DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ is casting a spell on listeners with ‘90s nostalgia
Remember that episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch when the eponymous spellcaster puts aside her magic to mix infectious, nostalgia-infused house beats on vintage equipment, while her cat, Salem, accidentally uploads them through an interdimensional time-traveling modem to SoundCloud 20 years into the future?
OK, so that’s not canon, per se. But it's the lore behind London-based house artist DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ's music.
Through a prolific output, nostalgia-dripped aesthetic, dank Instagram memes and complete anonymity, the two brainchildren behind the project — who go by DJ Sabrina and Salem, respectively — piqued the interest of the online electronic music community.
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“Both of us were working together on some other projects individually, and we’ve done a couple other things together, but nothing had really taken off,” DJ Sabrina explains of their beginnings, hidden behind her 8-bit avatar on Zoom. But when the duo heard lo-fi house artists such as DJ Seinfeld and Ross From Friends, inspiration struck. Keeping with the '90s theme, they chose to channel Melissa Joan Hart’s iconic television character in their creations.
“We don't just release music and have this silly name,” DJ Sabrina says. “We have fun with it. It's nice to roll in Easter eggs and concepts around the magic and witchcraft that the name evokes. It helps the world of DJ Sabrina.”
As such, the heart of DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ’s discography is an earnest sentimentality for all things ’90s: pixelated cover art, soundbites from old movies and TV shows (surprisingly, DJ Sabrina says the pair haven’t sampled the namesake show yet) and physical copies of it all on cassette tapes and CDs. With every album, the lore extends further.
Starting with her first album, 2017’s Makin’ Magick, DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ’s real-life trajectory parallels the story of the first five albums, dubbed "The Pentalogy." Told in vague blurbs on her website and nuggets in her songs, a bewildered Sabrina crosses over to the other realm as her songs rise in internet popularity. Almost as if she cracked open her bedroom door into a full-on house party, her initially murky lo-fi beats evolved into retro pop-tinged anthems and bright, exuberant dance numbers inspired by Britney Spears and Daft Punk.
By the polished 2020 album Charmed — during which Sabrina tries to return to her home realm — DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ garnered positive feedback from Rate Your Music and Anthony Fantano of The Needle Drop, as well as the attention of artists like Porter Robinson and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. It’s a three-hour plunderphonics experience where well-arranged vocal samples take center stage.
“It's like when you're watching a movie, and there’s music behind a part of dialogue. You go, ‘Well, if that didn't have the music, it wouldn't be as emotive.’ It's always like that to me,” DJ Sabrina says. “So if you put in a vocal sample, some talking over a bit of music, it’s really touching — that lifts it up.’”
Since Charmed, DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ has released two albums from a second "Pentalogy." The third record comes out later this year, on the heels of the Call You/Under Your Spell EP, which was released July 18. And if history repeats itself, the album will be filled with nearly two dozen tracks and a runtime of over two hours.
“People are used to the fact that there's going to be a lot of tracks on a DJ Sabrina album; it’s almost part of the image,” DJ Sabrina says. “It started off as a joke: ‘This is a three-hour-long album. Who's gonna listen to that?’ Now it's become, ‘I can't wait to see how long the next album is gonna be.’”
But recently, DJ Sabrina also slyly worked on another cool project: co-writing the 1975's “Happiness,” which was released Aug. 3. "The 1975 collaboration came about shortly after Charmed was released, in early 2021. Matty Healy messaged me and said he was a fan and wondered if I'd be interested in collabing on a track for their next album. I said I'd love to. I'd been a fan of their music for years, so this was amazing that he was a fan of my music too," DJ Sabrina says. While a few short demos were written, the first one is what eventually became "Happiness." We then back and forthed it a little bit, with him adding words and melody, and then he finished it with the rest of the 1975 putting their own unique sound into it," she adds.
Even with their dizzying output, the pair doesn’t plan on slowing down. In fact, even after seven albums, dozens of singles, numerous EPs and multiple collaborations, fans only want more. And DJ Sabrina is more than happy to keep up with the demand: “When I don’t want to do a three-hour album and people are disappointed, that’s when I’m in trouble.”