Jayda G: Where Environmental Science Meets Music

Jayda G

– Interviewed and written by Yingbi Lee

Jayda G’s and Julie’s Bicycle’s paths first crossed when her track “That Voice In Your Head” opened the Stamp The Wax Charity Advent Calendar in support our Green Riders campaign. Her participation in the calendar comes as no surprise, as the Canadian music producer and DJ has dedicated over ten years of her life to the environmental sciences. Growing up in the mountains and forests of Grand Forks, British Columbia, Jayda has always loved being outside and in the outdoors, and from an early age knew she wanted to work in biology. Following her undergrad in biology and ecology, she’s most recently completed a masters in Resource and Environmental Management, specializing in environmental toxicology. Jayda is also an advocate for Music Declares Emergency.

While the environmental sciences and dance music may seem like completely separate areas of focus – and are, in many ways, distinct – music is actually a big way for Jayda to open her musical audience up to her environmental concerns. “When people are interviewing me about the album I can talk about the environmental work as well, because a lot of songs have been influenced by my scientific work” she explains. On her debut album, Significant Changes, released on 22nd March 2019 via Ninja Tune, the title itself was the most-used phrase in her recently completed master’s thesis on the effects of human activity on the Salish Sea killer whales, or orcas, of Vancouver.

Jayda explains that while making the album, things bled over from her scientific work to her musical work very easily. As an artist, her work speaks to her experiences, which has seen her work in science far longer than she has been in music. “You’re spending all day researching about orcas, and the clip (of orca sounds) is just sitting on your desktop and then you’re making music and you’re like, ‘Oh, what happens when I put this in here? It’s actually quite musical!’” She laughs. “So it was an organic process to incorporate my scientific background into my music.

She cites a lifelong love for marine biology as the factor behind her research focus on killer whales. “The research projects are few and far between,” she elaborates, “so when the project (her masters research) presented itself I was so excited.” It was an opportunity that was, in part, indebted to a landmark Canadian court case for the protection of the whales – a case which ‘Missy Knows What’s Up‘ samples, using the voice of Misty MacDuffee, biologist at Rainforest Conservation Foundation.

Meanwhile, ‘Orca’s Reprise’ samples sounds of orcas alongside an instrumental that is at once mournful but hopeful. The melancholy of the track echoes the depressing nature of Guy’s work in environmental science, which has led many to experience environmental depression. “It’s not something I’ve necessarily experienced, but it’s definitely something that people do experience,” she explains. “Especially when you’re working so closely on a subject where there’s a lot of not great things happening. It has a lot of doom and gloom around it, and around you, and it can definitely be an issue for some people.” But she tells us that music has been a cathartic process, both in dealing with the gloominess and intensity of environmental research, as well as in general. “Making music is something that really helps me process things. Just being creative in general is something that, for me, is really important. It’s very therapeutic for me,” she says. “So when I was working very heavily on my research, making music was a great release, in a lot of ways.

“It’s all about building empathy, right? If we have empathy for the research that’s happening, and understanding what’s happening in the world around us, then people have more empathy for our environment as a whole, and make more clear choices when it comes to that.”

Incorporating her research into her music isn’t the only way Guy is bridging her love for the environment and for music. In February, she launched JMG Talks, a London-based talk series platforming young scientists’ academic work and personal journeys – a passion project which she finds engages her brain in a very different way from her regular work in music. Seeing the importance of bridging academia with the rest of the world, Guy’s intention behind these talks is to make these critical conversations more accessible. “Doing the talks was always something I’ve wanted to do,” she shares. On academia, she explains “It’s a very insular community and if you’re not in that community you’re not privy to a lot of information that is happening when it comes to working on the environment.

The choice to talk to young scientists, and to discuss their personal struggles and experiences, are deliberate. Besides deciding to speak to researchers she knows and feels comfortable with, Guy is also challenging herself to effectively communicate topics she’s not as familiar with. With Dr. Lindsay Veazey, who works in oceanography and mainly works with computers, Guy felt the need to make these more abstract concepts accessible, as “that’s where a lot of the majority of the work is happening.” For her, it’s all about building empathy for the research that’s happening and the people behind it.

“I saw that when people write articles about scientists, they really mostly talk about their scientific research, they don’t talk so much about the person behind the research unless it’s like, Neil deGrasse Tyson, or David Attenborough – if you’re really famous or a celebrity of some sort…If people understand the personal stories that are behind that research, maybe they’ll be interested in the research outcome a bit more.”

What was less deliberate, but still outstanding – to us at least – was that the two instalments of JMG Talks so far have both featured women, one of which (Dr. Lily Zeng) is a woman of colour. Guy explains that that wasn’t the main goal of the talks at all – “it’s really about the science and it’s really about communicating and engaging people – it’s true that it happens to be because a lot of people I know (in the sciences) are women and of colour.” She contemplates that “maybe it’s because we can relate in so many other ways.

One of these ways is how isolating it can be, being a woman of colour in the sciences. “I think the biggest challenge is not very direct things that happen to you. I think it’s the constant underrepresentation you see around you. Like you just don’t see yourself, period. I’m speaking for the scientific world,” she tells us. “So that wears on you, and you start questioning your ability in very subversive ways.” Dr. Zeng has been the only person of colour Guy has actually worked with, and she can only think of two women she has worked with in her entire academic career.

Jayda is interested in Julie’s Bicycle’s forthcoming podcast exploring the links between climate justice and social justice in the UK, and contrasts her experiences working in academia and in music. While underrepresentation in academia was something that she says you unfortunately get used to, she tells us that “it wasn’t until I started working in music that it’s [being a woman of colour] become more of something I’ve had to deal with on a day to day basis. In music, I think it’s definitely more vocalised.” Aside from more people talking about race and gender in music, Guy has also had to deal with people saying “really careless things” to her “that are just really offensive on a very deep level,” and not having her perspective understood. “It’s something that I’m really conscious of, and I really try and speak to it when the time is right.

Part of being a DJ is also having keen awareness of the environmental impact of how she makes a living. “I definitely don’t shy away from that I’m impacting the environment as much as everyone else,” she admits. “But I try and give back by just informing people and talking about things that people may not have been talking about in the past.

She notes the high cost festivals have on the environment, down to the small things like always receiving straws when getting a drink, and wants to see more festivals working on their sustainability and environmental impact. “The festival has its own infrastructure. The artist isn’t part of that. You’re just being booked.” DJing, she says, is a very insular bubble. While there are DJs who recognise their environmental impact or have concerns about the environment, Jayda thinks they feel like they’re not as empowered to do something about it and may feel overwhelmed. “I think if there was an easier way for DJs to see, like, these are the top three things you can do – and I think that’s what you Jaydas do, you help bridge that gap between the music community and the environmental community – I think people would be really down for that.

For Jayda, travelling is probably the most environmentally impactful aspect of an artist’s activity, and it’s not one of those things that can be changed as easily. But small things like requesting green riders, specifically not asking for straws, and asking for certain products that are sustainable or sustainably packaged, all add up and are really helpful. It’s a perspective that really speaks to what we’re trying to do with the Music Declares Emergency initiative, which as well as making a public declaration and pledging to take action towards making music businesses ecologically sustainable, will provide tools, resources, and a community for artists and their teams to add green requests to their artist riders.

So, what’s Jayda G’s final advice for artists who want to make a difference but don’t know where to start?

I think it’s just reading up on things. Getting involved, especially within your local community because that’s where it’s the most impactful in the end. Understanding what it is you can do within your local community. And it’s small things, whether it’s getting involved in your community garden, and knowing where your food comes from. Understanding what kind of work is happening out there… it’s not about getting on a podium and preaching what you think is right or wrong. That’s why I really stress that it’s about making that information available to people. So that they can also make their own choices.”

If you’re an artist – or booking agent, manager, tour manager, or other music industry professional – and are interested in finding out more about how you can green your gigs, tours, and business, visit the Music Declares Emergency website for resources and how you can get involved.

To find out about Jayda’s upcoming UK gigs, please check here.

Banner image: Photo © Farah Nosh