the whole thing of seeing people on their phones all the time and not really engaging with the music. For me, usually you go to the club for two reasons, to meet people or to dance. And not to see either of those things happening, you really question it. That's "Stanley's Get Down."
And then the other thing, obviously, was my scientific background. It was just "can I use this whole life experience that I'm having?" because it's a lot to write a thesis. It's very personal. It really pushes you in terms of your abilities. It's really intense. Those are those more melancholy tunes that I wrote were relating to that specifically. "Orca's Reprise" because my thesis is on killer whales, on Orcas and it's very depressing work. A lot of scientific work is very depressing. It's a real thing where you're learning really negative things that are happening to these animals based on our own activities.
Same with "Missy Knows What's Up." The vocal clips that I sampled, from Misty McDuffee, and she is an advocate for the killer whales and what's happening to them. There was this court case in Canada, around 2010, where a group of environmental groups sued the Canadian government for not upholding their end of the Species at Risk Act. It's a federal act that holds the government accountable for helping endangered species and publicly acknowledging that they're endangered and showing how they're going to help them. And with the killer whales, they were not doing that, so these environmental groups sued the government and won.
The thesis I was working on, which was looking at the negative chemical effects on killer whales, really was a direct link. It was the direct outcome of that court case. I was having to write a whole chapter about this court case and so that song is related to that because Misty McDuffee was a big voice for the case. It was things like that, that were quite poignant in my work that bled into the album, and it's become this really nice link between my two worlds, which was the ultimate goal for me. It's like, how can I bring my two loves together in one?
Sorry, I could go on and on.
"As an artist who has a platform, it's your responsibility to speak about things that are important to you and be responsible. I'm trying in my own way."
No, it's really cool. I think music has the power to start important conversations.
Exactly. And also, in an artistic form, you know what I mean? I think that was the part that I just wanted as well. I wanted it to be something that was equally as much for me as for other people. People who know and people who are interested, they're going to look it up, they're going to tell other people and there's other forms that I'm trying to work with.
As an artist who has a platform, it's your responsibility to speak about things that are important to you and be responsible. I'm trying in my own way.
I love that. That's another thing that I wanted to hear a little bit more about, the JMG Talks you did this year.
It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time. Again, as an academic, how many times have I talked to so many fellow students and friends who are working on a master's or PhD and it can be quite an isolating experience. You don't get to talk about your work a lot to people who aren't nerdy scientists.
I know so many people who are doing such interesting, cool work that I feel like people should know about. There's a really big gap between what's happening in the academic world and what the public knows. Academia is such a dinosaur of a system that someone could be working on something for five years and no one knows about it for another five years. It takes such a long time for things to come into the public knowledge, and a lot of scientific research is also not easily accessible to the greater public.
So it's something that I really wanted to shift. And also just have young people talk about their scientific work. That's, I think, something that is not only just important for young people, but it's relatable. It's really the bridging of that gap between the scientific world and the rest of the world. That's what the talks are about, to talk about these new projects that young people are doing, giving them a platform, but also helping the audience build empathy to the natural world. The more that you know about the natural world, the more that you'll actually care about it. That's the real issue when it comes to the climate crisis, that we're all disconnected to what's happening to our environment. So if we are able to build some kind of connection, it'll help us make better decisions along the way.
For example, we did a talk in May, on wetlands, so swamps, bogs, and using wetlands as a treatment system for polluted water. You pump polluted water through a manmade wetland and it actually cleans the water to be reusable water, essentially. It was so interesting talking to everyone who came because they're like, "Wow. When I walk to work, there is a swamp near my house and now I know what it does. It's actually this amazing filtration system that Mother Nature created." It's been really, really cool to do the talks and see people come and engage and listen. It's been something that I wanted to do and I just did it. We'll see how it continues.
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The second instalment of JMG Talks will be held in London on February 19th. I’ll be hosting Dr. Lindsay Veazey, an oceanographic modeler whose work increases our understanding of how coastal development may impact marine life in Hawaii. Illustration by @laura_breiling. All proceeds will be donated to @free2bekids - a volunteer led charity that uses outdoor experiences to help disadvantaged children in London. Doors open at 6:30pm Ticket link in bio
What do you think has been your biggest takeaway from hosting the talks so far?
Gosh, so many takeaways. That science is really accessible. Everyone can understand it and all you have to do is have an open mind and an open heart. And that it's been a real gratifying thing for the scientists as well who are speaking. When you're an academic, like I said earlier, the only time you really get to speak about your project publicly is to other scientists, usually conferences, where you're really being challenged. When you're up there talking about your project to the scientific community, they're grilling you usually. So to give that safe space for scientists to talk about their work in a real chill way allows them to learn about their project in a different light. It gives them so much.
Creating that kind of openness in an environment like that, it's super important when you're learning. It's bridging the gap. It's learning in an open and safe environment and also giving a platform to people who wouldn't necessarily have this kind of audience to reach to.
Okay, this one's kind of hard, but I'm sure you have some good thoughts on it because you're actively thinking about it and talking about it. What do you think is the biggest societal change that needs to happen right now to get things moving in a better direction?
I could go on and on and on. I think it's a combination of things. On one hand, it's our own habits and our own things that we do day to day, like choosing not to use plastic bags or recycling or choosing to walk to work, all the little things that we've been told for years. But I think the biggest thing is it's really about what is offered to us as consumers. I did an interview with this woman, Severn Suzuki, she's a big environmental activist.
I'm a huge fan. But she put it really quite eloquently. She's a mother and here she is with her first kid and she's just like, "I'm trying to use the reusable diapers and not be super wasteful with my first child, but at the same time why is all that work put on me as the mother? It should also be that there should be products that are offered to me that make it easier for me to be an environmentally conscious mother." And that's really the biggest thing, is that there should be options for us to be able to live our comfortable lifestyle in a sustainable way. And the only way to do that is by holding our governments accountable to be giving us those options in terms of using renewable energies. These technologies are already out there, but they should be there for the greater public to use and choose.
It's a combination holding our governments accountable and voting in the people we want to see making change, as well as changing our own personal habits. It's a big social responsibility that everyone has. It's about asking and demanding for more, really.
I also wanted to talk about your DJing. I was watching some of your sets on YouTube; the Dekmantel one, which was really cool that you were there.
Yeah, the Boiler Room one.
Yeah, so cool! Was it fun? It seemed like it.
Was it fun? [Laughs.] I've never been so terrified. The two most terrifying moments in my life was doing that Dekmantel Boiler Room set and doing my thesis defense. I was super nervous. It's like going into the gladiators. You're really in this 360 degree situation where you're completely surrounded by people.
To be fair, the [Boiler Room] crowd is really great. They're really hyped. They're going to respond and engage with you. I was really lucky in that sense, but it's really nerve-wracking because you're on camera and it's live and then it's up on the internet forever. I was really, really nervous. I think if you watch the first 30 seconds, you see me walking on and doing a big breath. Even though it looks like I'm having the best time, I was really terrified.
I can only imagine. But it sounds great and, like you said, it looked like you were having fun.
Exactly. In the moment I was able to eventually let go and be there with everyone, so I feel very lucky that the audience definitely helped me to do that. It was pretty intense, but I feel very lucky for it because it registered with people. It really helped me to where I am in the end.
I noticed in that set and a few others I watched, is that you usually spin vinyl, correct?
It depends on the gig. When you're playing the big festivals, it's hard to play vinyl, from a technical standpoint. Feedback is a huge issue when you're spinning vinyl, so if the turntables aren't set up in a certain way, it can be quite difficult to play vinyl to a really big crowd where there's five, six, seven thousand people. But I do collect vinyl. I started DJing with vinyl. That was how I learned.
I still collect vinyl. I will definitely be going to go record digging tomorrow because that's the main thing I do when I'm in New York and in the States in general. So for the Boiler Room, yes, I played vinyl for that and it's a thing. I'm into it. It makes me really, really happy.
Does it feel different for you when you play a vinyl set versus using a USB?
Yes, it definitely does. The fun thing about having that physical item, it's like when you were a kid and you had CDs, to have an item that exudes this energy of music, it's special, and you look at the music differently too. It's a very different thing to pick tracks flipping through your record bag versus going on a dial through your USB stick. It's almost like the tracks call to you differently. I don't really plan my DJ sets, so it's really that you're in the moment and it's what calls to you. Playing with turntables is very different, it's more like an instrument. There's a balance to it and I find it very fun. It's just a very fun way to express music, really.
When did you first learn to spin vinyl or to start picking up DJing?
I think I was late to the game. I started in 2012 or so. That's when I bought my first pair of decks, because I'm the scientist, and that was my big goal. Being an internationally touring DJ was never part of the plan. When I learned to DJ, it was really just for myself. I collected records and was like, "Oh, it would just be nice to learn how to DJ just so I can share this." It was very small, humbling beginnings. It was just me playing at a restaurant/bar situation and sharing music that way.
I remember there was this cute Asian-fusion restaurant in Vancouver that every so often they'd have a pair of decks that you could play while people were eating. When I was DJing, it would start slow and then by the end everyone wasn't eating, they were all dancing. It was something that happened very naturally where you start getting booked. I also would throw my own parties in Vancouver and so it just blossomed through that, which I think is pretty common for most DJs. You're just a big music nerd so you just end up wanting to put that forward to a greater audience versus just in your bedroom.
And obviously your musical vibe is pretty funk. What are your top three or five disco/funk tracks?
I'll pick two because those are just the ones I've been playing. Every summer, I find there's a handful of tracks that I just end up playing for most of my sets because A, they're what I like at that time and B, there's something that resonates during the summer.
One that I've been playing out a lot, it's a classic, is Loleatta Holloway's "Love Sensation." I love playing a combination of the well-known ones with the not-so-well-known ones, because ending with something like Loleatta Holloway's track, that's something that everyone can together on. I love those moments when everyone is singing along and they're with you. That's when I think magic really happens and it becomes something more than just a DJ set. Another one is Bonnie Oliver's "Come Inside My Love." It just has this amazing disco/funk beat that is very deep and satisfying and I love it. You guys will probably hear it at Secret Project.
Do you remember the first CD and or the first vinyl you ever bought?
My dad was a big vinyl collector. He loved collecting music, so I kind of inherited his vinyl collection. I remember one of my first favorites from going through his collection was an old Aretha Franklin album and that's probably one of my favorite albums of hers because it also has my dad's handwriting on it from when he bought it.
I love those little moments, same with when you're digging, when you see someone else's hand notes on the record. The album is called Hey Now Hey, it came out in 1973.
What about when you were a kid, were you into CDs?
Oh my gosh, yes. Well, I grew up in a really small town of 4,000 people and the closest music store was a two and a half hour drive away. So it was a big thing. There was obviously the added moment of you as a kid saving up your pennies to buy a CD, but it was also waiting to when your parents would go to the next town. We would go every maybe four months or so and that was my big moment where I buy all the music that I wanted. I have these memories of sitting with my dad and going through these mail-order catalogs for music and my dad making notes and ordering them.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
I have so many. Musically, I really do look up to a lot of the old-school DJs who were really big in the '90s, like the Masters At Work guys or Larry Heard, people who were really big in specific scenes. Larry Heard for Chicago and Masters At Work for New York, those are really specific sounds that I draw from for my own personal music tastes as a DJ and as a music producer.
I'm trying to think of people I look up to in terms of on the environmental side. I don't have anyone really specific other than my scientific community of friends that I've made over the 10 years in academia that are really out there doing good work. Those are the people I really look up to as well. I'm really blessed with a wonderful community of people who care. They care about the world, they care about people. And same with my family, it's something that is very important in my family, to give back somehow. Kind of a big catchall kind of answer but yeah, my community and family and Masters At Work. [Laughs.]
I love it. I think it is really cool when your biggest inspirations are the people around you. That's next level.
I think that's really, really something important, as a person living this thing called life that's so strange and weird and amazing, that you surround yourself with people who you believe in and who inspire you, that lift you up in different ways and shapes and forms in the many facets of your life. So I think it's really important to build a community of those kind of people because it's going to carry you through life.