Sunday, June 23, 2024

Interview: How DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ Makes Magick

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DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ’s music floods the listener with every good aspect of nostalgia: warmth, comfort, and most importantly, joy. Her brand of house music is beautifully textured, weaving infectious melodies and engaging samples around each groove. Her debut record, Makin’ Magick, continues to reign at the top of RateYourMusic’s “Outsider House” genre chart, and her latest record, Enchanted, took her songwriting to even higher highs. We’re excited to present an exclusive interview with the artist along with a playlist of our favorite tracks from her career.

The following interview has been edited for concision and clarity.

FM: Sabrina the Teenage Witch is a clear aesthetic guide for your art. How did the show come into your life, and how does it guide your work now?

DJSTTD: Well, the name came from trying to find the least conventional looking DJ name I could think of! It didn’t come from the Guardian article (which omitted the second DJ, a lost opportunity), it was a Youtube comment that I’ve since lost but will forever be grateful for it’s wisdom… after a week, I still couldn’t find anything that looked worse on a mock-up club poster in photoshop, so I went with it. The show? I’ve been watching it since it originally aired when I was a kid, so it’s always been a part of my life in some way 😉 As for now, I guess it gives me some magical, spiritual direction…  

FM: You released your debut album less than three years ago and have since then dropped three more LPs along with a number of mixes, singles and alternate versions of tracks. That’s an incredible amount of music! Is there something in your personality or lifestyle that leads you to be so productive?

DJSTTD: Both I suppose! I’ve never been asked to go on the road, play live shows, sign to a label, be managed, do a press tour or anything else committing so I can pretty much go from one album to the next without a break. Plus I have this pentalogy concept… 

FM: Reading through the various bits of literature you have on your site and pages, you present yourself almost as an extension of the Sabrina the Teenage Witch universe. There’s also this sort of storytelling element to the way you employ vocal samples over the course of your records. How does storytelling play into your work, and how do you generally approach drafting and structuring a track?

DJSTTD: I’d like to have made movies in another life, so I usually work with a sort of pseudo-cinematic structure, which is probably why I’ve never had an issue with song or album lengths 😀 Sometimes the dialogue guides the music; sometimes the music asks for some words. It depends on the piece, but I do like music to have a certain organic aliveness to it.

FM: Your music bears an incredible, nostalgic warmth, both in the samples you mix into your music and the instrumentation surrounding them. Yet it’s also very fresh in the way it melds those elements, and to me, it sounds undeniably ‘new.’ Which artists, both past and present, do you look to for inspiration to stay simultaneously innovative and grounded in a musical tradition? Or do you find that your artistic voice just tends to reframe past elements in new ways?

DJSTTD: SO many inspirations. My mix-sets only capture a tiny amount of music and genres I listen to, and most of it does tend to be pre-millennial or between 2000 and 2008, which probably means I naturally favor earlier structures and vibes. I think Since I Left You is probably the greatest concept album of all time and that Daft Punk’s Homework is the best (and only?) punk-house album ever made. Between those two albums I could probably be set for my desert island 😀 Prince was a genius, so I’ve always loved the recording sound of his early albums. There’s also Cheiron Studios (Britney, BSB), Bruce Hornsby, Cheryl Lynn, Stock-Aitken-Waterman, Greg Alexander, Country Rock (Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, Shania Twain, Mindy McCready), mid-90’s to mid-00’s R&B (3LW, SWV, Total, Blaque, Destiny’s Child, DREAM)…

FM: Your songs tend to be quite hopeful and upbeat, and your social media channels tend to be a wellspring of positivity even while addressing darker feelings. Is this part of an artistic mission that guides your work in general?

DJSTTD: Making music is the happiest part of my life so there’s never any negativity for me in sharing music or making it! Even if there’s an emotional moment during the-making-of, it’s still a wonderful feeling. There’s depression, despair, loneliness, hopelessness and sadness elsewhere in mine and everyone else’s life, but I want people who listen to my music and come to my socials and songs to feel positive and good about their visit!

FM: It’s hard to tie DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ to any person in ‘real life,’ so to speak, and the stage name offers you a lot of anonymity. Is there a reason, beyond the artistic value of incorporating the universe and personality of Sabrina the Teenage Witch into your work, that the project is relatively anonymous?

DJSTTD: I don’t think there’s a lot to be gained from a reveal, other than to satisfy some kind of ego? I really loved the early days of lo-fi house anonymity when the DJ’s made beautiful, serious, intelligent music and used names and avatars that were totally at odds with that; it made the music even more dramatic and humbling to listen to without having any sort of face to attach it to. A lot of that seems to have been lost as many of them have gone on to pose for:

    a) side-profiled black-and-white flash photography in

    b) grandad collar shirts as they

    c) stroke the back of their hairs.

Plus, I love VGA-era video games, so it’s an opportunity to incorporate my passion for pixels in the artwork….

FM: Does Salem still live in the attic with you, and if so, how has this affected you?

DJSTTD: Yep, he does, and yep, he still finds it funny to change my mastering loudness profiles and drag the release on my limiter to 0.01 when I’m not looking. Smh.

Follow DJ Sabrina on Instagram and Twitter, and check out her wonderful music on Bandcamp.

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