Andrew Ryce catches up with Vancouver's foremost disco head in her new home of Berlin.
WeTransfer supports Breaking Through. Download an exclusive Jayda G track bundle that includes "Cascabel," released on 1080p, and "Acid Sunrise," which is unreleased.
I became a fan of Jayda Guy, AKA Jayda G, late into a party at a tiny afterhours venue called Index in Vancouver. It was the launch of her Freakout Cult label, and she was playing with DJ Fett Burger all night. Fett Burger would play techno and house, then Guy would switch gears to disco. Guy isn't your regular disco DJ. She's not afraid to play the big tunes, and she doesn't value obscure or cult records over well-known ones. When she played "Spring Affair," a Donna Summer album cut that I've never heard anyone play out before, I ran to the front to check I'd correctly identified it. Guy sang along and danced enthusiastically behind the decks, as she does during all her performances.
Though Guy was an acquaintance and a friendly face at parties around Vancouver, we first talked properly after she'd just moved to Berlin, where she now makes a living from music while she finishes her master's degree. We met at a cafe in Kreuzberg on a blisteringly summer's day. She seemed in disbelief at the idea she was living in Berlin.
"I guess you never know what life is going to throw at you," she said with a laugh. "I was like, 'I'm going to get my master's, I want to work as an environmental consultant, or as a researcher. Maybe work for the government, or do my PhD postdoc. Maybe become a professor.' And DJing was just my hobby, because I don't know if you've ever hung out with scientists and biologists, but they're very particular people."
Opening up immediately, Guy was as interested in me as I was in her. You can feel this sense of connection when she DJs. She's the kind of selector whose sets feel more like she's sharing her record collection with you than playing music at you.
Like so many breakthrough DJs, Guy moved to Berlin to have an affordable home base for her increasing number of Europe gigs. But like most Vancouver DJs, she still has deep roots in British Columbia, a place that colours her approach to music. Guy grew up in a house on top of a mountain in Grand Forks, a small town about eight hours from Vancouver.
"Grand Forks has a population of about 4,000 people," she told me. "So you can imagine, I was the only black girl, the only Jewish girl, my family stuck out like a sore thumb. But we were super involved in the community. The coolest thing about Grand Forks is that you're in a community and you feel taken care of. I think that's been a really big part of what I've always searched for after I left Grand Forks. Building that community around me, which you can lose when you're living in the city."
Growing up surrounded by the beauty of British Columbia, Guy developed a fondness for nature. Inspired by watching Free Willy as a child, she pursued a career in marine biology. At one point she was studying sea turtles in Maui ("They're the most hilarious animals ever," she told me). Once she settled in Vancouver, after a brief stint driving celebrities around Los Angeles, Guy spent a summer working for a food inspection agency, which involved looking for invasive insect species in orchards and plant nurseries. She spent days driving around remote areas, and the solitude gave her a chance to absorb music.
Guy's love of music comes from a close family environment. When we met in Berlin she had just been hiking with her mother, who was visiting relatives who also live in the city. Her family was obsessed with music of all kinds—classical, jazz, funk, R&B—which influenced her at an early age. Her sister instilled in her a love of disco.
"My sister loves to roller-skate," she said. "She loves to listen to disco and roller-skate, and she lives in New York—that's just her thing, you know? She'd be out there rocking it and I'd totally be hanging on the side and being like, 'Oh god, I'm going to break my neck.'"
Buoyed by her obsession with music, Guy purchased decks and gave DJing a go. She practiced every night when she finished work. ("My story isn't special, and I'm not afraid to say that," she laughed.) She made an important connection in LNS, AKA Laura Sparrow, a fellow Vancouverite who was also learning to DJ around the same time.
"We learned together," Guy said. "There was, and still is, such a camaraderie between us. We would DJ together and one of us would fuck up the mix and the other would always just encourage them, like, 'Do it again! Do it again, it's totally fine.' Having that safe space between friends is so important—it helps build a community, and your own confidence, which is really important, especially with DJing." Guy's earliest gigs were often with Sparrow, as well as solo slots at unremarkable bars owned by the Donnelly Group, a Vancouver nightlife conglomerate similar to Wetherspoons in the UK.
"It was those times when you're playing and no one's there, and you're like, 'Hmm, this is testing,'" she said. "But even then... I remember one of those first times I played—there was basically nobody there—some super Canadian guy comes up and was like, 'That was a great set! That was really something different. I enjoyed it.'"
That's the thing about Guy's sets: they're hard to dislike. She connects soulfulness and melody across genres, and she's willing to play the classics that other DJs shy away from. It's not uncommon to hear staples like Earth, Wind & Fire's "September," The Gap Band's "Outstanding" or Carly Simon's "Why" in her sets. But she plays them as she would any other song, not necessarily big moments, they're simply part of her musical makeup.
"I feel like some people forget that these tunes exist and how awesome they are," she said. "Like, yeah, they may have been top 40 at the time, but that doesn't discount how excellent they are. It's great to listen to things you've never heard before but, every so often, if there's that song where you're like, 'Oh, yeah, I love this track!' It draws you in that much more, because your own relationship with that song comes into play. It becomes more personal.
"And also, to play stuff like that when you're playing to a younger audience where these tracks aren't necessarily hits for them... It's all about perspective."
Guy's taste in music—much of it unquantized—gives her DJ sets another old-school touch: mixing quickly, roughly or sometimes just crossfading. She likes some songs so much that she plays them in their entirety. There's been some criticism of this style—a Boiler Room session last year drew complaints from commenters—but hers is a loose approach that calls back to some of the earliest, most revered DJs.
"Sometimes it's just hard to beatmatch these tracks. I think that's being pretty honest, and I think it's OK, personally," she says. "Some people probably don't think that's OK. But I've given myself leeway. The only person I'm trying to impress is myself. I think that's the most important thing when you're a DJ. If you stop impressing yourself, you've lost something."
Guy isn't as well-known as a producer, but that's soon likely to change. Her tracks glow with the same warmth and soul of the music she plays. She started her label, Freakout Cult, with Fett Burger, and it's released the retro house of "NYC Party Track" and the smooth Canadian Riviera sounds of the Jaydaisms EP, where her love of the landscape translates into deep, ruminative house music.
She's also been working with vocals, chopping up samples of fellow Canadian act Cafe Lanai on the Sixth Spirit Of The Bay EP, making straight-up vocal disco with Alexa Dash ("IGA"), and singing herself on a recent track, "Shake It All Down," for the Swedish label Geography.
"The singing parts come because that's how I figure out melodies at first, I hum them," she explained. "I hum them over and over in my head, then I play them on the keyboard. One time I just got impatient and sang the melody instead. Working with vocals is interesting to me, it's challenging in a different way. I've started using more of them because it not only draws me in but it also draws the audience in, too. Vocals add another layer onto things."
With every new release you can feel Guy getting closer to a harmony between the contemporary sounds of Vancouver and the old-school records she plays out. There's also the occasional left turn, like the swampy, psychedelic house of Monroe Bumpa / 186 Halin' (Loving Myself Mix), a record she just released in collaboration with fellow Vancouverite Layla Soeker.
Most of her gigs are in Europe now, but Guy remains tied to her homeland. The landscape of interior BC, where she grew up, is as important as the tight-knit community where she cut her teeth. Both continue to influence the kind of music she makes and plays
"That's something I really miss about Vancouver, that you're constantly surrounded by nature," she said. "I lived in Kitsilano, so you'd walk outside and there's the ocean! I miss that a lot. I have to centre myself within that before I make music. But my studio, there's a little courtyard where it's all grass and there's a little pond. It's very lush. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is it. This is my spot!'
"I think the happiest moments of my life are when I'm in the middle of nowhere, in the car driving, listening to my favourite tunes, surrounded by trees and the essence of nature. You just feel full. You know? Your heart feels full. I try to translate that feeling into music."