Jayda G Bridges the Art/Science Gap on 'Significant Changes'
The Vancouver DJ and Ninja Tune signee's new album turns environmental messages into dance floor anthems
Published Mar 13, 2019Jayda G might be speaking from London, England for our interview about her new album Significant Changes, but the Vancouver DJ's heart still beats for home.
"Dude, I'm from BC," she tells Exclaim! over the phone. "Of course I miss home — it's the most beautiful place on earth."
After growing up in the mountain town of Grand Forks, British Columbia and cutting her teeth DJing in Vancouver's prospering electronic scene, the producer, DJ, and label founder born Jayda Guy left the area in 2016 to tour Europe fulltime out of Berlin. Yet, home has continued to inform her world since the day she left. Guy completed a master's degree in Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, rattling off chapters of her thesis between tour dates, as she generated a comprehensive risk assessment on the effects various chemicals have on the health of the endangered orcas local to the region's Salish Sea.
She tries to arrange trips home at least twice a year, but when she returned to the city for a Freakout Cult showcase with her label partner DJ Fett Burger in August, it was her first hometown gig in two years. The scene she describes at Cambie Street's Beaumont sounds like a homecoming blowout.
"It was constant," Guy exclaims. "The place was packed from beginning to end, and so many people who used to come to my shows back when I was throwing my own parties came just to support and chat and be like, 'We're so happy for you!'"
After producing her first release through the Australian label Butter Sessions in 2015, she started throwing parties under the Freakout Cult moniker with Fett Burger and developed the brand into a label, casually accumulating a catalogue of singles and remixes before issuing her first solo EP, Jaydaisms, in 2016.
When we speak at the end of February, Guy is settled out in London, where she's just spent a four-week Fridays residency pumping her signature mix of euphoric house, soul, funk, and disco through the Funktion-One soundsystem at Brixton's Phonox nightclub. Guests Natasha Diggs, Kwasiba Savage and Fett Burger joined her for the first three, but she went solo all night for the finale.
Guy defended her thesis last June, and though her debut LP Significant Changes isn't out until March 22 (via Ninja Tune), when the residency ended, she says people were already singing along to the single, "Leave Room 2 Breathe," a groovy retro get-down with soulful vocals from lifelong friend and frequent collaborator Alexa Dash. Ahead of the album, the track was released as a 12-inch white label. The vinyl's already sold out online.
For Guy, the warm reception is especially promising, as she's trying to use her platform to bring awareness to issues she says are underrepresented in the scene.
Named for the most used phrase in her thesis, Significant Changes is full of references to her academic undertaking. The album opens and closes with an abstract ("Unifying the Center (Abstract)") and a "Conclusion," while "Orca's Reprise" sets a field recording of orca calls to a fragile arrangement of gently plucked strings and sombre bowed instruments.
"Missy Knows What's Up" samples the voice of Raincoast Conservation Foundation biologist Misty MacDuffee speaking about a landmark Canadian court case for the protection of the whales, in which conservation groups represented by Ecojustice successfully sued Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans for failing to protect the critical habitats of orcas in northern and southern BC waters — a case that ultimately led to the funding of Guy's own research and degree.
"In my thesis I had to write a whole chapter about that court case to just explain the social significance of this project," she explains.
By setting these reality checks to something danceable, Guy brilliantly induces listeners to tune in and get down. She speaks from experience when she concedes the heavy implications of the scientific community's findings can be a barrier to public understanding of important environmental issues.
"It's difficult being in that world and learning constantly about things that are going wrong," she admits. "That was a huge reason why I would go out, personally. I love to dance. Dancing is a huge way for me to really feel grounded and re-energized and centred."
Accordingly, Significant Changes frames and reframes that more explicit environmental conversation within the socio-spatial vocabulary of dance floor politics; the tracklisting frequently reads like a set of instructions for the dance floor, but Guy's offering a broader critique of ecological consciousness throughout. Alongside "Leave Room 2 Breathe," "Move to the Front (Disco Mix)" and "Stanley's Get Down (No Parking on the DF)" sermonize on living in the moment and being mindful of your surroundings, with Guy flexing some selector authority and calling out the idle feet in the crowd: "Hey you, I see you on your phone, lookin' at Instagram. This is the dance floor, baby. This is where you're supposed to get down."
For Guy, this all coincides with a larger project to bridge an "information gap" between the general public and the scientific community.
In the same time Guy was in London for her Phonox residency, she also inaugurated a new discussion series called JMG Talks. The latest facet of a personal brand Guy's been building through her new imprint JMG Recordings and her monthly NTS Radio show JMG Sessions, the talks position Guy opposite young scientists in discussions about their fields and the lives that led them there. The first two events featured Lily Zeng, a PhD candidate at Yale studying biodiversity conservation in southwestern China forests traditionally protected by local indigenous groups, and Dr. Lindsay Veazey, an oceanographic modeller who studies economic development's effects on marine life in Hawaii.
Leveraging the clout she's accumulated in the music world, Guy says she hopes the series helps facilitate cross-pollination and conversation between the two worlds and make the sciences more accessible.
The club scene, meanwhile, is starting conversations of its own.
Partway through her Phonox residency, together with the German NGO Friends of the Earth Germany and the association clubliebe e.V., the Berlin Club Commission announced a new project financed by the Berlin Senate that would send experts to clubs to advise them how to switch to green energy, installing LED lights instead of regular ones, reducing water consumption and managing trash.
Acknowledging similar efforts within the community to reduce carbon footprints and make festivals more sustainable, Guy says it's a promising moment for a scene responsible for as much energy consumption as the dance music world (according to a report from DW, a single club typically "uses as much electricity over the course of a single weekend as one household uses over an entire year").
"In the dance music scene, there's definitely inklings of a trend towards being a bit more environmentally conscious, but we definitely need to see more of that," Guy says. "I would love to see more of that, personally."
Significant Changes is out March 22 via Ninja Tune.