Peaches hit 30, her hormones kicked in, and the onetime folksinger decided to celebrate
By Deborah Giattina
EARLY PUNK ROCK made a lot of headway in subverting the female body standard. Poly Styrene, the singer from Britain's teen punk band X-Ray Spex, flashed a mouthful of metal back in the '70s not so much to say, "Look at me. I'm pretty, too," as to holler, "I don't want to be pretty!" How disappointing, then, that when NBC aired a live Britney Spears concert in her hometown last December, a substantial amount of airtime was devoted to an interview with the singer's "smile designer." They do a lot more than straighten teeth down there in Kentwood, La.
But far, far away from the ears and eyes of big-label execs, women musicians have steadily been making music in conjunction with performance styles that fit a multitude of body shapes and trash traditional concepts of femininity. Recently we've been blessed with the Gossip's Beth Ditto. Thrashing and shimmying across the stage to bluesy rock bliss, Ditto shows no shame in her abundant flesh and lack of washboard abs. Now we have Peaches, née Merrill Nisker, and even if it isn't intentional, Peaches is doing her bit with the song "AA XXX," from The Teaches of Peaches, released last year on Berlin-based label Kitty-Yo. As the song goes, "Only double A, thinking triple X." The line turns years of Itty Bitty Titty Committee cracks into a call to arms for naughty no-bra-necessary sexpots.
It's not like this is a heavy issue double As might not get exposure on the cover of Maxim, but you could see spindly models sashaying down fashion industry catwalks in Givenchy and Prada last fall to Peaches's maniacal mantra "fuck the pain away." Besides, it wouldn't be very much like Peaches to go about politicking. She's more interested in playing her music for fans than in making political statements. "Sure, it's there," she explains over a cell phone while hightailing it out of Berlin in a van, tagging along with her friends, the Puppet Masters, en route to a gig in Hamburg. "But that's not the most important thing to me. I'm trying to get people off with my music. That's what I want to do. I'm an entertainer first. I always say I want to fuck people in the ass with my music."
Such statements seem a bit too tailored, but given the intermittent wails of a Puppet Master's infant and the distracting flatulence of another passenger, it's understandable that Peaches isn't in the mood for being viewed through the feminist prism. If you have to politicize her rhyme, call her a sex activist. After we've discussed where she fits in with riot grrrl ("I don't feel part of that, but I do respect what they're doing") and whether or not it's OK if Lil' Kim associates sex and money ("Well, I think that's what she's into ..."), it becomes clear that freedom of self-expression is what matters to her. If you approach Peaches's music with a head full of theory, you won't feel the vibe she creates. Her motto: listen to the music, go to the shows, and get yourself off.
She certainly holds up her end of the bargain. Her album "made, mixed, and mutilated by Peaches," as it says in the liner notes supplies lyrics more raunchy than Lil' Kim's. (But given that it's self-produced, there's no question who owns Peaches's pussy.) It takes only one listen to draw the mind to various body parts licking up the glory of pores, hair, and blemishes. Who cares what you look like, just as long as it feels good. Non-articulate lines like "Huh? What? Right. Yeah" lend a white-girl rap hilarity to classic old-school beats. Some write her style off as uninspired electro revival with nothing new to offer. But the bass lines on "Fuck the Pain Away" produce an undeniable urge to dance. They sure cooked up the dance floor at a recent Rebel Girl night held in town. No one was thinking, "Is this too derivative?" not with the totally kickin' garage guitar riff that explodes all over "Cum Undun" grooving them.
After listening to Peaches groan the lyrics "Sucking on my titties like you want me. Calling me all the time ... Check out my Chrissie behind," on "Lovertits," it's hard to imagine that before she got into producing her own boink-centric electronic music, she once did the demure Suzanne Vega thing with her folk duo Mermaid Hotel, moonlighting as a music teacher to young children. But actually it all fits into how the Toronto native became an entertainer of pornographic proportions.
Her adoration of her breasts has more to do with her late-blooming sexuality than it does with feeling décolletage deprived. "I didn't feel very sexual for a long time," she says, then goes on to cite evolution's big fuckup: "It's like this cruel joke. Women don't sexually peak until they're in their 30s; guys do before they're 20."
At 34 she's not lamenting lost time, and she's making up for whatever she's missed in a big way. During a year of nonstop touring, she's made her home in Berlin and performed on stages all over Europe in the tiny pink shorts that she donned for her album cover. The shows, she says, are often like a big party, with the audience getting into her act and her pants. When asked if she worries about the element of danger in her sexually charged performances, she quips, "One time this guy bit my pussy. I wouldn't do that to my audience not without asking first."
It's a brave move to put herself in the hands of such an audience her performances and the sensation she creates are as important as the music she produces. She's part of the pantheon of groundbreaking performers like the Slits who feel that a performance has to be abrasive and spectacular in order to shatter confining notions of womanhood, art, and musicianship. She rates Chicks on Speed high among her contemporaries. In the same way that it's impossible to get the full meaning of the Munich-based trio's chant "We don't play no guitar" unless you see them onstage in handmade new-wave regalia so bad it should be banned, you won't understand Peaches's comical holler "Rock show! You came to see a rock show. A big, gigantic cock show. You came to see it all!" unless you see her out of the studio and grinding with the crowd. It's as if indie rock had been pulled into the WWF arena in order to expose impotent attempts at connecting with an audience.
Peaches isn't trying to be a musical innovator. She produces all her songs on a Roland MC505 Groovebox, the latest model in a recent series of retro-series machines. She defines her production style as purposefully simplistic: "I don't try to make the most obscure sounds." Instead she mixes scorching garage punk with slick techno to reshape an early industrial dance sound, underscoring her DIY attitude by saying, "Governments should be required to issue the MC505 to every citizen."
Now Peaches is touring the States with sometime collaborator Chilly Gonzales (the two just put out Red Leather, an EP also on Kitty-Yo). For the most part, Europe was a welcoming haven. "It depends, ya know," she says. "Sometimes people stand there with their arms folded, just staring at me. One guy in Glasgow kept yelling, 'This is shite!' " Whether or not we folks in the New World will want to take a bite out of Peaches depends on our willingness to accept the electronic performance extravaganza.
If it's not totally clear by now who or what Peaches is, come watch her fearlessly take the Bottom of the Hill stage and demonstrate to the arms-folded crowd exactly what she means by rock show. And if Jenny Jones should ever devote an episode to the Itty Bitty Titty Committee, Peaches says she'll be there.
Deborah Giattina is actually triple A but often only feels double X. Peaches plays, with opener Blechtum from Blechdom, Sat/12, 10 p.m., Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., S.F. $8. (415) 621-4455.
Women interested in producing their own electronic music should check out www.pinknoises.com for lots of tips on gear and production. Reprinted with permission.