Rival Consoles - Overflow
June 28, 2022
Music is full of magic – the pseudo-sorcery involved in composition and recording notwithstanding. The annals of the metal genre are awash with references to wizards, warlocks and magic, the heavy instrumentation lending itself to mysticism and otherworldliness. So many songs are laced with supernatural wonderment, from Peter, Paul and Mary’s Puff, the Magic Dragon to Ciara and Justin Timberlake’s Love Sex Magic. It could even be said that the art of sampling, used from the esoteric depths of underground music all the way up to the peaks of popularity, has the spirit of magical transmutation baked into its processes.
Much like witches and wizards, many musicians engage in the art of illusion, whether it be the androgynous alien Ziggy Stardust or the animated band Gorillaz. From the donning of bewitching outfits, to the systematics of holographic projection, one can’t deny the fairy dust that persona creation is so often laced with in order to add that extra sparkle.
But there is one artist that is undoubtedly more magical than all the rest, and has no need to hide behind a stage persona. DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ has built up a hefty back catalogue of rewarding releases since her beginnings in 2018. But there is something else that sets DJ Sabrina apart – other than the amazingly original name. It is the fact that the name is no mere nostalgia bait or random reference; the music that you are listening to is actually made by Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
Sabrina Spellman is a teenager that lives in Westbridge, Massachusetts with her aunts Hilda and Zelda and pet cat Salem. To the unassuming eye, they are a pleasant family unit. However, the reality is far more spellbinding. Hilda and Zelda are witches. Sabrina herself is a novice half-witch (her mother being a mortal), and Salem is a witch banished to the body of a cat for trying to take over the world. Their lives are shared between the suburbs of Massachusetts and a magical place called Other Realm. Sabrina – a bright and confident teen – finds herself in many interesting and entertaining situations as she attempts to live a normal teenage life, overcome the obstacles set out by the wizarding world, and keep the two as far apart as possible. Our main window into the young girl’s adventures was Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a TV show that started in the early ‘90s. But one aspect of Sabrina’s life that the show does not explore (save for a few episodes – The Band Episode in particular) is her musical endeavours.
Believe it or not, Sabrina’s penchant for music goes back to when she was only a baby. She tells me – via a spacetime continuum-defying FaceTime session – of hearing the dulcet tones of Drell, the head of The Witches Council, flowing through her parents’ house as they played Other Realm Arias in C# when she was very young. A little later in her life, on one of many romps around the sandpit in the back garden, she composed a tune herself by tapping into the magic that she would come to know so well. The gritty contents of the sandbox flew up into the air, and Sabrina transformed each little grain into a different note, the air filling with a beautiful tune. One can only imagine the sight that would have met any individual spectating at this moment, something like an intricate digital audio workstation that would taste a little grainy if it got in your mouth.
Despite these early recollections of magic usage, her sorcery abilities would not become clear to her until her teenage years, but these since uncovered memories help us to understand not only that Miss Spellman’s musical abilities were spawned at a very young age, but that her musical style is intertwined with witchcraft. “There is a similarity between the two, as they come from the same place,” she asserts to me from her desk; Salem sleeps peacefully just behind her.
Though these musical talents took a backseat as Sabrina began to traverse adolescence and the magic world, the ‘90s and early ‘00s provided her with a tremendous amount of music to explore. Daft Punk, The Avalanches, Lemon Jelly and artists of a similar ilk inspired her to try her hand at making music. Scouring car boot sales and charity shops, she fashioned a studio set-up that could easily fit into her New England attic room and began to experiment.
Much like concocting a spell from different elements, Sabrina’s sound utilises parts to make a unique whole. Her ability to morph samples – be they the hook of a ‘90s RnB classic or a cathartic conversation or quote from a Hallmark movie – is exceptional. Not content with merely coasting off of the novelty of the fantastic samples she chooses, the listener is taken on a precisely constructed journey, often with a lengthy duration. This allows her to hit the listener with a multitude of magical moments in one track, whereas a song created by a mortal being may only deliver one, if any.
Being Alone, an almost 12-minute-long excursion in the middle of her latest album Makin’ Magick II, provides us with a fantastic insight into her style. Harmonious acoustic guitars wield an organic beauty as we hear a voice lament about the life of a lonely 21-year-old. A tale that feels as though it should be met with a slow and emotive style is treated conversely. Pulsing house-inspired kick drums and sweet, swirling melodies illustrate an atmosphere of triumph. Melancholy stands at the peripheries of the track, as DJ Sabrina wraps the concept of loneliness up in the feelgood fabrics of the ‘90s. It is impossible not to smile as the track glows brighter and brighter with each section, distorted synth leads meeting pastiche pop that often sounds like something spawned from Cherion Studios. As we reach the midpoint, Being Alone has transformed from its original lament to an ecstatic celebration as DJ Sabrina lets the beat soar and the female vocals soothe our disintegrating feelings of seclusion. The track perfectly presents that unique perception of loneliness explored in teen films, corresponding with modern, burgeoning perceptions of main character syndrome. The unique atmosphere of the track is indebted to its runtime.
This imaginative use of sampling owes a fair amount to the genre of plunderphonics; so often it feels as though DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ is being intentionally meta with her choices and brazen with her usage. Her chosen samples echo those same songs and soundbites that were forced on audiences in and around the millennium through advertisement and media increasingly focused toward teenagers and children. One of the reasons for this is her love of the time period that she lives in.
The music she graciously gifts her fans is not actually composed anywhere near our modern time, but provided straight from the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, from that same attic she inhabits on the now-defunct TV series. How can such a feat be achieved you ask? Through inter-timeal-dimentional-modem-travel, a process that is so basic and self-explanatory that it does not require extrapolation here.
We live in an age of constant reminiscence and nostalgia, an age of sequels, adaptations and reworks, and this goes some way to explaining her music’s popularity.
We live in an age of constant reminiscence and nostalgia, an age of sequels, adaptations and reworks, and this goes some way to explaining her music’s popularity. Her own reasoning for her success is apt: “The ‘90s seems so much classier in your time! Also, it’s like the value of shopping-channel collectables, bound to increase over time.” Though it feels as though DJ Sabrina’s understanding of the shopping-channel collectibles market may be fairly dated, her point is undeniable. People love the past, especially when it is covered with the sparkling, augmenting glaze of commercial music and media.
So, what are her aunt’s perception of this success? Well, in true Hilda and Zelda fashion, they base their view of Sabrina’s success on popularity. While deep into the spell casting process of production, DJ Sabrina will often hear an aggravated banging from downstairs, one that stunts her creative energy, and jerks poor old Salem out of his kitty slumbering. However as soon as a track starts to achieve a certain level of notoriety, Sabrina’s aunts will deem that as “the best song she’s ever done”. Luckily for them, her music has done incredibly well. A particular career highlight DJ Sabrina settles on is the modern-day music critic Anthony Fantano of The Needle Drop reviewing her late-2020 release.
Though her music is, for the most part, all happiness and positivity, the initial story of her music is not so rosy. The sultry, swirling house tune You Might Be Surprised To Find Yourself Singing It Right Now was actually released in error. It was the deft, dancing paws of her feline friend Salem that uploaded it. Sabrina’s infectious beats lulled him into a lively and animated mambo. As he 2-stepped on the desk, a stray paw hit enter, and the song was shot out onto the web. Though Sabrina surely chastised Salem for that misstep, luckily it worked, and the track was well received. Doubly lucky too, as Sabrina confessed she would have “shoved Salem back in Schrodinger’s Box for being naughty” if it had gone any other way. As it stands, Salem actually has the pleasure of running the DJSTTDJ social media accounts and all music uploads, though he is told to keep his usually drole sense of humour to a strict minimum in each post.
It must be said that Sabrina’s popularity is not only due to the interesting nature of her music. Each release is accompanied by an incredible array of merchandise. Beautiful digipak CD sets, double cassettes, fantastic posters and even t-shirts featuring album art. These products go a long way to amplifying that old school feeling that her music produces, and offers superfans the opportunity to truly pay homage to their favourite teenage witch-turned DJ.
So, what is next for DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ? Well, staying true to her magical roots, she is trying something daring and awe-inspiring: “I’m making a backwards album, kinda like reverse reverb where you put the tape in back-to-front and print the verb then reverse it. Because why not?” she ponders. It certainly sounds like an objective that will need a whole helping of magic to pull off, but we know that if anyone can do it, she can.
Though DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ has cast a fair few fantastic and applaudable incantations, it must be said that her work in the sonic arts is some of her greatest magic of all. The style she utilises obscures herself from view completely. She works, a little like The Wizard of Oz, from behind the eternally positive veneer of ‘90s/early ‘00s pastiche she weaves. Maintaining the beat and letting that wholesome hook live for as long as possible, letting the melody soar as its slick collaged form takes flight with a feelgood energy, introducing a perfectly placed soundbite that you may rush to switch off if you heard it on the TV. Not so with a DJ Sabrina tune, that shallow meet cute audio means the world in its reappropriated context. You can be sure that every album will be a well-thought-out collection, lovingly crafted and released with good humour and even better merchandise. Though she maybe juggling the clique-y issues of high school education, the magical mishaps of Other Realm and the challenges of music all at once, its certain that fans and listeners will not fall out of the spell she casts anytime soon.