In an ideal world, PEACHES and her art would be standard viewing and listening because the idea of female sexuality penetrating pop culture on its own terms wouldn’t be such an alien concept. Until that sunny day, we’ll call her a sex-positive, electro art-pop provocateur. Known for lyrics that don’t mess around on sexuality, the male gaze, bullshit gender roles and clits, lips and tits, as well as her phenomenal live shows, Peaches is over 20 years into the music biz, and as relevant as ever. A champion of sex-positivity, her anthemic 2000 cult coming-of-age hit Fuck The Pain Away with its ‘teaches of Peaches’ has soundtracked many a first wobbly step into adulthood (for me, it was Mixed Bag’s indie-dance clubnight in Liverpool circa 2010).
Fast forward to 2015 and the release of her magnum opus Rub, and that same strand of supercharged electro pop, play-on-words and unapologetic attitude heard on Fuck The Pain Away still punctuates her work. Her gig and birthday celebrations at Liverpool’s Invisible Wind Factory venue last year are the stuff of legend: a giant inflatable dick, vulva headdresses, and nips and pubes galore. Based in Berlin, she makes her triumphant return to Liverpool, headlining the Baltic Stage at Sound City, as well as appearing In Conversation at Sound City+.
Picking up a call from the German capital, it’s impossible to not talk feminism with the cult heroine – not only because of the fragile situation taking hold of the loudest voice in the Western world, where women’s abilities to control their own bodies are being negated and LGBTQ+ rights are being thrown to the kerb – but because Peaches is an authority, an alternative voice that has been challenging prejudices through her music for a long time, much longer than feminism has been on the agenda in mainstream pop culture and political life. Coincidentally, she pre-empts my question about feminism as fad: “We have to remember that these things come in waves. I would rather see [feminism] as a fashion trend than as something ignored completely… It’s permeating places – so, for instance, Teen Vogue is doing incredible stories that are completely political, which would have never occurred before.”
The conversation moves quickly towards the inevitable, tackling the rise of the far right in Western politics: “If we can say one good thing that’s come out of Trump, it’s that people have woken up, and that people are all talking more politically now. I remember doing interviews when [Rub] was coming out and people were like, ‘Well don’t you think it’s great cos there’s not really a struggle left for you, it’s more of a celebration?’ And then look at six months later – nobody had really realised what would happen.”
Rub, released in late 2015, is celebratory but it’s also so much more than that. Close-Up (featuring vocals from Kim Gordon) dismantles the male gaze, Vaginoplasty (featuring Simonne Jones) praises the variety of vulvas, I Mean Something (featuring Feist) is an anthem for inclusivity, while the title track is all about sexual satisfaction. It’s essentially ‘Pussy Grabs Back’ in sonic form and, when asked about how art and music fit into resistance and protest against Trump and co, Peaches is happy to offer up her encouraging wisdom: “I think [art’s] only important if it can make some change – and the only way that you can ever know that is if you try.”
And then there’s Dick In The Air. The lead single from Rub is a work of lyrical genius, perfectly exposing the relationship and double standard between female sexuality in music and male sexuality – or sexual aggression, in the case of 2 Live Crew’s infamous Face Down Ass Up, whose lyrics Peaches parodies. When I relay this to her, she’s proud: “I like the wordplay on that song a lot, I was really excited about it – and it’s always fun when you get to say moose knuckle”. The humour in it is intentional, too, and a fundamental part of her inclusive attitude that never comes across as righteous or forced: “I think that, to be inclusive with your message, it’s always important to carry some humour so that people don’t feel alienated or afraid. I don’t want people to have their chins pushed into the back of their neck, instead of them smiling and their shoulders go[ing] down and they’re into it.” Naturally, the corporeal response is important to Peaches. And the corporate one? “Yeah, they still won’t let me play that song on TV or whatever. It’s literally stupid.” So, Peaches is being censored. All the more reason why watching her live and hearing her speak is a privilege.
Politics aside, towards the end of our conversation the Canada-born artist lights up in telling a story about Fuck The Pain Away that sums up the track’s, and her own, universal appeal. A girl is looking at a venue for her ‘Sweet 16’ and Peaches happens to be playing that night; she has no idea who Peaches is but when someone mentions Fuck The Pain Away, the girl is ecstatic. “That song transcends anything; she doesn’t even know my politics or who I am, or she doesn’t even like my fearlessness or whatever people say about me, she just likes that song. I think that’s pretty awesome.”
Yes, her politics are crucial – but let’s celebrate Peaches for her delicious and infectious electroclash pop, too. With this, I realise that a good chunk of our conversation has been taken up with those politics as opposed to her music, and, though the two are inevitably entwined, I feel a slight pang of guilt. I wonder if she ever tires of talking the ins and outs of feminism? She assures me that she’s not talking out of duty. Of course she isn’t: she’s Peaches and she answers to no-one.
Peaches is In Conversation at Camp and Furnace for Sound City+ on Friday 26th May. She also headlines the Baltic Stage at Sound City on Saturday 27th May.