"Yeah, I don't know why I like [doing] British drag so much," laughs Physical Therapy; we're discussing his penchant for "themed mixes" — a regular fixture on his bi-monthly NTS show, in particular the imitable Big Sad UK Megamix and Ultimate UK Summer Megamix. Both are packed to the brim with UKG favourites and beloved Blighty club anthems, while the Summer edition even features snippets from news programmes interviewing members of the public in reaction to the '22 heatwave. So how does this Queens-based DJ/producer know how to tap into our national psyche and rinse us so thoroughly? "I've always felt like there is such a cool musical culture to investigate there that you can sink your teeth into and see the different contexts," he says.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Physical Therapy, AKA Daniel Fisher had a fair few feathers in his musical hat before becoming a producer. "I also always played an instrument or made music, I played the saxophone and flute [when I was a kid] but I was really tiny and actually physically too small to play either one, but then I started playing drums and that was pretty much the last thing before I got into electronica." Admitting his first musical obsessions came by way of "nu metal and indie rock" Fisher joined a number of bands as a drummer until he moved to New York in 2010. Inspired by friends who were making electronic music, he began experimenting with R&B edits on his laptop and posting them in SoundCloud; In classic bedroom-producer-to-club-favourite fashion, an edit of Alicia Keys 'Unthinkable' released under his newly-minted moniker - Physical Therapy - in his words "took off."
In the 12 years since, Fisher has made a name for himself either side of the pond for his capricious approach to DJ sets, his multitude of aliases (see Kirk the Flirt and Peter Pressure), his glistening genre-bending productions and hilarious online persona. Following the release of his debut EP 'Safety Net' in 2012, Fisher made "over 100 tracks" in just over a year, with initial releases on Grizzly, Fifth Wall and Hippos In Tanks before establishing his own Imprint, Allergy Season, in 2014. Allergy Season acts as an extended arm on Fisher;s musical philosophy: featuring everything from "tough-as-nails techno" via Lady Blacktronika, to the flirty dub from Love Letters to raucous breakbeats from OSSX, to teaming up with fellow NYC-dwellers Discwoman for compilation series 'Physically Sick'. All the while keeping to his general tongue-in-cheek aura and aesthetic, whether that is in the track descriptions or artwork.
On the DJing side, Fisher is know for his unpredictability, with an enviable collection of music at his disposal garnered over "multiple rabbit holes," audiences never really know what they are going to get; he's comfortable moving between euphoric '90s house anthems, nosebleed techno and silky, vocal-laden UKG without breaking so much as a sweat. A resident at NYC institution Nowadays (acting as a resident at the latter), Physical Therapy has become an in-demand booking across both North America and Europe — with appearances at Berlin's Berghain, Floyd in Miami, Night Tales in London and Paris' Le Chinois last year.
Following the success of last year's 'Teardrops on My Garage', with its effervescent-but-morose UKG, Fisher is attempting "12 releases over 12 months" in 2023; with last month's two-tracker 'Brick' and a single set to be announced tomorrow. Need a session before then? Well Physical Therapy has put together an hour-long foray into his current club fascinations, give it a whirl and read our Q&A with dance music's "premier meme king" below:
So we're pretty fast approaching Allergy Season right now. How have you been preparing?
I'm stocking up on allergy medicine, praying for the best. They say allergies are getting worse because of pollution. Spring is a bad time for me. [laughs]
Allergy Season is "genre-free and highly emotional," do you think that's a good way to describe the music you make too?
It's funny, I forgot that I'd picked that tagline — I was looking on SoundCloud recently and I was like: "Oh, that's our slogan!" But it's funny because I am obsessed with genre, obviously. I think I [came up with it] at this time when things were a lot more rigid and specialised in dance music - maybe 2013-14. Dance music "had to have a sound" then, so I guess it was just trying to make sure it wasn't going to be that.
You've been producing as Physical Therapy since 2010 right? How do you think your approach to music/art/life has changed/stayed the same since then?
Yeah, I think there is like a cyclical nature to making and being in love with music. When it was newer to me it was almost easier because everything I would make was so exciting to me — even if it was bad [laughs]. It's the same with finding music. Each new song or track I found would be so exciting. Now I might make a bunch of songs and just be like: "These are trash" and throw them away or I'll listen to promos for five seconds and buy 20 records at a time. I try to find that original joy always. Right now, for the first time ever, I have a real music studio — so making music has become a little more structured and methodical, whereas in the past it would be me on my couch. Well, It still is sometimes [laughs]. But at least now I have a place to go.
What characterises Physical Therapy apart from your other aliases? Like why is he the star?
I'd say Physical Therapy is me, the original one. The alias' started off more as fun little things to do, but there's rarely a track that is so different that it couldn't come out of Physical Therapy too. Sometimes it makes sense to do it as another one, but I don't know that there's like a "Physical Therapy sound" that is different compared to, like, you know... Kirk The Flirt. Physical Therapy is the head of the family tree.
We checked and there's a jazz fusion band from St Louis Ohio also called Physical Therapy that had tonnes of releases in the early '90s, do you think they will be coming for you any time soon?
I might be coming for them, there are always showing up on my Spotify page.
Have you ever spoken to them? Has there been any kind of dialogue?
I don't think so, I think they were active in the late '80s/early '90s and that's it. But there was a jungle DJ in New York called Physical Therapy and we had a very brief overlap, I think they were only active for the first couple of years I was active, but there were one or two times where we may have been booked for each other's events.
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What did you listen to when you were growing up? We saw an interview that described you as "musically-inclined since childhood" — what did that look like?
The only better like stock music journalist thing would be so "musically-inclined since birth."
I know, I know.
I was like really into, I mean listening wise, I was really into like nu metal and then eventually indie rock. But I do remember having a compilation CD called 'Totally Dance' — which is really good if you can find it. There were these two stations in New York: KTU which is still around - but now plays EDM, but they used to freestyle and play house music and then WBLS, which is the R&B station, and they also played a bunch of house music. So I always really liked dance music I think, but I wasn't super aware of it. Now, there are some songs that I'll play that people will be like: "What was that?" And I think they're like these huge global hits, but they come from local dance radio stations when I was growing up.
You originally started off in bands playing drums right? Do you still have an affinity to those genres you started out in?
Well, I don't really only play drums anymore. I took my drums out of storage during lockdown, I wanted to maybe do a little practice and see if I could still play after a decade — but I got discouraged and just put them right back in storage after a couple of months [laughs]. The reason I started making electronic music was because I really enjoyed being at the forefront, not this supporting member of a band waiting on the lead singer to the lead guitarist, producing I can just, play. I do miss being in bands though, it was so fun.
Would you ever start a DJ band?
I'm thinking of when Fade To Mind had like four DJs [laughs]. I do a lot of collaborative stuff, but I think if it was a "band band" if everyone is playing a different instrument.
You have a pretty in-depth knowledge of a lot of pretty different types of music, is that why you tend to play around with genre a lot?
Yeah, I mean, I think I've always been super nerdy about finding things out about music specifically — even when I was into indie rock or whatever I really wanted to have as much as possible. I was obsessed with discographies and being a completionist, finding the earliest recording out there of The Mountain Goats or whatever... that was exciting to me as much when a new song came out. So I think it makes sense that it's applied to dance music. But, I do think that because there are so many different forms of dance music, I just end up like going on these tangents and investigating a lot. Like the other day, I spent like five hours looking at the electro-house tag on Beatport because I was just curious, I wanted to have a listen. What things were tagged as electro house in 1995 and then looking at how that evolved. Then reading about the different labels and stuff like that. So yeah, I'm a huge nerd basically.
Enjoying going down a rabbit hole basically.
Yeah, there's an academic element to it that I don't think everyone cares about with music, which I don't think matters at all — but for me, it makes it more fun to absorb all the context of it. It leads me to find cool things that I wouldn't have otherwise.
Last year's 'Teardrops On My Garage' really went all out on the bittersweet UKG. Do you think now you've gotten that release out of the way you're all garage-d out? Or is garage a genre you have a big affinity for?
Oh jeez, I would never, never be garage-d out [laughs]. I mean, my first interactions with dance music when I started DJing were just through YouTube — I didn't really know where to buy records or whatever. So if I go back to my laptop and look at my music in chronological order, 2010 is all these YouTube rips of bassline and speed garage tracks. I didn't really know anything about them, but I was already drawn to it because I really liked the way they did flips and stuff. Obviously that genre is like, you know.. the best. So no, I'll never be garage-d out. I've been playing garage for 12 years. So it's exciting to be at a point where, especially in New York, you can play it out at clubs and people get excited. I can tell you, it was not always like that.
How do you usually approach DJing with all this music in your bag? Do you just play what you're really enjoying at that moment or do you try to work around the party/the crowd you know will be there?
I mean, I think my life would be a lot easier if I put genre tags on playlists on rekordbox, but I don't. I make a playlist for almost every party or at least every weekend that I'm playing out, I really think about the context of the tracks. I'm always going to come in to a party with an idea beforehand, and sometimes it'll just be certain tracks that I've been thinking about. I think it goes back to when I started DJing, I was burning CDs and sort of learning about music at the same time, so there wouldn't have been enough to do a genre specific series or even to burn a CD for every party. That's how my brain likes to catalog for music, so if I'm like, I want to play 'Take Control', then I'll think back and I'll be like: "Oh, I thought I was maybe going to play a bunch of tech-house rollers at this party." I don 't really recommend my method to be honest. [laughs]
Your latest single 'Brick' sees you move more to piano banger/breakbeat/techno territory. So handy that it comes with both a 'driving' and 'breaking' version — do you think every track should have one of each?
I don't know if every track should. But one thing I love about singles is having different versions. Sometimes they're a little bit too similar, but better for a different context — sometimes you'll hear a song and you'll think: "If only it was a little less intense" or "if only it was a little more driving." People don't do it as much now and It's fun, when you're producing music you come to all these fork in the road moments, and you have a cool like piano in there or whatever and you have to decide — are you going to go in that direction or you are you going to make something else by speeding it up and falling down. Then you realise... oh, that sounds good both ways but you just usually end up choosing one. So for me, it's kind of fun to just follow those different tangents and see what happens. It doesn't always work out, but sometimes it really does — my next single coming out has four versions.
Along with your Car Culture series, we're getting the sense you're really into driving atm. What do you like best about going for a drive?
I think it ranks just above the nightclub as the best place to listen to music. There's just something about it. It's one of the few, bare bones, places where you're really surrounded by the music.
If you could do an hour mix of anything at all what would it be? I'm talking pie in the sky here.
What quality do you think makes a really great driving track?
I think for me, it's less about the physicality, but the ideal driving music is like you're listening to the radio and something that's very unexpected, but it's actually exactly what you need to hear comes on. It's unmatched.
Can you let us know what's coming up next for you?
I have another single coming out this month - the one with four versions - and another one coming on after that. Oh, and shortly after this interview comes out, I'll be playing the sunrise or the morning set at the Nowadays non-stop, which is always very fun.
Can you tell us about this mix?
No big theme here, just an attempt to reflect some current sets I’ve been playing out. A lot of trippy, dramatic, broken sounds. Minimal, progressive breaks, electro and of course a little UKG.
Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Editor, follow her on Twitter
Latecomer 'Cosmic Cart' (Soulphiction Aced Out Remix)
Space Jam 'Neon Phusion'
John Creamer & Stephane K ft. Nkemdi 'With You Were Here' (PMT Remix)
Peace Division 'Eh Oh Um' (Dungeon Meat’s Break Meat Mix)
Kiki, Chaim & Cari Golden 'Love Kills'
The Buzzard Necks 'Building'
Dan Cough 'B-Jam'
Jerome Hill 'The Doctor Will See You Now'
My Nu Leng 'Satellites'
Francesco Devincenti & Giordano 'Over It'
Chicks On Speed 'Wordy Rappinghood' (Dave Clarke’s Non Techno Mix)
Uman Therma 'Manners and Discipline'
Radioactive Man 'Airlock'
Ollie Rant & Malaika 'One Last Time'
Nicky Soft Touch x Amber 'Sexual City Cut' (PT Edit)
Deep Cover 'Sounds Of Eden' (Young Offendaz Mix)
Rui Da Silva ft. Ben Onono 'On My Mind' (PT Regressive House Edit)