Jayda G Interview: Get into the groove

Jayda G spoke with John Thorp about the simple beauty of sharing music, her studies in environmental toxicology and the importance of having a good time behind the decks.

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 8th Nov 2017.
Originally published: 2nd Nov 2017

Image: Jayda G (Credit: Rafe Scobey-Thai)

Oscillating gently back and forth between her native Canada and Berlin, juggling an unusual dual path as both an environmental toxicologist and an increasingly acclaimed DJ and producer, Jayda G has steadily developed a reputation as one of the most vital figures to frequent an increasingly, thankfully diversifying circuit of clubs and festivals. 

A chance encounter with the cultish Norwegian DJ Fett Burger lead to G’s much-loved Vancouver shindig Freakout Cult expanding into a label, and a home for the pair’s offbeat, hugely satisfying club collaborations, as well as her own solo productions. This hot streak began with the addictive ‘NYC Party Track’ in 2015, through to her own, hugely impressive and personal Jaydaisms release, the success of which was quickly matched by the Sixth Spirit Of The Bay EP on 1080P. 

Since then, Jayda G continues to roll out diverse mixes that span the past few decades of house, disco and soul, building an increasingly huge fan base, alongside perfecting her own, distinct and deep club material.

In conversation with John Thorp ahead of her upcoming appearance at The Warehouse Project for Feel My Bicep and Huma in Liverpool, G touches on her no-nonsense but relentlessly upbeat approach, her soulful taste, the possibility of hanging out with killer whales, and of course, her utterly amazing hair. Humourless heads, turn back now!

Your label, Freakout Cult, began back in Canada, and now resides with you in Berlin. Is it easier to be ‘a freak’ here, or back home in British Columbia?

It’s a different vibe entirely. In Vancouver, our shows, and a lot of the underground in general, were just something different and vibier than the mainstream clubs, and that EDM vibe. More authentic, right? Also, in Canada, the bars close really early, similar to the UK and Scotland.

So to do an underground party there, at that time, was really novel. And people were really fucking stoked for it, and they let loose! Because people wanna party, after, like, 2AM. It’s just getting going! So, here in Berlin, really partying is just part of the culture. So it’s just a different culture altogether.

Have you found those parties and record stores in Berlin that suit your generally more soulful taste? Or do you still feel something of a disconnect with the scene?

I’d say, with the smaller parties, I feel a better connection now in Berlin. When people want to go to smaller shows in Berlin, they know what to expect. But sometimes, at a random show in Germany, where I’m not well known, there’s a bit of a disconnect.

In Berlin, they pertain to that kind of rhythm where the swing has been taken out of it, you know? They’re used to that, so when they get those kind of syncopated rhythms, or disco and swing stuff with a vibe and a groove to it, they’re into it, they just… don’t really know what to do.

You’re someone who demonstrates the lost art of of having a good time while you’re behind the decks. You dance, you sing… 

Oh, I sing a lot. I laugh at myself singing. It’s like when you’re in the car!

When I think of the scene you came from, and the artists you’re associated with, I think of a comparatively gentle positivity. Was that the nature of Vancouver, or in response to anything, such as the aforementioned EDM scene?

A little bit of both, I’d say. I think, at least when I started hanging out more, I really had to search for the underground. I moved there and had to actively look for it. So not only was it hard to find, but it was so word of mouth. Some of the underground shows, if you were lucky, would be posted on Facebook a few days before. So it was all hearsay. And there was a slight pretentious vibe at the beginning.

I find this a lot with the underground. There can kind of be this elitism that comes with it. And I’m so not like that. And I couldn’t be like that, even if I tried, because I’m such an open person. And with Freakout Cult, I really wanted it to be for everyone, and a place where people could be themselves. That’s what it’s all about in the end. House music was founded on being able to be liberated and be yourself in the scene. And I think that’s something I really believe in.

Are there any eras of dance music you find yourself regularly revisiting, or parties you wish you’d been around to go to?

Oh, just the usual. I would have loved to have gone to the Paradise Garage.

Right, but as DJ Harvey tends to stress, “the good times are always now.”

Absolutely, and you know, there are always ups and downs, that’s just the nature of the job. I really feel like, now, that’s being translated, for me at least. People have come up to me and said, “You do make me feel like I can be myself.” And that’s the biggest compliment I could ever receive.

What is it about, but to inspire people to be their true selves? To make them feel like they don’t have to put that mask on to be whatever they think people want them to be. That’s the message in the end, to be your authentic, true self, in a place that will be well received.

You seem like someone who is quite comfortably yourself. Even your first record was self-released, which implies a level of creative control, when you could have shopped it around all the established house music labels.

Honestly, I did not shop it around, first off. I have never shopped my shit around. I find it so strange. I’m just not that kind of person who’s like, “Here’s my stuff, I hope you like it!” I mean, either you’re gonna like it or not. If you do, great, but if not, that’s cool too. I really have to credit DJ Fett Burger for that approach. We ran the Freakout Cult label together, and he really pushed me. He helped me along, taught me a lot about Ableton and production.

That seems like the most significant creative relationship you’ve had?

For sure. It was a back-and-forth, there was lots of friendly banter and we really worked well together, both creatively and business wise. It’s an easy, seamless thing. He taught me a lot, and at that point, I had a lot of nearly-finished songs, and he gave me the confidence to put it out and just fucking go for it, you know? 

I suppose you eventually reach a point where you have to just do things.

Oh my gosh, I mean, how many people I know who have been producing for fucking ever, and are just too scared, really, to put it out into the world. In the end, not everybody is going to like your stuff. How could they? And yeah, if you get criticised for it, that’s going to happen, but if you’re doing it for yourself, what’s the worst that could happen?

It’s nice to know that Berlin can bring together a Canadian and a Norwegian in such creative harmony. The internet is obviously a great tool for collaboration, but it’s not a partnership that would have happened if you’d both stayed in your home towns.

I met him through my friend PLO Man, and had no idea who he was. I assumed he was a DJ, and when I asked his DJ name, he told me it was DJ Fett Burger and I said, “Are you fucking kidding me? That’s the stupidest DJ name I’ve ever heard!” It was maybe an embarrassing situation, for everyone except for me. But it was very authentic, and we still work very well together, so I definitely have to give him kudos for that.

Your DJ sets are full of ‘gems’, if you will; older music, recontextualised, alongside modern productions. What drives you in that sense?

Oh, I’ve been like this since I was a child. I’ve always looked for music. My dad used to sit in our living room and make mixtapes for these big family journeys we would do, literally roadtrips across Canada over a week. And this was the early-nineties, so we didn’t have a CD player in the car. But he would take songs from his collection and make tonnes of mixtapes. And we’d have one of those old, zippable cassette cases.

And from that, I was making my own mixtapes when I was ten years old. I’d go through his collections, and develop my own taste. So it was a genuine love for looking. It turns me on, you know? When I find a good track, it’s very apparent when I’m happy about it. I’ll have my headphones on at a listening station, and I get really giddy about it. 

I’ve had some bad trips to clubs that have honestly been saved by virtue of hearing one or two good tracks I didn’t know before.

Yes, because it makes you feel. And that’s what I’m searching for.

Wow, I think we just definitively nailed what this is all about! It’s been great meeting you. 

For real though, we need to discuss your return to Manchester. Previously, you’ve played for Banana Hill?

Yes, which was a great party. Chris from Banana Hill has been to my other shows in Manchester. I always turn up an hour before, to get a sense of who’s playing, and his set was awesome. Then I played two hours, with an hour left, and the vibe was great, so I said, “Why don’t we go back-to-back?” And he was such a great DJ! But I am pumped for Warehouse Project, especially to be on a bill with Kenny (Moodymann) and Carl Craig.

You have something of a split career, both as a DJ and producer, and your initial profession and pursuit, as an environmental toxicologist. Where do your priorities lie? With the future of music… Or the future of the environment? No pressure.

Oh, the future of the environment, always! To me, that’s number one. Without the environment, we’re fucked. But honestly, this whole DJing thing, sincerely took me by surprise. I was well on the way to doing my masters, then my PHD, becoming a professor, getting in publications. When I was initially moving to Berlin, I applied for my PHD. I have these moments, where I think, “Oh yeah, that life…”

Still, environmental toxicology is not a bad thing to fall back on?

No, it’s really not, and I’m still working on my masters. My thesis is written and I’m just editing it. I’m doing a risk assessment of various different chemicals and their health effects on killer whales. So, that’s for the heads! 

Have you worked with killer whales?

I’ve seen killer whales in the past, but anyone who’s taken the ferry in Vancouver has seen killer whales. But no, that’s for the coveted, super senior scientists, and there’s only, like, five of them. You don’t get to see the whales until you’re forty years deep into the whale biology world, and then you get to hang out with them. It’s really intense, actually. Living on a boat for two months is too much. I lived on a boat for a week on a field research trip, and that was intense, too. 

This is definitely one of the more fascinating and unexpected ‘alternative lives’ of any DJ I’ve interviewed.

Oh yeah, I mean, I have a background in working for the Canadian government, I’ve worked with all sorts of animals, insects, lizards... My adrenaline junkie shit is working with animals that could kill you. 

Maybe that’s why you’re so relatively casual about this whole ‘DJing’ thing, if you’ve gotten used to winding up dangerous lizards for years?

It’s kind of true, though. I used to work with rattlesnakes and shit. My sister couldn’t believe it, or imagine anything worse, but it was really cool. That actually inspired the cover for my record on 1080P.

You are also the only DJ I’ve ever spoken to who has previously been interviewed by Vogue, exclusively on the subject of their hair. I interviewed Paul Kalkbrenner recently, and this didn’t come up.

Oh, this is actually a really interesting thing, because I got a lot of shit for doing that. Because the heads do not like that! Which also made me kind of happy. But, I have to say, for real now. I am a black woman. And if you know anything about black women, hair is a fucking big thing. That was not for those heads, it was for my women of colour who are my fans. If you need to know what a big deal this is, just go home and watch Chris Rock’s ‘Good Hair’.

Yeah, I’ve seen it. It’s great, and I had no grasp of what a huge industry it was beforehand.

It’s huge, it’s a whole culture, especially in black America. Solange’s ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’; that’s my fucking anthem. Because every black girl has been in that situation, when some motherfucker just comes up and touches your hair, and you’re like, “What the fuck are you doing? I’m not an animal in a petting zoo!”

This hair does not come easily. There’s a whole regime that comes with this, and you don’t choose to go through this. You’re born with it, and you learn about it as you go through life. So that’s what that was for. Because I am about my hair. It’s something a lot of black women will talk about it. The journey from being a child to a woman, and eventually learning to love your hair. Not processing it, not straightening it… It’s a real self-love journey as well. It’s a huge thing, I think, at least from my perspective. 

Also, it’s Vogue! you don’t get a chance to appear in there every week.

My family were so fucking stoked! It was something I could talk about with them. That article came out, and then a week later, I had got so much flack for it, and I did the Dekmantel Boiler Room. And I was like, “Fuck you guys! You wanna see hair? Here’s the fucking hair!” It’s this big, beautiful, crazy monster of a thing. So yeah… put that in there! (Laughs.) 

Find Huma presents Jayda G in Liverpool tickets