This kind of variety might lead you to believe Fisher has an encyclopedic knowledge of electronic music, but he didn't get into it until late in his young adult life. He grew up in suburban New Jersey, where he mostly listened to alternative rock. Musically inclined from childhood, he learned to play the drums, but once he left home—he went to Chicago for two years, then to New York—he couldn't find any bands that interested him. So Fisher started a solo project, which began with a series of rudimentary R&B edits.
"I saw that a lot of my friends were making electronic music, so I was like, 'Lemme figure this out,' and that's when I started doing those edits," he explains. "That was in 2010. The Alicia Keys thing happened in spring 2011, and that was the first thing I ever did that was good enough to show anybody. It immediately took off. "
Fisher's "Real Heavy Vibe" mix of Keys' smoky 2009 hit "Unthinkable" is emblematic of his approach. It was like he took a paintbrush to the track and couldn't keep his hand steady. The track is smudgy and distorted, burying Keys' vocal and letting faint bits of it surface, turning the already anxious song into a goth-tinged epic. That edit and the others floating around were done on the fly with a crude Traktor setup. "It's one thing to just pop someone's acapella or chop their whole song and build on top of it," Fisher says. "Starting from scratch was a big hurdle for me."
Fisher built a following off the back of those edits, aligning him with other big-on-the-internet producers like Pictureplane. His growing prominence coincided with a series of strong online mixes with names like "Therapy Sessions" and "Spinal Correction," and they tied his internet presence with a well defined visual aesthetic to go with the hazy music.
"The name just made sense in terms of talking about dance music and DJing—it's like physical therapy," Fisher points out. "But I've always been attracted to pharmaceutical design and medical culture. I was kind of a sickly child. I remember when I was little, my fantasy was to work at CVS, one of the big pharmacy chains in the States. I was always just mesmerized by the fluorescent lighting and how beautifully all the medicines were laid out with their brightly coloured packaging."
Despite his internet-savvy identity—bright colours, corporate-style logos and marketing speak on his website, which echoes the work of James Ferraro and the growing tide of vaporwave artists—Fisher's early music wasn't the product of ironic detachment or winking millennial nostalgia. "It was just where I was coming from and the parties I was hanging out at," he says. "You would be hearing a lot of R&B. I've never understood the 'guilty pleasure' thing, and for me it always comes from a place of pure love."
A self-described "omnivore," Fisher's early mixes dipped into garage, Baltimore club and drum & bass. This is partly explained by his eagerness to learn, and also having knowledgeable friends, like Hood By Air's Shayne Oliver. Oliver showed Fisher the ropes and set him up with a regular slot at Venus X's GHE20G0TH1K, a trendy cybergoth party that became a dominant player in the New York underground. The party's open-ended style (which was recently pilfered by Rihanna) lined up well with Fisher's tastes.
In 2012—just as GHE20G0TH1K became a regular event—Fisher stopped playing the party to concentrate on production. He says the idea of making songs from scratch was daunting at first, but his friends like Kingdom and Michael Magnan (whom he would later collaborate with as Fatherhood) inspired him. Moving away from the anything-goes style of his GHE20G0TH1K peers, Fisher wanted to streamline his sound—though you wouldn't know this from his first EP of original music, 2012's Safety Net, a five-tracker that ran the gamut from jungle to house, and took six months to finish.
"Safety Net was everything I had made up to that point," Fisher says, laughing. "Once I got over that hurdle—at the time I thought of myself as someone who could only make one track a month—I figured out that it gets easier and easier to push things out."
Over the next year or so, Fisher produced around 100 tracks, moving closer towards house and techno as he began to absorb everything he could. After a "posi techno" release for Grizzly, Yes, I'm Elastic, an EP for rising New York techno imprint Fifth Wall, was his most visible release yet, and definitely his strangest. It was a collection of unrelentingly dark techno with a wonky sense of humour—the woozily repeated "who killed..." chant on "I Did" names luminaries from Derrick May to Seth Troxler, recited like a shopping list of Fisher's dance music discoveries.
Fisher's growing interest in house and techno mirrored the underground dance music trends in the US and UK. But for him it was a personal journey, a self-reinforcing process that was accelerated by his trips to Berlin. "Before Berlin, I thought that techno was stupid," he says. "I thought it was this Richie Hawtin Ibiza thing. I didn't understand that there was good techno. Once my eyes were opened to that I just wanted to make what I was listening to.
"Techno is so propulsive, and they do so much with so little. It gets to a point where there are so many people doing a multi-genre mishmash that's just hitting you over the head with a million sounds. I feel like I got overloaded with that and the SoundCloud edit culture. To see these people who are really caring about a ten-minute song where the only thing that changes is the attack on the hi-hat was really interesting to me. I'm not down to that level of minimalism, but there's something very appealing about that level of focus."
Focus has been the foundation of Fisher's musical development, but he suggests that it's been a more gradual process than it might appear. "If you listened to Safety Net and Yes I'm Elastic side by side, it would be like I made this optimistic electronica drum & bass record and then a dark techno record, but I produced so many songs in between," he says. "Fifth Wall were just into the darkest ones. I had gotten really into my 909 and using my own vocals, it just came out that way. It's dark, but it's tongue-in-cheek."
If there's anything Fisher has carried over from his early production days, it's the mischief. The heady atmospherics of Yes, I'm Elastic are almost undone by its playful pitch-shifting, while his two latest releases, which came on his new label, Allergy Season, take the chassis of steely German techno and spraypaint it with neon colours. "Even when I think I'm doing the most straight-up techno thing, it's gonna be weird, it's gonna be off," he says. Million Years Crushed features a rework from Norman Nodge, whom Fisher saw at Berghain one Sunday and was so impressed that he immediately asked him for a remix when he got home. To his delight, Nodge accepted. (The track was later featured in Marcel Dettmann's Essential Mix.) Having a greyscale tool like Nodge's remix next to the technicolour original illustrates the stylistic tangle in Fisher's mind.
Fisher's new Allergy Season imprint is an extension of his clever branding, with a well designed website, which looks like a medication box. More importantly, it gives his distinctive music a platform that's free from someone else's expectations. The music on Allergy Season's two releases so far—a free six-tracker and a vinyl EP—are his most confident fusions of house and techno yet.
"The label was something I did begrudgingly," Fisher says, "because I thought the label side of things was the worst. But I was having this frustration that there were some labels interested in my tracks—but not the ones I most wanted to put out. So I started coming to terms with the idea and getting the money together, then I started telling people I was doing it, and then I had to do it, because I told people.
"That's why I called it Allergy Season—it's this horrible thing you have to go through every year to get from the winter to the beautiful summer. Sometimes releasing a record can be like that, or like getting a tooth pulled—dealing with horrible interviews, these weird email interviews where people are asking the same question every time. Then it gets delayed. So why can't you just do it so that it's friendly and fun? As soon as I started it I knew I didn't want it to be just me, either—I wanted to take what I had learned from all different people and make it the easiest and best way to make a record."
In addition to more Physical Therapy records, Allergy Season has EPs from fellow New York techno oddity Max McFerren, Renaissance Man's Head Hurts ("an amazing house project that he's doing"), and someone named Draveng, "who does this kind fast, delicate but intense techno and house," Fisher says.
If the label was the first step of a major change, then Fisher's move to Berlin was the next. "I just wanted a change," he says. "I had been living in New York for three years straight. I came to visit Berlin last summer and then just stayed. There was no immediate benefit to it because I had a good thing going in New York—I'm not necessarily getting any more bookings here—but I was ready for something a little different. And it definitely is different. I can't necessarily get booked to play these more heads-down parties, but that's not a compromise I want to make anyways. To me, everything is jumbled in my head. It's not like, 'I'm gonna make this '98 techno roller,' and then I just make it. That's not how I could ever really work.
"As much as one release may feel like it's pointing towards something like me transitioning to techno, I still produce all kinds of tracks, from garage to disco edits to electronica," Fischer says. "Things have always been messy. Genres bleed into each other heavily, that's what makes things exciting. I would be sad if five years from now I was just producing two big-room techno singles a year and everything else had fallen to the wayside."