It might be one of the most famous opening lines of all time, at least from the millennium: “Suckin' on my titties like you wanted me / Calling me, all the time like Blondie / Check out my Chrissie behind / It's fine all of the time.” Once you start, it's hard to stop: “Like sex on the beaches / What else is in the teaches of Peaches?... Huh?... What?”
The words to “Fuck the Pain Away” by Peaches are almost nonsensical. But they're also funny, outrageous, iconic and delicious; a wink between lovers and listeners. The rest of the Canadian musician's debut album, The Teaches of Peaches, unfurls in much the same way. There's the thwack and grind of “Set It Off”, the deep, filthy riffs of “Rock Show” and the way she drawl-raps “Doing it right, keeping me tight / Taking a bite out of the peach tonight” above the sound of rhythmic bed springs and panting in “AA XXX”.
It's been 22 years since the release of the album on German label Kitty-Yo – 20 years since it was released on XL Recordings – and a lot has changed. We have kids dancing to “WAP” on TikTok and Rihanna singing lyrics like “Lick it, lick it better” on mainstream radio stations. But in the early 2000s, it was still not as commonplace to hear women making ultra horny, pro-sex music about female desire – particularly not 33-year-old queer women in silver spandex screaming into the mic with one hand and twiddling the nobs of a Roland MC-505 Groovebox with the other. Peaches was – and is – an anomaly; a punk spirit channelled through electronic beats.
When The Teaches of Peaches first came out, a lot of people didn’t know what to make of it. Was it punk? Dance music? Electro? A bit of everything? While she was often grouped in with other pioneering electroclash artists of the era – Miss Kittin, The Hacker, Chicks on Speed – the album has since transcended any need for labelling, becoming a weird and timeless classic. Play “Fuck the Pain Away” in any queer club today and the dancefloor will still freak out. Kids who are younger than the song still know the words, helped in part by the fact it continues to pop up on so many TV and film soundtracks, including, most recently, Netflix’s Sex Education.
To celebrate the fact that Peaches is embarking on a 20th anniversary tour of the album – which will see her play the record in full across the UK and Europe – we spoke to Peaches herself, alongside Kitty-Yo label founder Raik Hölzel and music critics Jude Rogers and Alex Needham, about the story and impact of these 11 wild songs.
THE MUSIC SCENE AT THE TIME
Raik Hölzel [founder of Kitty-Yo]: The music scene in the late 1990s, in Berlin, was pretty diverse. It was influenced by noise rock from the 1980s, but at the same time there was stuff like house and techno, which was growing all over. It was insane and interesting. It was totally open-minded.
Alex Needham [Guardian Arts Editor]: I was at The Face from 1999 until January 2001 and then I was at NME until 2006. At the end of the 1990s, indie music had died, basically. But you had all the very exciting R&B stuff. There was Timbaland, Destiny’s Child. UK Garage. That was booming. Trance, if you were into that. And, as always, you had the banging dance music. And Peaches – who had this quite aggressive, Berlin sound – would have fitted into it.
Jude Rogers [music journalist and broadcaster]: There were kind of two things going on [in the UK]. There were bands like The Strokes and there was also electroclash. I just found it really exciting – being in London during that time. Electroclash was something different; it was completely outside my realm of references. That was around the time I started hearing of Peaches…
Peaches: I called myself Peaches because of a Nina Simone song. Not because of the context of the song, but just from the way she screams the word “peaches!” at the end. I wanted her to be singing it to me. The vibe of what Peaches is about was born there. That was in, like, 1997.
I went to a music store and I saw this machine called the Roland MC-505. It was just a groovebox – half analogue, half digital, like a sequencer with all these cool synthesiser sounds. I was like, “I'm going to treat it more like a punk instrument.” If you think about a punk band, there are only, like, three instruments – bass, guitar and drums. And I wanted it to be open, I wanted it to be inclusive and I wanted people to feel like they could sing along.
My relationship had just ended and I had to basically start my life over again. I used this machine to get through the break up and express my new sexual freedom. I loved these awesome, repetitive choruses and rap riffs. I was inspired by Daft Punk’s first album – the first time I heard that I was like, “I understand how electronics can also be rock”.
So I wrote The Teaches of Peaches in my bedroom. I was very interested in the fact that you can make music in your bed. I was being very cheeky about it, saying that I wouldn't smoke a joint and make music, which is what I was doing basically.
Hölzel: I met Peaches, along with Chilly Gonzales, in late 1998. They were doing a DJ set tour. I thought, ‘what do Canadians know about electronic music and DJing?’ There were about four people attending the set, but it was insane. I was totally freaking out. Peaches returned to Canada and came back a year later, in 1999. I found out she had this album and we signed a one sheet deal. It was the quickest signing in the label’s history.
Peaches: I visited Berlin and this label showed up. They were like, “We want to sign you.” I wanted a change. I wanted to move. So I was like, “I'm going to move to Berlin.” The album was mastered and sent out and two weeks later I was doing interviews and touring. There was a lot of buzz right away.
Needham: The first time I encountered Peaches was at The Face. She was quite a big deal in the office. I remember our designer saying we should put her on the cover. I think it was just thought that Peaches was too niche. But she was definitely on the radar of the fashion team.
She had the hot pants and the body hair – it was this sexual rock ‘n’ roll. And also, this gender fluidity that we take for granted now. That was still quite unusual, or even shocking, at the time. She didn’t look like a traditional “pop star” – she had the awkward mullet. Body hair still freaks some people out now, so it definitely did 20 years ago.
ONCE ‘THE TEACHES OF PEACHES’ LANDED
Hölzel: I think what really made [the album] explode was the queer scene in London and New York. Right away they saw that this is something that’s outstanding. They pushed it massively. And this helped. Someone from Madonna’s management then emailed like “Who is Peaches?” They said Madonna had been listening to The Teaches of Peaches.
There was this show in Berlin, where Peaches supported Marilyn Manson. It was a huge venue. The audience didn’t like her. They didn’t understand this woman on stage with her machine. People were whistling. They wanted Marilyn Manson to play. And then she stepped towards the fans in the front row and asked the security to hold her legs and then she was singing and kicking their faces with her boot. It was like, “Woah, they’re going to kill her!” but she gained their total respect.
At the end, half the audience were really applauding her. This was part of the secret to how she became huge. Inside the queer community she’s an icon of course, but outside of this, she worked her ass off to get the respect. And she did.
Peaches: It was very confusing for people. I knew I was doing something right. The look on people's faces… It wasn't like my last band, when people were like, “I just don't get it, I am not interested.” It was like people were frozen, going, “Do I stay? Do I hate this? Do I love this? Is this music? Is this art? I don't understand what I'm looking at. Do I want to look at this? Why is she being so aggressive?” All of those questions are the reason why I did it.
Rogers: I remember seeing her at Reading in 2002. She was in her classic pink skimpy bra top and pants, pubic hair coming out, and was just the most electrifying performer. I’d never seen anything like it. After that, I got the album. It made me laugh, in a good way. It was so joyously in-your-face. It was quite confrontational and obviously political, but celebratory at the same time.
Peaches: What was really interesting was that there were women at the forefront of this scene. There was Chicks on Speed, Miss Kittin, Le Tigre… all of us were in different cities, not knowing that we were doing the same sort of thing. I don't know any other scene that started with women at the forefront as the producers and the voice and the attitude. So this was very exciting. My life changed.
I also went on tour with Elastica. M.I.A. was there, making a documentary about her father, of the Tamil Tigers, and I was like doing a tour documentary. She saw my machine and was like “How do you play that? Oh my god, that's cool.” And I was like, yeah, it's easy, you should get one.
THE ALBUM’S IMPACT AND LEGACY
Needham: The Teaches of Peaches was definitely ahead of its time. There was the electroclash scene which she was aligned to. That definitely brought back the dressing up element of clubbing, but it was a lot gayer and a lot more fashion student-y [than before]. It shifted indie. She was a great performer and people like Karen O would have probably been influenced by her.
Hölzel: I get goosebumps [listening to the album today]. When you release something like this, you never think about the future. You only realise 20 years later what happened and what it means to people. You check Instagram and YouTube and young kids say how important certain tracks are to them. Peaches influenced them. Music is art and art can be so influential. I’m just a small part of the whole process, but it’s cool to be part of it. It’s a timeless message, still.
Peaches: There's a very big tradition that is continued on by electroclash and by, you know, the queer community and people like Arca and SOPHIE (RIP) and all these incredible artists that are out there now.
I don't know, The Teaches of Peaches just works for people. Either they were very young when it came out, and now they're in a position of power, and they're like, “I want it to have a life.”
Rogers: It was an assault on your senses – in the way some punk is. Indie kids responded to the provocation as well. And she’s such a compelling performer… Nowadays, there are people like Lady Gaga and Janelle Monae who use images like Peaches, but take them to a bigger audience. Which is cool. But it started with Peaches. She was on the radical fringe of things. A breath of fresh air.