Through a very loud and enthusiastic word of mouth, deep in the international electronic music underworld, thanks to an aesthetic and sonic imagery able to reunite fans of the 90's sitcoms, diehard house music enthusiasts, wide-ranging nostalgics and many curious listeners in search of comfort and distraction, the mysterious DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ has become one of the most notable names in the ever expanding dance music universe. Helped by an immediately recognisable style and a magniloquent aesthetic, both expressed in broad spectrum projects, Sabrina transported the landscapes of a thoughtless, colourful and - why not? - romantic past in digital format and on cassette, the nostalgic format par excellence, through five albums that form one of the most majestic concepts of the last years. A few months after “Charmed” has been released, we reached out to her with a fistful of questions that made our dialogue range from thirty year old TV series to the stages of grief, from time paradoxes to mixes. Here's what she revealed to us.
Let's break the ice, what's your favourite character in “Sabrina, The Teenage Witch”? Sabrina and Salem don't count!
Mr. Poole! He was so misunderstood and unfairly dismissed from his role as science teacher due to television politics and should never have lost his job to Martin Mull!
Any other TV shows you used to like? Do you think any of those influenced your creative process?
All of the Nineties sitcoms, I've always been addicted to them and always will be! I also love 80's crime/mystery drama shows and sooo many TV movies. I think TV drama can be even more emotive at times than any other medium because they have the flexibility to really make you *feel*, and often feature some absolutely mind-blowing character actors that can deliver performances like no other kind of actor.
We found out “Charmed” is the last instalment in a now finished pentalogy. Do you use to work on projects or groups of projects so large? Any future plans like this?
“After working herself into a non-mortal magical obliteration, she passed 'twix the planes of mortal and magic, her soul carried away from her body, spirit to The Other Realm. As her close friends and family mourn her demise, they each ask themselves what they learned from her existence, their favorite qualities of hers and, most importantly... will she rise again?” I have a novelization of “Charmed” coming out soon that should hopefully explain some of the meaning behind the album, and I've got a few more live mix performances lined up for the next month or so!
Do you think each of your five albums has specific features making them different from each other, such as different moods, inspirations, themes? Or is there a conceptual continuity keeping them together?
Definitely, there’s a lot of similar concepts of sound and feeling, a journey that begins with learning and ends with understanding, similar to the five stages of grief: Hope, Elation, Disillusionment, Realisation/Acceptance and Closure.
In the widest sense possible, what is house music for you and to you?
It's a cloak, it's a stylish oversized coat, a 4-to-the-floor dress you can wear over anything you wish! Indie rock, millenial pop, 80's jazz, emo, grunge, IDM... it can all become house and that's when you really start to dance!
We couldn't help noticing a large amount of samples coming from a girl band named Dream. Tell us about them, what they, their image, their music mean/are to you and how all of this intertwines with the whole gangsta rap imagery we can find in your work.
Dream are one of my favorite groups ever! They have such an amazing couple of albums but they're so underrated, victims of the industry of that time... I mean, their second album wasn't even released properly! They have really wonderful melodies and voices that just seem to go with everything, you know?
What idea did you get of your audience? How do you think they are? And how did you expect them to be?
I didn't expect any audience to be honest, I'm surprised every single day that anyone even listens to me at all! I just didn't really expect anyone to *get* the sound I was just kinda making for myself! It's just incredible and totally unexpected how big this has blown up...
Some people make alter egos up to discover themselves through them. How much of Sabrina and how much of you is present in your music, so complex and full of lively contradictions?
That's very true! I have no ego whatsoever and I just like the songs to be what they are and I try not to get in the way too much. I think so often the artist is too closely associated with their work and it doesn't always give the music room to be experienced... I've always wanted people to enjoy and be inspired by my little songs and even though I never expect them to be really heard by anyone, it's what I love more than anything. The Sabrina character definitely allows me to more accurately portray myself and to become a version of myself than I like a lot more!
Your last album borrows materal from popular culture of what we call the glamorous 1990's. It's been released right in the middle of an emergency with very few precedents. Besides the distraction you heroically provide us from our actual circumstances, how does it look to you? Janusian? Counterbalancing? Or does it get deeper?
I think the 90's/millenium pop sound is just my natural voice, it's a veneer of positivity but to me the songs always have a darker more sinister sound to them, but I seem to be the only one that hears that! During the pandemic, I didn't even know I was going to release any music at all, but I kinda kept working at songs without actually mixing them and at the end of the year, I had far more than I knew what to do with, lol! I always wanted the last album to be a double-cassette to palindromically tie-in with “Makin' Magick”, and I wanted it to be a bigger experience. The whole album has extra meaning that will be more apparent in the upcoming novelization, but I'm so happy to have offered so many people a nicer world to escape in!
There's a strong feeling of nostalgia in your work. What pulls you back? What pushes you forward instead?
I think it's just what I'm used to, I listen to/watch music and TV from the 80's and 90's so much of the time that this just seems regular sounding to me! I definitely do have a longing for a younger, more innocent time though, but there were also many great ideas and styles back a couple of decades ago that I like to try and work with.
If you happened to meet yourself as a kid, what would you make her listen to that you made? And what do you think she might create for you to listen to?
What about time paradoxes, wouldn't we both explode?! I'd probably show her my worst song, that way she wouldn't feel like she had to live up to something I guess! I think there's so many micro-decisions made over the years that affect the way you become, it would probably change everything irreparably (which could be interesting to see in it's own way!)
We couldn't help but notice sounds progressively getting cleaner in your work. Did you just buy new hardware/software or is there something deeper going on?
Good job noticing that! I actually was developing the sound up until around “Spellbound”, where I sort of found the sweet-spot between "lo-fi" and modern, that "mid-fi" sound I'd always been looking for that still transports you to another realm, but doesn't limit expression quite so much, nor requires the listener to be such a keen listener. I think I said at the time, "my tapes are getting better"!
You sell your five albums on Bandcamp, but you also made several mixes, freely downloadable on your website. How do you approach your mixing? How do you choose samples and tracks for your mixes? What is it to you to put other artist's work in a nw context?
I sort of think of them as mashpilations, that is, compilations of mashups; I always loved The Avalanches mixes and thought they always did something that no-one else did with mixes; sort of made mini-albums out of other peoples who songs, but still were able to put an individual stamp on every part of it. I sort of use the mixes as a way to present some of these songs in the way that I hear them, maybe they might usually be heard a bit differently and I can try and put them into the context that reflects how they move me. They're really just all of my favorite artists, songs and types of music, they allow me to explore other places I might not do so much in my main albums, and give people an idea of where my sound comes from, I guess!
On Rate Your Music we read a list of albums you like or even have been influenced by. Any new addition? Any new advice?
I also did a Spotify playlist
for Fandomentals, but I love so much music that it's really hard for me to pick a few things. I've been listening to sooo much Judee Sill lately. She's one of my favorite artists of all time and tragically underrated, everything she wrote seemed to be simultaneously positive whilst also deeply melancholy, a really fascinating insight into her personality.