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Peaches Wants to Watch It Crumble

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 20 years after The Teaches of Peaches, the world is still catching up with the artist’s brash, irreverent, and sexually self-assured life philosophy.

Peaches is spinning around in her office chair, a crop of bleach-striped bangs arching over her brow like the flank of a zebra. “Build it up. Wake up,” she repeats again and again, punching the final vowels. The refrain sounds like a dare, confrontational but free of menace. A magenta cutout oozing from the collar and across the width of her baggy a.CHAT dress is too primordial and bright to suggest a blood wound — a sign of life just beginning to take shape rather than spilling out.

The video is for her new song called “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCxmuAL_R4M"}">Flip This,” which Peaches, 53, wrote, recorded, and shot in her home studio this summer. Partly her response to months of global uprising for social justice, the August release is a raw and restless call to action. (By “this” in “Flip This,” she means the system.) The song has also served as a creative release valve from the pandemic-induced inertia that has seemed to drape over the world like a weighted blanket.

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“I wanted to share the feeling of being in it,” Peaches says over the phone from Berlin, where she’s lived for two decades. “Just trying to work, and be aware and awake, making sure that you're finding a way to be active, not for reasons of ego,” she says of the track’s inspiration. “But also trying to have some positive energy.”

 

The turbulent year that sparked “Flip This” also marks the 20th anniversary of The Teaches of Peaches, her debut album under the eponymous stage name, released in September of 2000. The very first line of its breakthrough opening track, “Fuck the Pain Away,” rings out like a wry taunt: “Suckin' on my titties like you wanted me / Callin’ me, all the time like Blondie,” exemplifying Peaches’ trademark attitude: a forceful frankness that can be disarmingly funny. The album heralded the full-throated arrival of a singular voice in music — queer, punk rock, and entirely free of inhibition. Artists from Grimes to Lady Gaga have learned a thing or two from the school of Peaches: her sharp, rhythmic assembly of lo-fi electro beats, flat delivery of sexually explicit lyrics, and transformation of music into performance art, to name a few.





“I didn't want people to say, ‘This is a singer,’ and then try and filter out what I'm talking about,” Peaches says of developing her signature beat-heavy, repetitive sound, citing influences from Lil Kim and Missy Elliott to Iggy Pop and Daft Punk. “I was like, ‘I have a message,’ and I wanted to be direct and deadpan.” That message, she says, was “a culmination of growing up with all this super misogynist male-gaze music that had no bearing on my life and my queerness or who I wanted to be — a strong and sexual energetic person.”

Her style and craft have grown ever more expansive over the course of 20 years, five albums, and an ambitious array of film, art, and live performances. But the essence of Peaches — a brash and vibrant irreverence — remains the same. “I'm not trying to please people,” she says of her political and artistic evolution. “I'm trying to be responsible for myself, so that I can say what I really want to say.”

“I’m Going to Create My Own Universe”

Peaches was born Merrill Nisker, in Ontario, Canada, to second generation, Eastern European Jewish immigrants. A love of art and performance led her to drama school; distaste for authority and the only time she’s ever dropped acid convinced her to leave. (“I woke up and went, ‘I'm going to quit.’”) But her instinct for theatre directing would eventually drive her career, once she found her way into music, jammed in a few bands, and fashioned herself as an outrageous character with a solo act.

 

“When I decided to become Peaches, I realized, ‘Oh, my God. I can be the writer, the director, the stage designer, the lighting designer. I'm in complete control, and I'm going to create my own universe.’"

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The legend goes that a weed-fueled jam session between Nisker and three other Canadian-born musicians disgruntled with previous bands (who’d go on to call themselves the Shit) inspired what would grow into Peaches’ distinct sound. “We just started to yell things out. Really almost teenage-kindergarten style,” she recalls. “It was about sex. It was just whatever came to our heads.” When Nisker discovered the MC-505, a standalone instrument that allowed her to combine drum beats, guitar samples, and a limited number of other sounds, she was off on her own.

The name “Peaches” comes from Nina Simone’s song “Four Women,” about four archetypes of Black women addressing their struggles with racism; the final one cries out in defiance, “My name is Peaches!” “I wanted

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While pop artists like Pink and Christina Aguilera topped the charts with songs that cloaked sex in metaphor, Peaches treated sex exactly as it is: strange, filthy, often hilarious, but never taboo. A typical late-aughts stage show might find her wagging a strap-on over Spandex hot pants, or squeezing the nipples on an oversize breastplate to douse the audience in pretend milk. (“Always having liquids involved, that was very 2000s of me.”) Her metaphors were also decidedly less censored. “I wanted to create new clichés,” she says of songs like “Diddle My Skittle” — “there was no reference [like that

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The Germination of a Dark Epic

The lead-up last year to The Teaches of Peaches’ anniversary coincided with a series of large-scale projects, including Peaches’ first solo art exhibition, called “Whose Jizz Is This?” in Hamberg, Germany, and accompanying performances of a 40-person stage show, “There’s Only One Peach With the Hole in the Middle.” The production’s plans to tour the U.S. have been tentatively postponed to next year.

The cosmic pause button of 2020 happened to arrive at a fitting time. “I was feeling like I had done so much last year; I wanted to just take human moments and go deep into myself,” Peaches says. She had already planned to work on new music when the isolation of the pandemic, and the social justice movement that erupted in its wake, sent her exploring the dark corners and tangled intersections so many have been grappling with in their own ways.

“It really led into a lot of personal reflection, and, like everybody, just brought up a lot of deep pain and anxiety that we need to deal with — and this was the time,” she says.

“Flip This” is the first song on a new album that Peaches says will have “a lot of really angry, dark energy.” She’s still in the early stages of writing, but promises something “a little bit more epic” than what’s come before.

The “Flip This” video opens with “BLM” boldly scrawled across a sheet of white paper. It’s a clear, if uncharacteristically quiet, message of solidarity from an artist whose lane has historically found her plowing a bulldozer, full-hog, into the patriarchy. Peaches is cautious about not centering herself, or presuming to speak for experiences that aren’t her own, in making such a statement. Still, her intended message is explicit as ever: “Now is not the time to mumble,” she repeats in “Flip This.” “Scream it out and feel the rumble / Fuck the system make it crumble.”

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“It's a different experience, being in Berlin, and understanding a different kind of systematic racism that happens here,” she says. In some sense, the song is her way of trying to feel a connection to what’s going on in the States, “on a level where I can feel a part of it, but it's not about me personally, it's about all of us.”

Coalition building between movements with common goals can be fruitful; it can also be destructive, Peaches points out, as evidenced by https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53959552" demonstrations in Berlin against government action to control the coronavirus. “Maybe that's where my mind is, because that's the kind of coalition that's going on here right now,” she says. But sowing unity among varied calls for social justice isn’t as simple as singing along to a rallying cry. “It's not just about coming together and then everything's okay. There's a lot of work to be done, and a lot of pain, and a lot of perspectives” that need to be acknowledged at the table, she says.

“Life is just slapping us in the face. There's no nowhere to run to, and you shouldn't be running.”

What happens if we manage to flip the world right-side up, and can someday put the teaches of Peaches to use once again — maybe even on a raucous, humid dance floor?

“We're going to fuck the pain away, I sure hope so,” she says. “Safely and respectfully fuck the pain away.”

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