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Teaches of Peaches

Filthy Canadian singer based in Berlin celebrates the 20th anniversary of her most transgressive work; she remains as sweaty and sexy as ever - from the Panorama Dokumente section of the 74th Berlin International Film Festival

QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM BERLIN

In the year 2002, then 36-year-old Toronto-born singer released the seminal album Teaches of Peaches, which defined the electroclash scene of the noughties. It contained energetic club anthems such as Fuck the Pain Away, AA XXX, Diddle my Skittle and Set if Off. Twenty years later, now aged 56, and firmly based in the German capital for roughly 20 years, Peaches celebrates the anniversary of her politically, sexually and musically deviant magnum opus. She’s not embarrassed of her age. In fact, she emblazons the year she was born on the pink jacket she’s wearing as she enters the stage with a walking aid (just a prop, don’t worry).

Her artistic name comes from a Nina Simone song, she explains in the very first scene of this 102-minute documentary. The lyrics (also penned by the iconic African American jazz singer) go like this: “What do they call me? My name is Peaches!”. While very different, Peaches and Nina Simone share a fiery temperament and a very subversive notion of female liberation. The Canadian singer calls herself a feminist and explains that she wants to shatter the orthodoxy mandating that women should not have pleasure in sex. She is overtly dirty and horny. She confesses in deadpan mode that she smells and hasn’t changed her clothes in days. And she’s obsessed with body hair. This is visible both under her armpits and on her vagina. The video of Set It Off shows her pubic hair growing uncontrollably. The artists is also a queer activist. The same video contained two women kissing, and Peaches wanted to have a gay couple too, but the two directors self-censored themselves (only for Cristina Aguilera to showcase the much-feared male homosexual kiss in the video of Beautiful just a month later, Peaches grudgingly notes).

The singer developed a very strong connection with the German capital. She briefly showcases her passport with the countless visas; you can briefly see her real name Merrill Nisker written on the document. She reveals that her artistic partner Gonzo’s preference was to go to Amsterdam so that he could “smoke lots of weed”, but she insisted otherwise. She confesses that her stage antics – which she describes as “childish jumping” and “punk rock” – was a little unusual for the far more impassive German crowds. She throws drinks at the public and goes beyond stage-diving: she literally walks on her fans as they mosh pit underneath her feet. This attitude became an asset: Peaches is a much-cherished Berliner.

Teaches of Peaches combines interviews of Peaches with archive footage from her concerts in 2002 and 2022 (often meshed together to outstanding results). There are also interviews with some of her biggest collaborators Gonzo, Feist, Mignon, and her boyfriend Black Cracker, plus her fan Garbage singer Shirley Manson (the Scottish artist describes her song Fuck the Pain Away as “genius”, while also insisting that such compliment should not be banalised). Images from Top of the Pops two decades ago are also very revealing: Peaches perplexed the young British crowds used to the commoditised pop aesthetics spawned by television. Basically, she is too hot for school.

This is a documentary with a very specific focus: an album and its 20th anniversary. That’s the movie’s strength but also its weakness. It provides fans with a fascinating insight into how an authentically subversive artist has changed in two decades. Her face may have aged, but her work hasn’t. On the other hand, Teaches of Peaches provides very little information about Peaches before 2002, and virtually nothing on how she spent the 20 years between 2002 and 2022. What has the album Teaches of Peaches taught people? Except for the interview with Shirley Manson, we never find out how she affected other artists and smudged the world of music with her delicious misdemeanours.

Teaches of Peaches just premiered in the Panorama Dokumente section of the 74th Berlin International Film Festival. The co-director Judy Landkammer is also the editor of Bruce LaBruce’s The Visitor Xxx, another dirty movie in the Panorama section of this year’s Berlinale.


By Victor Fraga - 23-02-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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