Sometime around the turn of the (most recent) century, Merrill Nisker, a Canadian elementary-school music and drama teacher, decided to quit her job to pursue a music career. Instead of hitting the studio, Nisker embarked on an erotic staycation — lazing around with a joint in one hand, masturbating with the other, and experimenting with a Roland MC505 Groovebox.
Her then-roommate, singer Leslie Feist, contributed backing vocals while Nisker rapped about sex — her cup size (“Only double A, thinking triple X”), her genitalia (“Come diddle my Skittle ’cause there’s only one peach with the hole in the middle”), and related activities. To fit her newly raunchified persona, Nisker adopted the name “Peaches” from the Nina Simone song “Four Women.”
Having heard the demos, German label Kitty-Yo signed Peaches, and later released her debut album, The Teaches of Peaches.
On this side of the Atlantic, New York DJ Larry Tee was emerging as a major player in the music scene, coining the term “electroclash” (which can now be found in the Oxford Dictionary) to describe the retro-inspired techno-pop he was spinning and producing. Although Peaches was part of this scene (along with Fischerspooner, Scissor Sisters, and Chicks on Speed), she was the only rapper in the bunch. With lyrics designed to challenge gender stereotypes and a stage presence that’s been likened to performance art (she has an affinity for bizarre costumes, wigs, and fake blood), Peaches became a crowd favorite at Tee’s touring Electroclash Festivals. As a commentary on a musical genre that “died as soon as it became popular,” the artist dubbed herself “the Queen of Electrocrap.”
With dirty-sounding low-fi synthesizers and a few unexpected messages hidden amid gratuitous cussing, Peaches’ “Fuck
the Pain Away” emerged as an underground anthem. In the repeated chorus, she gives a thoughtful shout-out to the students she abandoned in Toronto — “SIS, IUD, Stay in school ’cause it’s the best.” Hopefully they obeyed Miss Nisker and used birth control until graduation.
By 2001, Peaches had become an international gay icon and a favorite of the fashion world. “Fuck the Pain Away” notably made the well-behaved crowd at the Prada runway show a tad uncomfortable when it came blaring from the speakers. But given that Miuccia Prada is possibly the biggest trendsetter in the business, you can safely bet that more than one person ran out to buy The Teaches of Peaches after the show. “Fuck the Pain Away” would later be featured in the film Lost in Translation as well as an episode of South Park (both times soundtracking stripping scenarios).
The cover art for 2003’s Fatherfucker shows Peaches sporting a full beard, a look that no doubt sent many a drag king into the throes of ecstasy. “Kick It,” a much-hyped collaboration with Iggy Pop, proved that Peaches had hit the big time.
While Peaches maintains she has no set political agenda, one became quite clear with her 2006 release, Impeach My Bush. Originally written for an anti-war “Bring ’em Home Now” benefit, “Fuck or Kill” set the stage for an entire album. “I’d rather fuck who I want than kill who I’m told to. Let’s face it: We all want tush. If I’m wrong impeach my bush.” In a mini documentary, Peaches explains, “Basically, I’m saying if you don’t know me by now, just censor my pussy. And then on the other end, impeach that fucking idiot in office.” Two songs from the album achieved mainstream success after being featured in TV spots.
After three self-produced releases, Peaches decided to tap some of the most creative talents in the music industry to co-produce I Feel Cream. “Talk to Me,” thanks to a collaboration with Soulwax, has a polished, indie-rock flavor that, if you didn’t know Peaches was singing (yes, singing) you might blame the Gossip’s Beth Ditto. `This song has been on repeat at the Current as I’ve been waiting 10 days for an allegedly “confirmed telephone interview” with Peaches. “Why don’t you talk to me? I’m standin’ here alone, I know you’ll never phone.” Oddly enough, the song has been licensed to McDonald’s.` There are two other sparkling gems on the album. The title track, co-produced by Drums of Death, is about as close Peaches has ever come to creating a perfect piece of dance music. Her singing voice sounds surprisingly fragile over aggressive keyboards, and in a strange way, she seems to take a cue from Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” — it’s engineered for the dance floor. Fairly deep into the song, Peaches breaks into a suggestive, but surprisingly tame, rap. “Let’s get suspect, let’s get wet, every little detail gets respect, just protect what you expect, quicker on the reflex, hit the deck.” Of particular interest is “Every little defect gets respect,” which is quite possibly a refrence to the fact that, while visually imperfect and intentionally hairy, Peaches is considered a sex symbol in certain circles. She likens this status to being a brand-new cliché.
With cleaner language and production value, one has to wonder, is Peaches growing up? Maybe, but let’s stick to “evolving.”
In 2002, I had the good fortune to see Peaches live at the Knitting Factory in New York. Appearing onstage in a glittering unitard and platform boots, she responded to cheers from the crowd with a bloodcurdling, “I don’t give a fuck!” Although the album tracks were riveting live, what stood out most were two covers. Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” was reimagined, making perfect sense of the unapologetic lyrics. Later, Peaches explained that, having relocated to Berlin, it seemed appropriate that she cover Berlin’s erotic dance anthem, “Sex.” The entire performance was loaded with comic eroticism, which is the unique beauty of Peaches. “Fuck the Pain Away” was saved for a sweaty encore and was transformed into what sounded like an improvised, pornographic nursery rhyme, sung to an out-of-control crowd of punks, hipsters, and queers. It was heavenly.
Now that Peaches tours with a live band (Sweet Machine) and has washed her mouth out a bit, her music is approaching something we can play a little bit louder with the windows rolled down. One thing’s for certain, only the Queen of Electrocrap can come up with dirty little rhymes like this: “I drink a whiskey neat, you lick my crow’s feet … Keep my clothes kinky and a hole in the sheet, never go to bed without a piece of raw meat.” •