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From leftfield house to the GRAMMYs: Jayda G is taking her sound to another level

Jayda G's 'Both Of Us' was a crossover hit and marks an evolution in her musical trajectory to more accessible sounds - while still keeping her infectious personality at the fore. Ralph Moore talks to the Canadian artist about how the pandemic has "boosted her creative flow" and more

  • Words: Ralph Moore | Photography: Felix Gaertner | Art Direction: Vassilis Skandalis | Styling: Doug Broad | Make-up: Adam De Cruz | Hair: Louis Souvestre | Production: Charlie Clark-Perry | Consultant: Charlie Clark-Perry
  • 4 May 2021

Jayda G’s laughter is infectious. She’s even all smiles first thing on a Monday when we Zoom from my home to hers, the daily grind currently reduced to a mid-morning amble as we discuss her imminent ‘DJ-Kicks’ instalment, what her grandmother makes of DJ culture and what she would do if clubs were truly to close for good. She’s extremely good company for the next 40 minutes too, weaving anecdotes about her family and her Master’s degree into a musical story that’s already starting to feel like a disco fairytale. And we’re not even in New York. Or Vancouver, for that matter.

Read this next: Living in the moment: Jayda G dances to her own tune

This isn’t her first rodeo with Mixmag. As we can see from the framed (dare we say, iconic?) magazine edition on the studio wall behind her, the British Columbia-born DJ/producer Jayda Guy graced the cover of the magazine back in March 2019, and in time-honoured fashion, the three years since her ‘Significant Changes’ LP on Ninja Tune have flown like the proverbial wind. Since that last feature, she’s become a GRAMMY-nominated artist with one of the biggest dance music anthems of lockdown: the monstrous piano house heater ‘Both Of Us’. Given how big it blew up, we can only imagine how hard David Morales would have hammered it in his vest on Las Salinas in a world without a pandemic. She also remixed Dua Lipa's ‘Cool’ for the popstar’s remix album ‘Club Future Nostalgia’.

Jayda’s also now a firm part of the BBC Radio 1 family thanks to her residency there, and she’s found allies left, right and everywhere in between since she moved to London. The new compilation is all about memories and friendships, with key conspirators like HAAi, DJ Boring and Oz-based bud Jennifer Loveless all bubbling in the mix. Even better, her current single ‘All I Need’ immediately sounds like an ode to ‘90s house and garage heroes The Basement Boys. Indeed, the track forms a key component in the mix: it’s a gateway to the second half of the soundtrack, while the first is a nod to ‘80s soul inspirations like Light Of The World. And if you listen to the Cover Mix playlist she’s delivered, it’s also a tribute to those same electronic soul artists. "I find when I’m digging for records, and specifically disco, that I always end up buying tracks made between the late ‘70s to early mid ‘80s!” she says. “I guess my taste just tends towards that sound.”

Read this next: The Cover Mix: Jayda G

All the tracks in her 'DJ-Kicks' instalment carry personal meaning: each selection, she says, is attached to a memory, whether starting her career in Vancouver’s club scene, her time in Berlin or reconnecting with friends far away from her new home in East London. “I wanted to involve friends who I've shared experiences with. The people included are people I've shared trips with, had late night DJ sessions with or made music with. They’ve been really formative in my artistry."

The compilation is a fantastic statement of where Guy is at now. Jayda’s a big fan of the DJ-Kicks series, which this year celebrates 25 years in business. To these attuned ears, the series was the place I first discovered Kruder & Dorfmeister’s legendary trip hop compilation, which was almost an artist album, and that artistic sensibility has since crept into compilations from fabric to Global Underground: mixes which blur the lines between a straight DJ mix and a more intriguing album statement. Jayda’s been a fan of the series for “decades”, particularly drawn to an instalment from compatriot Chromeo, and the release of ‘All I Need’, her exclusive track contribution to the mix, is accompanied by a video interspersed with classic Canadian rave footage.

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“You’re very lucky with rave footage in the UK,” she smiles. “Canada doesn't have that, so the only reference point I had was this one TV show on a Canadian music channel called Electric Circus. Dance music wasn't a part of the mainstream at all. My friend David found this amazing footage from 1994. And the coolest part is that it's very close to where I grew up! It's in Squamish and that’s so Canadian, so watching this footage, I was like, that's the festival in the mountains in Canada! Everything's dry and dusty! There's a river and dogs and it’s so random and awesome! Then we went to where that old footage was taken. We drove up to that spot and filmed me and my best friend in all these spots and juxtaposed it with all footage.”

Jayda’s a well of positivity today, so we decide to switch the subject up a level. Let’s talk about The GRAMMYs… in terms of things that can happen in three years, that's definitely one of the big ones. “Big time!” What was your reaction when you heard the news? Did you drop your coffee? Did you scream? “Yeah! At first I didn't believe it. I thought, well, I don't really pay attention to Award Shows in general. I was here, in my studio, just making songs. And my manager, who never really calls me after 6:PM, called around 7/7:30:PM. I was like, ‘Oh, that's strange - something must be wrong!’ But when I answered, he said, ‘Hey, do you want some good news?’ And I was like, ‘obviously, who doesn't want good news?' He said: ‘You've been nominated for a GRAMMY! I kept saying, ‘No, you're lying to me’ and I fully didn't understand what was going on. I was so shocked at the whole situation. And then proceeded to scream for about two hours straight. It definitely was a goal of mine, but I thought it would happen in 10 to 15 years time.”

Discussions turn to her family. A GRAMMY nomination is a career milestone recognisable to most, but what have they made of her path leading up to now — do they think that you lead a normal life, and are they proud of you? Do they understand house? “It's funny, my grandmother definitely doesn't know what house music is. My Dad was a social worker, my Mom was an English teacher, but my siblings all work in entertainment and they are older than me so I feel like they kind of paved the way. My brother also worked in music and hip hop, especially in the ‘90s and into the early 2000s, and then my sister works in TV as a producer. So both of them have had a very different type of lifestyle. When I was touring a lot I would meet up with my siblings in the most random places, because they just happened to be there as well, which has been really cool. My grandma is 94 and was 88 or 89 when I got an agent, and when I told her, she's like, ‘What percentage is he getting?’. She was totally savvy, which I thought was really funny. But she's still my grandma, I had to explain to her what the GRAMMYs were!” In the end, Jayda and her family had a Virtual GRAMMY Experience. “I was able to do it in my hometown because I was in Canada at the time: my Mom was there, my best friend was there, and my godparents were there. Being able to have the people who are closest to me be part of that experience made the whole experience quite special.”

Read this next: It gives me the feels: Jayda G deals in good vibes and joyous jams

And now Jayda is on the cover of Mixmag for the second time. “Again, it's just been such a surprise. It's such a huge honour,” she says. It’s at this precise point when we notice the previous cover framed behind Jayda’s head in her home studio, and discussion turns to the newest shoot. “I’m just really lucky. I've been able to have a really nice community here in the UK with people who I work with creatively. The hairdresser is someone who I've been working with for almost every single shoot I’ve done, it was all the same people almost from Alaska. Louis did my hair, Adam who did my make-up, and then we had a stylist who was fantastic. He really pulled it out and the photographer Felix, we got along really well again: it's really important for me to be able to be myself. We were laughing the whole time and that just makes for the most wholesome experience.”

A collaborator who’s newer to Jayda’s circle is Fred again.., who she collaborated with on the ‘Both Of Us / Are U Down’ EP. The record marked the first time Jayda used her own vocals in her music, and she credits Fred for helping encourage her out of her comfort zone. "I had been toying with the idea of singing on my tracks [before ‘Both Of Us’], but I didn't. At that point, I really didn't know how to do that. No one had heard me sing, except for myself and maybe like, my Mom when I was like six years old. I kind of mentioned this to Fred and he really gently guided me through it and was really was great to work, so non-judgmental. He definitely made me feel comfortable in that new situation, and was able to push me out of my comfort zone.” And since then, Jayda has been taking regular vocal lessons. “Throughout this whole pandemic.” She’s preparing to take her music to another level. “‘Both Of Us’ was kind of a breakout moment out of more leftfield house [for my music], and it's been proven to be maybe a bit more, what's the word… accessible. I’m trying to bring my fans along in this musical trajectory that is a bit more accessible, but still very much me. I’ve got some fun stuff cooking up.”

Read this next: Get to know Fred Again, the sample-heavy producer turning nights out into songs

Talking of cooking, we have to ask what you’ve been doing during lockdown as a creative. Have you ever resorted to baking sourdough or banana bread? “You know, I grew up in a really small town. It was a population of about 4,000 people out in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. With this pandemic, I've been really good at occupying myself and being alone with my thoughts. I've always been the kind of person to say: let's try this out and not being afraid to be with myself if that makes sense. So in a lot of ways, I know I'm so, so fortunate in that this pandemic has actually been a well-needed break for me. In 2019, I played over 100 shows, which, for me is a lot. I know some DJs play a lot more than that but I'm the kind of person that definitely needs a balance of touring life and home life. Being able to take a break and be home, because I hadn't even really gotten to know my neighbourhood, has been great. I had moved here in August of 2019; I didn't even really know where I live, because I was just touring!”

Read this next: The year of no gigs

So lockdown life meant several things for Jayda G. One was sleep, another was getting to know her new neighbours and what is where in Hackney. And reading, and learning. Learning to live and learning what life’s like without the endless weekend cycle of touring. “I'm just doing a lot of things that I've always loved to do, but being able to have the time to do it, which has been really great,” she nods. Learning the names of the people who live around you? “Yeah, exactly. Not just like, ‘oh, it's that guy again?’.” It’s also helped her to feel more creative. “I'm definitely a person who needs to slow down and be with my own thoughts. And also have time to listen to a lot of different things that always sparks different ideas in my head. When you're touring a lot, you're just not able to give all those things the same type of type of attention. You know what I mean? So I feel like my creative flow has been boosted during this pandemic.” I personally look at it like this: in terms of global heat, the temperature has been turned down a touch. “Yes. You just realize how overstimulated your life was pre-pandemic, at least for me anyways, and exactly like you say, the dial has been turned down a bit and you're allowed to have room in your brain for your own thoughts. It’s a blessing in disguise.”

I just have one final question for Jayda before we zoom off to the rest of our respective days. What would she do if the whole music world went completely under? “My Plan B was to go back to my degree - 100%! I definitely had that moment during the pandemic: am I gonna go back to work because I do have my Master’s in natural resource and environmental management, specialising in environmental toxicology." It must be a relief in these times to have a fallback, but judging by Jayda G’s current trajectory, we’ve no doubt she’ll keep on mastering Plan A for a long while yet.

Jayda G's 'DJ-Kicks' is out via !K7 Records on May 21, pre-order it here

Ralph Moore is Mixmag's Music Director, follow him on Twitter

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