(Not so) Brand New Sounds in my Mind: Running into 2021 with Jayda G and Romy

Jayda G (credit: Silvia Lopes)

One month into 2021 and things have been… rough. Rough is perhaps an understatement. Maybe categorically horrific is more appropriate. Between wading through a sea of uni work, actual work, and just trying to keep myself fed and washed and clothed, I am barely functioning as a normal human being.

One thing that has kept me sane during this hellscape has been running. In some ways, running has become a coping mechanism to deal with the stress of trying to exist in this current moment. Despite the fact I’m not very good at it, and that I have been suffering from recurring tendonitis for months, I actually really enjoy running. As someone who used to fake injuries to get out of PE, this is both unexpected and hilarious.

Aside from the physical act of running, which gets me out of the house and actually utilises my body for something other than eating and sleeping (and crying?), running also gives me an opportunity to listen to music. I have always been a person who listens to music on the go, to the point that I often have to be in some form of motion or transit to be able to appreciate it fully. I am also a hugely dissociative consumer of music, perhaps to a problematic extent. When my headphones are in I sometimes imagine and create whole new worlds. Instead of getting the metro to meet friends in town, I am on stage at Glastonbury, dancing to ‘It’s My House’ with Diana Ross. Standing in the Tesco queue, armed with nothing but AirPods and an over-active imagination, I am starring in my own HBO TV show, the Carrie Bradshaw of my own romanticised urban fantasia. I am Mariah Carey at Caesar’s Palace, Tony Soprano at Bada Bing, Andy Warhol at Studio 54 and Lady Bird jumping out of her mother’s car all at the same time.

You get the picture. Two of the songs I have been listening to recently on my runs have magnified this effect ad infinitum. Both of them came out in 2020, and I have been listening to them since they came out, so I don’t really know why they have became such a big part of my personal experience of the first month of 2021. Both songs are would-be dance anthems, and part of their appeal is that they truly take me to another place. Much has been made of albums like Future Nostalgia and Chromatica as escapist works which injected a bit of levity into early lockdown. However, two lockdowns later, the initial sugary delights of those albums have worn off. Alternatively, ‘Both of Us’ by Jayda G and ‘Lifetime’ by Romy have taken on a new significance, as my longing for the far-gone days of dancing in sweaty clubs with my favourite people in the world has became intense, debilitating almost.

‘Both of Us’, from Canadian-born, London-based DJ Jayda G, is a perfect song. It has barely any lyrics, but is instead powered by a thumping, hypnotic house beat that recalls late July nights and early August sunrises. Jayda wrote the song with big crowds in mind, but 2020 had other plans. Speaking to Pitchfork’s Jazz Monroe, Jayda acknowledged the new meaning the song took on during lockdown, reflecting on how fans have connected to this song away from the club and festival circuit she is used to. ‘I can’t love enough… for the both of us’ Jayda G pleads to her lover. Over the course of the song’s 4-minutes-and-change, Jayda’s voice crawls over the beat, languidly repeating that 9–word phrase, with occasional inflections and emphases on different words providing some emotional dexterity. This depth of feeling recalls the best of dance music, from Sylvester and Donna Summer through to Robyn and Róisín Murphy. But Jayda isn’t really like any of those artists, she is a DJ first and foremost. The song’s bridge is its true calling card as she, at once ecstatic and mournful, admits to her lover ‘I just want to be with you’. The beat drops out and slows down, as hand-claps begin and Jayda repeats the phrase over and over again, chant-like. Eventually, crowd noise signals the song building up again. ‘I. Just. Want. To. Be. With. You’, and the beat drops. In this moment when the beat drops, I am usually mid-run, sweating through my clothes and fighting through muscle pain in my legs and feet. It’s usually the best part of my day. In those few minutes of euphoria, I truly transcend the melancholia of this endless January. I am on a beach in Ibiza dancing with my best friends. I am in a grimy club hugging people I love and people I don’t. I am seeing old friends in the smoking area and asking a dodgy-looking stranger for a lighter. I’ve never been to Ibiza, and I haven’t step foot in a club in almost a year. Such is the power of this song.

Romy’s ‘Lifetime’ is more of a straight-up pop song. It’s the first single from her upcoming debut solo album, and although it’s a different vibe from the moodier electropop she creates with her band, The xx, it isn’t a total surprise. The xx have always been a band rooted in dance music culture, citing early synthpop and club-adjacent acts such as Eurythmics and New Order as influences. Moreover, Jamie xx (this song’s co-producer) is basically a Superstar DJ™ in his own right. The song, for desperate want of a better phrase, feels like a coming-out moment for Romy, as she sings ebulliently, dizzyingly, of a joyous relationship. It is the aural equivalent of a glow stick, and sounds how I’d imagine an early 90s school disco attended by old ravers to sound. The song’s bassline bizarrely but brilliantly recalls Y2K Eurotrash cheese, with NME’s El Hunt comparing it to ‘a mutant cousin of the Vengaboys’. Romy’s voice ties this melange of influences together tastefully. Whilst less expressive than Jayda’s pleas and coos, her measured delivery recalls her alt-dance forebears like Everything But the Girl’s Tracey Thorn and Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell. Romy describes the song and her upcoming album as a ‘love letter to [her] formative years of queer clubbing’, and the song is ultimately a celebration of life, its sheer joy feeling defiant in the cold October days in which it was first released. It still feels defiant today, and again, when I find myself listening to it on repeat while running through the streets I grew up on and have known all my life, I am transported.

Both songs are ultimately about letting go of what can’t be changed and owning your feelings and desires. As a perennially single person, I can’t relate to the romantic undertones of both songs, but I can relate to the strong and overwhelming sense of feeling towards a person, a place, a memory. In lockdown, my memories and connection to my friends is really what’s kept me going, even as I yearn for more. Running through my hometown throughout the past year of lockdown, with varying levels of frequency, has been a source of heady nostalgia and also feelings of entrapment. I don’t want to be stuck here and I shouldn’t be. But somehow, running and the music that has accompanied it has helped me reclaim some ownership of my feelings towards this place. Running through these streets, past the houses of friends and family I can’t see, past my old school, past pubs I used to drink in, has reminded me of all the good times I had before this and all the memories I cherish. I don’t know what comes next or where we’re heading, but I can’t wait to dance with my friends again.

Romy (credit: Vic Lentaigne for the Guardian)