No regrets: Grammy-nominated DJ Jayda G on choosing beats over sciences career


TORONTO — House music producer Jayda G knows a thing or two about good timing.

In the DJ booth, she’s a symphonist of the crowd, selecting the best tracks at just the right moments. But admittedly, even she missed a beat in predicting that her first Grammy nomination would happen so soon.

“I thought maybe in the next 10 years?” she said with a laugh during a recent webcam conversation.

“I don’t think I’ve fully wrapped my brain around it.”

Getting accustomed to unpredictable turns in her professional life is something the Grand Forks, B.C.-born Jayda Guy might be getting used to, though.

For the longest time, she seemed destined for a career in the sciences, holding a master’s degree in environmental toxicology. Yet, along the path of academia, she found herself drawn towards a passion for creating dance music.

One of those songs, “Both of Us,” is what landed her the Grammy nomination for best dance recording, to be announced during Sunday’s pre-broadcast awards ceremony.

The piano-fuelled house track is the underdog of the category, up against some of the industry’s biggest names, including Diplo, Disclosure and Montreal-raised Kaytranada.

Within its six minutes, Jayda G’s “Both of Us” delivers an earthy ode to classic house music by evoking the imagery of an unforgettable night out. The track opens with a smooth lounge vibe and breathy vocals that provoke thoughts of closeness on the dancefloor.

Near its peak, Jayda G slows the beat, drawing a handclap from the imaginary crowd, before she drops an unforgettable finale of jazzy euphoria.

Recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic but released last summer, “Both of Us” was a reminder for many house-heads of the world they missed. Venues were closed, but the song was a call to recreate the magic of escapism at home. The vibe was exactly the sort of energy that drew Jayda G to making house tracks in the first place.

“When I’m listening to music I go into another world where nothing else exists,” she said.

“It’s kind of like a safe space I’ve cultivated over the years.”

Growing up in Grand Forks, a small community of about 4,000 people just north of the Canada-U.S. border, Guy had a lot of time to figure out her musical tastes. There were no malls to wander as a teenager and the entertainment options were sparse.

In the late 1990s, she discovered the powers of the internet and the bottomless menu of music at her fingertips on Napster, a popular illegal download program of the era.

“At that point, I was obsessed with Jimi Hendrix,” she said.

“I was looking for every single song, I could get my hands on… just sitting there watching the bar load.”

The deeper she burrowed into her favourite artist’s catalogues, the more she became fixed on unearthing new treasures.

Her obsession carried on for years, and like many students, she put off homework by immersing herself in catalogues of MP3s. Her taste gravitated to classic dance music creators, and in particular, the historic Chicago house scene of the 1980s. She was hooked.

“You couldn’t have told me at that time that procrastination was actually useful,” she said.

Before Guy moved to Vancouver for her master’s degree, she began learning how to DJ, thinking the skill would be a fun hobby for her downtime. At most, perhaps she’d score a residency at one of Vancouver’s many nightclubs, she figured.

But once she made a few connections with club owners “everything kind of snowballed” and by the time she finished her master’s her DJ gigs were enough to make a living.

At a crossroads, Guy considered two directions: a relatively conventional path with her master’s degree or a less predictable one in the entertainment world.

Having experienced the music industry through the eyes of her older brother, Sol Guy, an influential player at former record label BMG Canada, she knew timing would be everything.

He was instrumental in helping Vancouver act Rascalz break into the mainstream with their 1998 hit “Northern Touch,” considered one of the pillars of the Canadian hip hop scene.

For her own career, the window for success might’ve closed at any minute, so Guy decided to act quickly. After graduation, she moved to Berlin, setting up her home in a city where electronic music thrives.

As her career picked up steam, she moved to London in the summer of 2019, setting up closer to the headquarters of many house music record labels. She’s since built her reputation on the success of “Both of Us,” and remixing tracks for rock trio Haim and pop star Dua Lipa.

“I’ve always told myself in terms of my artistic career, the train only passes you once,” she said.

“A PhD is always going to be there.”

Follow @dfriend on Twitter.

David Friend, The Canadian Press