Peaches “Find a way to exist and enjoy it”

20 years after the release of her seminal queer electro-clash album, Merrill Nisker looks back.

From the Fatherfucker days. Photo: Courtesy the artist.

It’s 20 years of The Teaches of Peaches. What does that album mean to you today?

It is actually crazy, because it really shows the journey of queerness into the mainstream. It’s a fucking trip. When I think about things I’ve said and how they weren’t said at all back then, compared to what is going on now, and the ways that people are approaching music, production, lyrics, their own sexuality and their own identity. I think that it’s just a really magical moment.

How do you feel the album has aged?

I feel like it’s definitely its own entity. Back then, I guess people would say it felt like a good dance album. It’s not high production, but it still has its style. The Teaches of Peaches was a kind of blueprint for what’s to come, but also not something that had to be followed. To this day, I think it’s very unique because it’s not all bang – it was punk and fun, but also quite minimal. Stark yet naked, which is cool because it’s really vulnerable.

At the time, The Teaches of Peaches felt genuinely revelatory. As you perform it now on your 20-year anniversary tour, does it hold a nostalgic energy for you? And what does that say about progress in the industry?

I think that it’s a healthy nostalgia. It’s not just going back in time – it’s going back in time to see how far forward we’ve come. You know, it’s not: “Oh, let’s go back in time because I can’t handle what’s going on now.” For me, as an artist, it’s also really a chance to explore my archive – and I’ve kept absolutely everything. Every costume, every setlist, every cassette tape, every video tape. I have 8000 hours of footage, six racks of costumes and just a huge box of hot pants and another huge box of fishnet stockings that, honestly, don’t smell very good these days. So, it’s a chance to just slip some live, active archival moments into my show! There’s the excitement of just a new live show, and also the excitement of certain albums that mean so much to you, and that you get to experience live again.

Do you feel those messages that were so underground on The Teaches of Peaches have made their way into the mainstream?

I always said I wanted the mainstream to come to me, I’m not moving to the mainstream, and it happened. Absolutely. For example, just something like Kim Petras’s Slut Pop album – the fact that such a huge star can get away with even calling her record something like that, and that she can make every single song so clearly defined and purposeful. I wanted us to get to that point all those years ago and now we’re actually here. Sometimes I almost get sick in my mouth because it’s everything I wanted to see in the industry and in popular culture at large. Nowadays you have so many people representing so many aspects across such a diverse spectrum, and it’s an essential part of the cultural milieu. This was always my little hope. I want to read you something I said when I had to break down [the album when it was first released]: The Teaches of Peaches is a breakup album, a don’t-feel-like-a-victim album. I wanted to explore queerness as a rite, question the pop status quo and create my own language to empower myself, and feel good about my sexuality. I wanted to do away with body-shaming by making new clichés based on positivity about female body parts and be a direct, strong, female-identified person who is fun, clever, and knows how to get what they want – and who inspires others to sing along. That’s what it was. But it was always a little fun for me. Like, what if I switch it around and say “Diddle my skittle” when everybody says “Suck my dick”? I’m going to create a new cliché – and then years later, Beyoncé is going to say, “Can you taste my skittle?” I always said I wanted the mainstream to come to me, I’m not moving to the mainstream, and it happened.

The Teaches of Peaches is likely the most celebrated album in your canon. Fatherfucker will turn 20 next year: Will you also organise an anniversary tour for that record?

Fatherfucker is the queerest of all my albums, and to me, it is the biggest success in terms of people saying that it was the moment that they understood what queerness was, for them. In the music world, it was too queer, and it did not get critical acclaim. Reviewers liked The Teaches of Peaches – one woman’s journey into their female-identified sexuality is pretty easy to accept in an empowerment way. But, Fatherfucker went too far for popular music, which I am super happy about, because let’s test these limits! That’s really where queerness as a writer happened for me. I was examining it more. Making Fatherfucker, the language that we have in place now didn’t exist then. The spectrum of “non-binary” was not there. So when you listen to some of the tracks, some of it may seem quite binary – now I’m female, now I’m male – but I think it was way more revolutionary than The Teaches of Peaches.

You once said that Berlin is like Disneyland for freedom. After more than 20 years here, do you still believe that to be the case?

The Disneyland line was not related to the whole city. I think I was talking about Tacheles when I used to have a space there, and it was like a Disneyland squat. But, yeah, Berlin still is that, and I don’t think that’s a wrong assessment. People come from all over the world to go to Berghain, and you go there and you see naked people and you live. You get to be in a club for 48 hours on drugs and be with other people who want to touch you and you get to experience the best sound system in the world. Where else can that happen? Not that I do that every weekend, but, you know, experiences like that are ones that you can only have in Berlin – and that’s really what the city has built its reputation on. Yes, there’s tons of gentrification going on, and the whole world is gentrifying, but I believe that Berlin is hanging on tooth and nail to still be a place that’s artist-friendly, and there are still incredible artists. Opportunity is here. And I don’t know if people want to fight for it. Part of Berlin is saying things like, Berlin was better when the Wall was up or better when the Wall first came down. In the end, Berlin has got its own thing – it’s still not London or New York, it never will be, and I’m happy about that.

Peaches being Peaches. Photo: Magda Wosinska

The goalposts are always shifting on the glory years in Berlin. Looking back to the early 2000s, you said that the queer scene in 2004 was actually much less accessible then. How did you experience that?

Yeah, I was in shock when I got here by how much diversity there was, and the amount of understanding of queerness, but the problem was that everything was in its own little section. They were fun scenes, if you were accepted to go in there. But they were very exclusive, not in a snooty way, but people just seemed closed off in a way. It was really shocking. There was great fun to be had, but I never felt that the queerness was together. That has developed so much over the years in Berlin, which
I’m very happy about. Maybe it’s not good for German culture, but I was genuinely excited that there was an Exberliner magazine, and I could read about those scenes in English and get to grips with the way that culture has grown. I think Berlin struggles to fully come to terms with its own cultural diversity
sometimes, but then you see people like Florentina Holzinger, someone who’s doing the most incredible work right now at the Volksbühne, and I think to myself: “What the hell? That’s incredible.” It’s a city full of amazing diverse places and people and things that I will always get to experience.

Is there a counter-narrative to the doom and gloom of spaces constantly closing down?

There is a constant closure of spaces, and it’s definitely sad, but there’s also still really cool spaces too. Like Wilde Renate, that’s an old-school place right there. And then, there’s always little places opening up that people don’t even know about yet. There’s always going to be a secret place, a cool place, and there always were back then, and of course they were temporary. I went to House of Lunacy recently, and it felt like it was the old-school people there. There was that feeling. I really felt like it still existed. Berlin will hang on a little longer.

What do you recall about your early experiences with Berlin nightlife?

To me, Berlin nightlife was like, you jump through a window and there’s some weird party. And then everybody’s smoking in your face, and then just grabbing a mic and yelling, or you’re dancing on a table, or you’re switching clothes with somebody, or just whatever goes. There was probably only ever like 20 people there, it wasn’t like these huge parties now. It was just little pockets of fun things. I wasn’t really ever part of Tresor or Love Parade or anything like that. I prefer small parties. Messy small parties

Is it the case that Berlin nightlife is in constant regeneration?

Yeah. I used to go to Berghain back when it was called Ostgut and it was near where the Mercedes Benz arena is now. Nothing was there except for Casino and Ostgut. Now it’s like, Five Guys, pizza, and a Robbie Williams concert – not to single out Robbie Williams. It goes back to that point about nostalgia. Why are you nostalgic about something that’s passed? Are you like, “Oh, at times it’s too confusing, I
want to go back?” Which I’m not criticising people for, but it’s interesting that The Teaches of Peaches, for some people, is a nostalgia that celebrates something that was actually the seed of more things yet to come.

On the idea of nostalgia, do those windows into the past give us a better understanding of the way certain issues are situated in the present moment?

Well, we can’t deny that. There’s also this huge backlash from the Handmaid’s Tale world. Places where you don’t say gay, and trans teenagers are not able to play sports, and people are fucking burning books. There’s people saying that teachers are manipulating kids into understanding Critical Race Theory and encouraging kids to be queer. So, sadly, it’s still the case that those patriarchal, really institutionalised concepts are hanging on for dear life.

Now, 20 years on, what do you feel that you have to say?

What do I have to say? Find a way to exist and enjoy it. Of course, ageing is a part of it – even though I’m not really old, but I’m old for a lot of people, I’m sure. But also there’s a whole community of people my age, a community that understands me, that is relevant to me. It might not be relevant to somebody in their 20s or 30s, but the people who grew up with me, who are now 40 or 50, they didn’t stop their lives. There’s a lot more roads for them to continue growing and learning for themselves, too. It’s just a party or whatever.

  • Electro-clash innovator, Peaches is a Canadian musician, director and visual artist best known for her 2000 hit ‘Fuck The Pain Away’. For many, she is the symbol of the sound of Berlin at the turn of the millennium and a true queer icon, who paved the way for a new rebellious pop sound. Alongside Feist, Chilly Gonzales, and Mocky, Peaches was the cornerstone on which Berlin’s burgeoning expat music scene was built.