Gender upender: a fuzzy chat with Peaches
She’s cool, confrontational and her spectacular live performances are legendary. Now she has written, directed and starred in her own movie. Peaches talks to Una Mullally over a bad phone line about her pioneering work
Peaches is on a bad phone line from Berlin. Peaches is annoyed about the bad phoneline. Peaches keeps asking me to repeat my (lengthy) questions. I am now scared of Peaches.
Peaches is probably used to intimidating people. Her coolness is brilliantly confrontational and is enhanced by a sense of spectacle live that further extends her mystique. The latest manifestation of that mystique is Peaches Does Herself, a new rock opera, written, directed and starring Peaches (born Merrill Nisker, in Toronto), which screens at the Irish Film Institute on December 15th, featuring a Q&A with Peaches. Later that night, she will DJ and perform at Partie Monster in Dublin’s Button Factory.
“Can you repeat that please, I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s going on here. This line is really bad.”
I don’t know Peaches, and I’m not going to get to know her over a phonecall. Yet every musician who encounters her speaks so positively. So I got on to someone who has experienced the Peaches effect firsthand, Julie Chance from Berlin-based Irish-Australian-French outfit Kool Thing, who played a show with Peaches the other week in Normandy.
Why do musicians love Peaches so much?
“She’s amazing,” Chance says, “A pioneer of all things DIY and electroclash, a self-made woman, freedom fighter, helps the underdog at every opportunity. She does what she wants, sticks it to the man and doesn’t care about the consequences. She dances to her own tune and is totally supportive of all us struggling musicians in Berlin. She’d do anything for you, very inspiring. An actual legend.”
Yes, Peaches is very much a musician’s musician. The DNA of her beats and attitude can be detected in organisms called M.I.A. and C.S.S., Amanda Blank and Ke$ha, Goldfrapp and Lady Gaga, Gossip and Róisín Murphy. She always appears to be surrounded by creative people. Feist was her flatmate and operated sock puppets behind her onstage. M.I.A. made her clothes. Chilly Gonzales is her old buddy. Iggy Pop jumped on a track on her 2003 album, Fatherfucker. The next album, Impeach My Bush, was even more star-studded, with Josh Homme, Beth Ditto, Joan Jett, and former sock puppeteer Feist guesting on tracks. Simian Mobile Disco, Soulwax and Digitalism produced tracks on her last album I Feel Cream. Every icon needs a hit. Fuck The Pain Away, a song that features in everything from Lost In Translation to 30 Rock, South Park to Jackass, still sounds brilliantly seedy, like Kathleen Hanna falling out of a fetish club, and has become part of the contemporary clubbing lexicon, like Blue Monday or All My Friends.
Theatre was her initial calling; she studied it before she realised it wasn’t for her. Back to our fuzzy phonecall. “I didn’t want to have to deal with all these elements that would probably have given me a heart attack – overseeing everything instead of the creativity. I was too young to handle it and probably would have ended up being a tyrant.”
She quit, and talks about finding musical performance almost accidentally, “sitting around with friends, getting a gig, then getting one every week.” She realised music was “a more healthy and productive way for myself – to be able to write it myself and perform it myself and be my own director and take control.”
Peaches’s output – somewhere on the glam, electroclash, electronic punk spectrum – is often underpinned thematically by a subversion of gender boundaries. Live, there might be an LED torch in her crotch. In music videos, such as the one for Set It Off, her pubic and armpit hair endlessly grows, like a Play-Doh Factory toy. The cover of Fatherfucker features Peaches wearing a full beard.