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DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ Casts a Spell With Her Quirky Take On House Music

“My music makes people nostalgic for a time they’ve never even known.”

by Luis Minvielle

When British house music producer DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ released Pentalogy, a collectible compilation of her first five albums, she chose an offbeat physical medium: the cassette. Borrowing her moniker from the beloved turn-of-the-century sitcom, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, the whole affair follows suit, distilling some of the best parts of the 90s to create a captivating musical persona.

With her identity concealed behind 16-bit renders of the show’s protagonist, Sabrina Spellman, the young producer blends skits lifted from the sitcom, and references to the spells that graced a generation of witch-wannabees. Charmed, her 2020 album, features three hours of original, genre-travelling tunes. From Outsider House to Dance-Pop to Future Funk, she effectively blends pop culture and meme references with cheesy quotes, and residual teen angst to create a captivating listening experience that will have you itching to Shazam every obscure sample.

DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ may be enigmatic but she has a fantastic knack for crafting upbeat songs out of innocuous relics. To understand the obsessions that drive her output, we exchanged some questions with her.

Who is DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ?

DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ is a foolish half-mortal who, out of desperation, decided to start seriously making lo-fi house music as a last-ditch attempt to make some groovy tunes. I was already dabbling with emulating authentic low-fidelity acid-house around the time Aphex Twin released his Caustic Window LP in 2014, but DJ Seinfeld made me realize that it could actually be taken into its own genre and be developed further.

When did you realize you wanted to be a DJ? 

I actually wanted to be a DJ way back when I was about five years old. That was the first thing I ever wanted to do in the world as a job. Not entirely sure that I am a DJ or not, but I guess my wish came true in a sense.

How did you first get into writing and producing music? 

I’ve kinda always made music growing up but nothing ever went anywhere. I always absorbed music as far as I can remember, finding the beauty and excitement and euphoria in the most unlikely parts of records and soundtracks. I always wanted to try and make music that could translate those feelings I get from other bits of songs to others and give back some inspiration that I feel from my favourite artists.

What kind of music did you grow up listening to in your house?

It’s cliche to say, but everything! My earliest memories of music are 80s/90s synth-pop-rock.  That was mainly the music I listened to as a kid, but the mid-to-late 90s electronic and indie music scenes also had a profound effect on me.

Can you explain what about the early 2000s were so pivotal in regards to your relationship with music?

It’s a unique period of music that hasn’t been excavated retroactively as much as I would have expected. As a teenager, I always thought it would be amazing if 80s music came back, and it has, but the millennium pop sound has never really been understood and appropriately identified. Its idiosyncrasies have been a little bit lost to time. I always thought millennium pop was the peak of pop music mixing and mastering; the 70s being the other peak of mixing, just such a clean but powerful time.

DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ
DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ

Regarding the concept of nostalgia that your music and aesthetic leans into, what do you think it is about the past that resonates so much with music fans? 

Good question! To me, it isn’t specifically nostalgic as it’s just the music I’m used to and listen to most of the time. Many people have told me it makes them nostalgic for a time they’ve never even known. Maybe that kind of music is just inherently nostalgic.

During our summer holidays, many years ago, we’d gather with my cousins and watch Sabrina the Teenage Witch every afternoon. What are your memories of the show like?

It’s one of the best sitcoms of all time and has a slapstick edge that I think studio-audience shows can’t really compare with. It was actually made by an outstanding, experienced team of producers, writers, and directors. I think you can definitely see that in the show’s subtleties.

Do you think Melissa Joan Hart has listened to your tunes?

I doubt it! lol

How much of your aesthetic has to do with video games, speedrunning, 16-bit soundtracks, and the VGA-connector era?

Ahh, the pannen sample! He’s incredible. I hope he’s doing well now. [Editor’s note: pannenkeok2012 is a videogame analyst known for his intricate videos and soothing voice, which DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ has sampled]. I’m hugely influenced by 16-bit games, particularly the visual style and positive emotional aura of games. I’m a big fan of the YM2612/YM3812/OPL sound [Editor’s note: sound chips related to early video game sound design], and speedrunning videos just fascinate me. I love the video game exploits and how they work. It’s a fantastic scene.

What is your favourite video game? 

How can I pick one?! The Genesis/Master System Sonic games, SNES/NES Mario, Super Mario 64, Doom 1/2, Lucasarts adventure games, Sierra and loads of modern indie titles, but Tomb Raider 1 is one of my absolute favourites. It never gets old!

What is the last thing that you bought online? 

Guitar strings, I think! I’ll try some GHS Boomers—Marissa Paternoster from Screaming Females uses them!. I used to use the bass strings a few years ago, so I’ll now see how the guitar ones play.

Are there any items that have been hanging out in your online shopping cart that you’ve wanted to order but just haven’t yet? 

I often shop in the other realm for spells and potions. I was deliberating on whether or not to go for the sharper hearing potion, which makes your sight worse, or the sharper seeing potion, which makes your hearing worse.

If you could collaborate with anyone in the world right now, who would it be? 

Jai Paul, Julia Shapiro, Stevie Nicks, Yvette Young, Sunflower Bean, The Avalanches…

What is the next year going to look like for you? Any plans to tour when the world starts to open back up? 

Probably the same as ever. Touring is mostly a matter of logistics, namely organizing every single aspect of it so that it would work, you know, spiritually.

Is there anything else you want the world to know about DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ?

I want the world to know that I never expected anyone to like any of my little songs, and I am more grateful than words can express for all of the wonderful, beautiful things I’ve experienced from everyone! It is an honour!