Peaches: Music = Sex

By • Nov 1st, 2009 • Category: Featured articles, Popular items

peachesSex sells. And there’s always someone willing to pay the price. It can be as superficial as a teenager forking over a few bucks at a newsstand for a glossy magazine featuring a scantily clad female on the cover. Or it can be more complex, like an artist taking a cash advance from a morally bankrupt system of commodified sexuality for flaunting the very sexuality that will bring that artist commercial success yet, one day, will also bring that artist criticism. Little about sexuality is simple. And in a post-wardrobe malfunction era of FCC overreach, sex in the realm of music and art isn’t so much bought and sold as it’s bartered for. It’s a back and forth exchange in which nobody really knows who’s buying — or what the price is.

nov09_coverFor Peaches, this bank of eroticism has all but defined the electro-thrash diva’s career as well as her four sexually-drenched LPs. Sex is so integral to her work as a producer, lyricist and gender-bending performer that the 42-year-old has become marginalized by her views on sexuality. This is the woman whose backing band, The Herms, is named after hermaphrodites. This is the woman with songs called “Slippery Dick”, “Tent In Your Pants”, and “Shake Yer Dix.” This is the woman who mounts a 10-foot-tall inflatable penis on stage.

Peaches’ latest album, I Feel Cream, again finds her detractors citing her raunchy costumes, her provocative dance moves and her suggestive use of props as a plea to the lowest common denominator through calculated shock value. But for Peaches, it’s just Peaches being Peaches. “For some people, it’s hard for them not to see me and think about sex,” said Peaches in a cross-continental conversation with Chicago Innerview from her home city of Berlin. “I think it’s funny, people don’t always get why I do the things I do. For them, my music is straight-up porn. For some, it’s not. It’s like, how can I be featured in Hustler and BUST [Magazine] at the same time? How can those things go on side by side?”

Think of Peaches, think of sex.

With that inevitable association, her music remains intrinsically tied to the gender parameters that she has set out to mock and destroy. Each sexually charged double entendre leaves Peaches objectified by her attempt to thwart objectification, as her jokes are often lost on the very people who serve as the butt of them. As a result, the Toronto native has become an ironic sex symbol, lusted over by the alpha male population that she most aggressively and consistently challenges.

“People are going to hear whatever they want to hear,” said Peaches of the idea that her music perpetuates myths about gender and sex. “I can’t control what everyone who hears my music thinks. I only can worry about what I do and let everything else just kind of play out.”

Born Merrill Nisker in Toronto, the electronic producer relocated to Berlin in 2000 and that same year she released her debut, The Teaches of Peaches. After years of toiling in obscurity in her home city, releasing music as part of the acoustic collective Mermaid Café as well as under her given name, the German move marked the biggest step in her transformation into the sexually charged middle-aged showstopper that we see today.

In Berlin, the Peaches persona would begin to fully take shape while the progressive producer would flex her love of studio electronics to develop enough confidence to release her innuendo-laden Fatherfucker and Impeach My Bush in 2003 and 2006, respectively. Those up-front-and-personal recordings laid the groundwork for 2009’s I Feel Cream, an LP that finds the songstress collaborating with outside producers for the first time on what has turned out to be her most unapologetic attempt at a dance record.

“I had to bring other people in,” said Peaches. “The other albums were made [solo] out of necessity because, I guess, no one was around anymore and I had to do it all myself. But this is my first try at a straight-up dance album, and I felt like I had to bring in some people to do some of the things that maybe I couldn’t do totally myself.”

In hindsight, the move marked a rare moment of vulnerability for the usually self-sufficient entertainer. The ensuing collaborations included Soulwax, whose work on the track “Talk to Me” also found Peaches calling upon Jason Beck (a.k.a. Gonzales) on her first co-written song. Cream also features the bombastic beast of Digitalism and the voodoo-garbed Drums of Death, as well as U.K. staples Simian Mobile Disco — who produced one-fourth of the LP’s tracks.

“It was quite challenging [working with Peaches],” said James Ford, one half of Simian Mobile Disco, who also has three number one albums to his production credit. “She’s a producer too, and she knows what she wants. Sometimes we’d try to push her out of her comfort zone and eventually she’d put her foot down and say ‘This is my record’ — and that’s when we knew to lighten up. She’s pretty strong-willed.”

One song with Ford in particular finds Peaches writing beyond her typically base sex-centric tendencies. The album’s third track, “Lose You”, sounds more like a Merrill Nisker journal entry than anything created by her raunchy alter-ego. On first listen, lyrics such as “Why does it crossing / Turning and dancing / Tossing and turning / Your insides are burning” play out like a thinly veiled reference to the loss of virginity, a deeper type of bedroom bedlam from a woman with a knack for singing about her sexual escapades.

But as part of the whole, and in context alongside a repeated appeal by a lover afraid of being alone, “Lose You” becomes an emotional milestone for the singer. “I never would have written a song like ‘Lose You’ a few years ago. Turning 40 was great because I learned I didn’t have to care so much,” said Peaches of the album’s landmark moment. “It’s okay to show vulnerability and there are boundaries to be broken doing that kind of thing, too. A lot of my music calls for men to be vulnerable. I figured I might as well check it out for myself.”

It’s a shift that has been foreshadowed long before the album’s May release, when Peaches began reaching out for help to craft the direction of the thumping I Feel Cream. Despite its progress, much of the 12-song album remains unmistakably Peaches — with her sarcastic drawl that once vowed to “Fuck the pain away” now claiming to “Keep my clothes kinky / And hole in the sheet / Never go to bed without a piece of raw meat.”

In the end, Peaches has a ways to go before something replaces sex as the first thought following the mention of her name. Yet thematic growth on songs such as “Lose You” will further solidify her spot as a champion of gender ambiguity and expression. In fact, scaling back her vagina monologues might end up empowering her amongst men who view sexually aggressive women only as part of their porn star fantasies.

“I don’t care if people define me as a sex object,” Peaches concluded. “You know, fuck it.”

Chicago Innerview, November 2009

Email this author | All posts by

Comments are closed.