More Than a Mouthful
If the British music press is to be believed, the two biggest stories of the year so far have been the return of rock and the rise of electro-pop. Yet an even more notable phenomenon may be found in Berlin-based singer/producer/performer Peaches, an artist who seamlessly melds the two with a nary a trace of prefab marketability. Suddenly, the Canadian-born über-diva has found herself piloting the hipster jet set into a brave new era, one characterized by stylishly Euro-flavored sounds and unhinged sexuality.
"I had a crazy Boy George experience in London," says Peaches with a slight accent that gives away her Toronto upbringing. "I met him in a club a few nights before my show there, and he just came up to me and said, 'Fuck the pain away.' I was wearing one of my new 'Fuck the Pain Away' thongs, so I pulled it off and gave it to him, and he started sniffing it. It was fantastic."
As a legion of style-watchers are aware, the not-so demure catchphrase quoted by Sir George is also the title of one of Peaches' biggest hits. A sort of anthem for the porn set, the song sets naughty bedtime lyrics over throbbing synth bass lines and tinny, lo-fi snares that could blow out the treble speakers in your '76 Pinto.
Peaches' debut album, The Teaches of Peaches, is a quasi blend of Nine Inch Nails' debut record -- stripped of pomp and tortured sentiment -- and Lil' Kim's raunchier moments. Though the album was independently released and difficult to find (it sold 25,000 copies after its initial release on the tiny German indie Kitty Yo), XL Recordings has recently signed on to re-release it to a worldwide audience. The new version will include bonus tracks that, the label hopes, will boost Peaches' two upcoming tours of North America.
"I went on tour in Australia for the Big Day Out tour earlier this year," Peaches says. "The big bands playing were the White Stripes, Basement Jaxx and the Prodigy. They are all on XL Recordings, and they all came back from Australia and screamed at the XL people: 'You gotta sign Peaches. She's the greatest thing!'"
If Peaches sounds slightly less than humble, she can be forgiven. She simply can't stop making music, making friends or performing like crazy. It's a bit of a change of pace for someone who toiled in several rock bands in Toronto in the '90s while teaching music to kids just to earn spare change. Following an unsuccessful stint with one of those bands, the Shit, Peaches and her bandmate, Gonzales, left Toronto for Berlin. They'd grown frustrated with the stagnant Canadian music scene but opted to do something slightly less predictable than moving to New York City. Once abroad, the two found a thriving artistic community in East Berlin's trendy Prenzlauer Berg. Both created new personas and began playing out in small clubs. Peaches bought a Roland MC-505 Groovebox, which allowed her to write intensely personal songs in the privacy of her own bedroom -- without the need to call up a drummer or backing band.
"Finally I was just like 'Fuck it.' I'm transferring all my songs to the Groovebox, and I don't care if anyone likes them," she says. Luckily for Peaches, Berlin-based listeners didn't just like her music; they loved it. She was signed to Kitty Yo early in 2000 after a rep for the label caught her outrageous and raunchy stage show.
Since the release of her first EP, Lovertits, in the summer of 2000, the hipster dance-and-fashion intelligentsia has had Peaches' number on its collective speed dial. Kelly Osbourne, John Malkovich and Madonna are all reportedly huge fans. Designer Lucella Bartley was an early disciple, using the Peach's sensual, raw music as a backdrop for her fashion shows in Paris and London. Karl Lagerfeld shot Peaches in a spread for the British fashion magazine V, and Vogue recently declared that "everyone in fashion digs Peaches."
Ironically, Peaches' own sense of style stands in direct opposition to the world of haute couture. She refuses to shave her armpits (or her pubic hair, for that matter) and wears vintage clothes and/or the same pink latex outfit for days on end. Although the fetish club set has recently claimed Peaches as one of its own, she doesn't consider herself any particular kind of scenester.
"I would love to go to a fetish party just once and not feel like it's typical," she says. "The idea of a real fetish is that you should get out of your own thing, you know? What really, deeply turns you on. It seems to me like so much of that scene is all about what shoes you have on."
Peaches is similarly hesitant to accept the standard characterization of her music as pure electro-pop. British writers, in particular, have seized on the idea of her being electro's next big thing while ignoring her efforts as a musician and composer.
"I don't get that pissed off," she says of those who pigeonhole her. "I get more pissed off when people have no opinion about me. Sometimes I'll overhear or read people saying that all these German producers are making my beats, and I just think it's funny. All I can think to myself is 'You're a big fucking loser!' That's all."
For the record, Peaches makes her own beats. She also plays guitar. She hopes to drive home both points with the re-release of The Teaches of Peaches. The new American issue of the CD has five bonus tracks that offer a peak of what Peaches' new CD might sound like when it is released in 2003. A cover of the Jeans Team song "Keine Melodien" begins with a subtle Kraftwerk/ Ladytron-esque keyboard bass line. But thirty seconds in, Peaches rips into a loud guitar riff that ZZ Top would kill for. Perhaps not to alarm the electro-lovers, Peaches even sings in German during the cut. The other bonus track is her take on Berlin's classic 1982 underground club hit "Sex I'm A...."
"That song is really cool, and I relate to it, but when I was young, that song scared the shit out of me," says the thirty-year-old singer. "I woke up one morning listening to my AM radio, and I was like, 'I feel dirty, Mommy!' I think that's how people kind of feel about Peaches when they first hear it."
If people feel dirty when they hear Peaches, it's because they want to feel dirty. Sex appeal lies very much at the core of her approach to songwriting. She teases, shocks and coaxes fun and flirtatious responses from fans both male and female while remaining aloof about her own sexual orientation. "If you are worth having sex with, I'll have sex with you," she says. "I don't care if you are male or female."
While this anything-goes attitude hasn't even registered on the shock scale in Berlin or New York, Peaches could be in for some surprises on her current gig opening for the phallus-centric stoner-rock band Queens of the Stone Age.
"I'm fully anticipating a lot of fourteen-year-old boys throwing Coke cans at my head," she says.
Maybe so, but they'll probably leave the theater with something other than cola on their minds.
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