Get Physical, Berlin's seminal and beloved record label is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Founded by DJ T., Booka Shade, M.A.N.D.Y., and with Roland Leesker at the wheel, they remain determined to explore new frontiers in global house music.
Roland Leesker is celebrating the occasion with the release of 20 x Get Physical, a compilation he curated, edited and mixed. Of the 20 tracks included in this compilation, six are brand new and exclusive versions, representing 20 years of this influential record label.
The best way to describe Roland Leesker is that he leads by example. In his life, he has experienced dance music in all its forms, from being in love with the dance floor as a teenager to becoming a house music devotee. He worked in record stores, picked up bottles and glasses in clubs, and has a degree in International Finance and Law.
Whether he is DJing, touring, producing, or running every aspect of Get Physical and making it a successful business model, Roland Leesker understands that music has given him a beautiful life and he is determined to continue reaping the benefits by being sober and a vegan. Did we mention he practices Tai Chi, Kung Fu, and fencing?
We are honored to have Roland Leesker join The DJ Cookbook from Berlin and give us a master class in all things house music.
Q: What have you eaten today?
A: A big bowl of tofu noodle soup!
Q: Where are you right now?
A: In our new office in Kreuzberg in Berlin, just around the corner from the Hardwax record store.
Q: Where do you celebrate the holidays?
A: Like every year, together with my family in Frankfurt at our father's place.
Q: Do you like to cook holiday food? If yes, what do you enjoy cooking?
A: I love being together with my family. For me, it's more about being together than what we are actually cooking. I love these moments when all generations are connecting with each other, all together in one room.
Q: What is your favorite holiday family recipe?
Q: What is your favorite drink?
Q: Did you bake any Christmas cookies? If yes, what is your favorite type of Christmas cookie?
A: My younger sister is in charge of this job because she makes some of the best cookies in the world. My favorites are her caramel cookies, so yummy!
Q: Which foods remind you of your childhood in Frankfurt?
A: Kartoffelbrei mit Apfelmus (mashed potatoes with apple sauce).
Q: Do you have children? If yes, do you cook for them? What do they like to eat?
A: Yes, we have one son, he is almost 18 years old, and luckily he has started to enjoy cooking himself, especially Asian food.
Q: You lived in New York during the 90s, what comes to mind when you think of NYC food?
A: Peking duck in Chinatown.
Q: Which club did you go to the most in NY, Twilo, Sound Factory, Limelight, We are the Robots, Tunnel, Roxy, or Palladium?
A: Sound Factory Bar with Louie Vega spinning on Wednesdays, Tony Humphries on Thursdays, and Fridays again with Frankie Knuckles. I loved this place, the sound system, and its crowd.
Q: After record shopping at Vinylmania did you ever go to eat a slice at Joe’s Pizza? Do you have a favorite pizza topping?
A: I missed that one. My money was tight and I spent it almost all on vinyl and clubbing. Nowadays I prefer vegetarian toppings, the simpler the better, so it basically all comes down to the quality of the tomato sauce.
Q: During your time in China what did you discover foodwise that you can’t live without now?
A: Green tea.
Q: Do you have a favorite British dish?
A: I loved the Fish 'n' Chips in front of Sheffield Hallam University during my studies there in 1998. It's also worth noting the Indian cuisine that you can find in Britannia, is much more flavorful, spicy, and original.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant in Berlin?
A: I Due Forni on Schönhauser Allee, the best pizza in Berlin and maybe one of the best in the world, outside of Italy. Simple, honest, and affordable.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a DJ?
A: When I saw the video "New York, New York" by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5, sometime in the middle of the '80s.
Q: How old were you when you played your first DJ gig?
A: I was 16 years old, and it was at an evening dance in a catholic youth home, they threw me out after the first two records. I guess my selection was a bit too challenging.
Q: How big is your record collection?
A: Circa 20.000 vinyl, mainly 12", and some very nice albums too.
Q: How often do you go record shopping or is all your vinyl shopping done on Discogs?
A: I prefer to search and order on Discogs because it's the best place for me to find what I am looking for (I usually look for very specific versions in mint quality) but when I am at special places like Only Music in Rio de Janeiro for example I still love spending hours going through what they have, being friends with the owners and always spending way too much.
Q: When touring, which city do you look forward to because of the food?
A: I wish I could travel to China again, as their food is still the healthiest and freshest, and also because it's always fun if you have no clue about what you actually just ordered. They all laugh while watching you enjoy it.
Q: Touring has allowed you to travel the world, which country has left a long-lasting impression on you?
A: Brazil has become my second home for sure. I love its mix of cultures, nature, the warm-heartedness of its people, and their feeling for music & rhythm.
Q: When did you join the Get Physical family?
A: Philipp asked me to give him a helping hand in 2010 to get the label ready for the digital future. I said, "Yes, maybe I could do a day per week…".
Q: Let’s talk about the work you have been doing at Get Physical, can you tell us about the projects you’ve been involved with since you began working with the label?
A: Well, there are too many different stories with regard to many different aspects of our business that I have been involved with since then, as our business environment has changed a lot and keeps on doing so every day.
What I am particularly happy about is the fact that we have recently been able to make each team member a shareholder of the company as well. That is something I always wanted to accomplish, it’s an ethos of how I wanted to run a modern company.
Now with 20 years behind us, our goal is to make Get Physical fit for the next 10 years, with a special focus on female artists and even more focus on music from all over the world.
Q: Africa, Berlin, Cuba, Detroit, and India have been some of the countries and cities featured in the successful Get Physical compilations, what countries or cities can we expect next?
A: China, Get Physical!
Q: When did the planning for 20 x Get Physical begin?
A: I started my first selection during the summer holidays in 2021.
Q: Were you given the keys to the Get Physical Vault and had carte blanche to curate, edit, and mix the compilation?
A: Since I own these keys I was lucky enough to simply do what I wanted to do with them.
Q: What were the ideas behind the selections?
A: I started by simply selecting the most successful streaming releases of our catalog but quickly realized that these were not necessarily my personal favorites. Hence I decided to make the selection very subjective, representing my taste and style as a selector and DJ. Once this decision was made I decided to limit myself to 20 tracks.
Q: How long did this process take?
A: It took me about a year of constantly listening to and narrowing down my playlist for the final selection.
Q: Were the edits you contributed already completed tracks?
A: Yes, I simply edited them a little more, creating versions I would use in my DJ sets; prolonging and looping a part here, added an a capella there.
Q: The compilation starts in Detroit with DJ ONE FIVE and ends in South Africa with Thandi Draai. You take the listener through the history of Get Physical while dropping new releases and your own edits give old classics a new lease on life. Did you have a theme or story that you wanted to tell with each track?
A: Yes, this final selection is my very personal definition of the mind, body, and soul of Get Physical Music.
Q: Did a lot of tracks get left out?
A: Oh yes, way too many, it was quite hard for me as I wanted to include more artists that I really like a lot, but it had to be limited by the nature of the product and its intended audience.
Q: How would you describe your love of music?
A: Music has given me a beautiful life, it's the most precious gift, the biggest friend, and still the most interesting mystery of this world to me.
Q: What does house mean to you?
A: Eddie Amador has found the perfect definition: "Not everyone understands House Music - it's a spiritual thing, a body thing, a soul thing".
Q: You have been part of the evolution of electronic music, which changes did you see coming, and which ones surprised you?
A: Due to my work and studies abroad in the late 1990s, especially in the USA and UK, I got in contact with that new thing called the "internet" pretty early.
It made me believe that perhaps one day my dream could actually become true that at any time when a piece of music is being played the original creators/owners could get some sort of feedback that it's being used, where and for how long, in which kind of environment, etc.
Some sort of mechanism that actually provides a fair pay model for everyone involved in the process. I think this idea does not sound that crazy anymore although we are still far away from its realization, keeping in mind all the huge barriers national institutions, such as mechanical rights associations, have created over the last one hundred years.
What really still surprises me is the fact that electronically produced music keeps on growing and that new generations embrace it again and again. At this year's ADE, for example, I saw families dancing together. I think that is really cool!
Q: Having a background in International Finance and Law allows you to see the music business from a different perspective. How important do you think it is for a musician to understand the legal and business aspect of the music industry?
A: I think it's very important to have a certain understanding of copyright law or at least have the willpower to learn to understand it by consulting someone whom you can trust and who really knows.
Especially the latest forms of releasing music as NFTs have massive long-term consequences with regards to both rights: master, as well as publishing rights, and I, have my doubts that many of the creators, traders as well as buyers have realized these implications to full effect so far.
Q: In your opinion what makes a record label successful?
A: If your artists are happy and they come back to you and become friends as well as long-term business partners, then you are certainly doing something right.
If you are able to define a genre, a certain sound, which is automatically connected to your label brand, like Defected Records for example, then you are exceptionally successful.
And if you are still doing it after more than 40 years, having created some of the biggest songs of the world as we know it, and still are forward-looking on every level, then you are a Master of the Universe, like Daniel Miller with MUTE.
Q: When you are not dealing with the business side of Get Physical, touring, or producing what do you do to relax?
A: I am a Kung Fu student, practicing every day, beginning with a Tai Chi routine in the early morning and individual lessons during the day. I also started fencing a few years ago for the fun of it.
During the summer I love to go swimming, hiking, and biking, especially in Croatia where my wife comes from.
Q: How important is dancing for you?
A: Hearing music and dancing to it is still the most important thing for me. It keeps me young and happy.
Q: How do you take care of your hearing?
A: Despite the fact that I should say I always protect my ears in clubs, etc., I don't, and I never have. The funny thing is my hearing is still at 100%.
Maybe it's because I really love hearing music and doing so has a healing effect on me but certainly also because I have learned to give my organs time to recover if I feel something is wrong with my body.
Q: To what extent do you think the pandemic made people realize the importance of dance music, clubs, and dancing?
A: Well, we all certainly missed it during the pandemic and I was shocked by the ignorance of our governments for the enormous importance of music and cultural activities in general for the well-being of human beings and society.
Q: Now that things have gone back to this “new normal” do you think some people still take it for granted?
A: Well, people tend to forget very quickly as well. Is that a good or bad thing? I am still undecided.
Q: When producing what DAW do you use?
Q: What is your favorite piece of gear?
A: My Pioneer 800 DJ Mixer. I got it via eBay from the USA and immediately destroyed it the day it arrived as I ignored the different voltage current between the US and Europe….
Fortunately, some befriended nerds repaired it for me including a total renovation of the cross-fader and all other parts. I simply love this mixer with its warm sound making mixing from vinyl and CDDJ sound as if they were all from the same source.
And its fat extra knobs for bass, mids, and highs to control all channels at once are such a simple and effective way of manipulating the sound in a room. The new V10 by Pioneer copied that principle again by the way.
Q: What are your plans for the new year? New releases, touring?
A: Becoming better at every level!
Q: Roland, thank you so much for being part of The DJ Cookbook!
A: Thank You and all the best wishes!
Roland Leesker Instagram
Listen to 20 x Gets Physical