DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ: the cheeky dance producer who’s been mistaken for Aphex Twin

The pseudonymous dance producer’s sample-dense beats cast a spell in the pandemic that’s set to last

From London, England
Recommended if you like The Avalanches, Chuck Person, AG Cook
Up next New album coming in spring; six-LP Charmed box set in July 2023

There’s a rumour going around that DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ – the mysterious dance producer whose sprawling, sample-dense tracks have become an online sensation and led to a collaboration with the 1975 – might actually be Richard D James, AKA Aphex Twin. On a Zoom in mid-December, the polite, witty woman staring back certainly doesn’t look like James, but I double-check, just to be sure. “At one point, I was supposedly Taylor Swift,” she says with a hearty laugh. “And now Aphex Twin, that’s quite a good repertoire!”

You can understand how fans might have gotten it twisted. Since 2017, DJ Sabrina has been churning out hours of the UK’s weirdest and most inventive dance music – gloriously kaleidoscopic songs built from cheesy film samples, the melodies of happy-go-lucky pop songs and chintzy, daytime TV-ready keyboard parts. The clearest antecedent is the Avalanches, but Sabrina’s songs are plasticky and uncanny, like Since I Left You recreated by Mattel. Who else but Aphex would be making dance music so pretty and perverse?

As it turns out: a part-time retail worker who calls herself Sabrina Spellman (after the Teenage Witch). Raised around the UK, Sabrina began making music 20 years ago – first “more amateur” electronic music and later guitar music. “I got a bit disillusioned – I did some live shows in a band, and it wasn’t really going anywhere,” she says.

DJ Sabrina The Teenage DJ: Charmed video

One day, she heard lo-fi house, the burgeoning 2010s subgenre typified by a hazed-out, downtempo mood, and artist names such as Ross from Friends and DJ Seinfeld. Sabrina picked the stupidest name she could think of, and began work on Makin’ Magick, her debut album, with some help from her sibling, who she refers to as Salem (obviously). She continued releasing albums and singles and, to her surprise, her three-hour 2020 album Charmed became an underground pandemic hit. “I get messages from people saying it’s actually helped with their depression or they’ve gone for marathon runs and listened to all of Charmed,” she says.

One of those fans was the 1975’s Matty Healy. He was working on a demo that sounded a lot like Sabrina’s music and asked her to collaborate; the track became Happiness, a single from the band’s 2022 record Being Funny in a Foreign Language, built around a dense, hypnotic loop that is quintessentially Sabrina. “I’d been a fan of the 1975 for quite a few years so I was a bit starstruck,” she says.

Happiness is the capstone to, well, a charmed few years that have earned Sabrina success on her terms. “People say ‘I don’t even know what kind of music it is’ and that’s just great, because I don’t have to think about what’s popular or what might progress my career, which can be very taxing,” she says. “I’m doing exactly what I want in music, and people are actually responding.”


Shaad D'Souza

The GuardianTramp

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