Peaches on taking action on behalf of Pussy Riot: "If I lived in Russia, that could've been me."
No one knows how to push buttons quite like Peaches. Whether she's writing and directing her own autobiographical musical or organizing a Free Pussy Riot campaign, this electro-punk (aka Merrill Nisker) is always a few steps ahead of even the most radical of sex-positive visionaries. In advance of her DJ extravaganza at the Summit Music Hall this weekend, complete with her own East Berlin dancers, we checked in with the queen of queer to discuss M.I.A., humorous sex and why punks hate dance music.
Westword: So much of your music blends electro-dance with punk: Why do you think this wasn't done sooner? Why have punk rock and dance music always been at odds with each other?
Peaches: When I first started, people saw electronic music as something phony, something flash-in-the-pan, something that was only for five in the morning. And punk was all 'Do it yourself, do it yourself, man; electronic music isn't REAL music, man.' But it makes so much sense now, with technology being so available. It's a funny time to be doing it yourself, because now there's no other way.
Often musicians whose music is overtly sexual will take offense to the suggestion that their lyrics make people laugh. Am I wrong to think your lyrics are funny?
Sometimes something you think is funny, someone else might get angry at. It happens a lot in queer culture: Someone who's not comfortable with it has to get angry at it. It's interesting that there's such a polarization between people who find it funny and people who think it's something be angry about.
But do you actively inject comedy into your music? Do you see it as funny?
I see it as just straight up. Just straight up. Very direct. Yeah, there are some funny things, but rap is often funny. Whenever you're dealing with wordplay, things are gonna make you laugh. When you hear I'm so high I'm an addict/I'm so high I'm the attic, it's funny; Nicki Minaj is funny. When you have a message to deliver, adding a bit of humor helps.
Early on in your career, you were surrounded by so much yet-to-be-discovered talent -- Feist, M.I.A. -- as well as established talent like Justine Frischmann [of Elastica]. Do you think talent feeds on itself in groups like this? That you're more yourself creatively when surrounded by like-minded people?
It was funny, because we never really talked about music very much. Justine was stopping her music career, and mine was just beginning. Feist and I lived together.... I guess when you're at a certain point, you meet the people that you're supposed to.
And M.I.A. wasn't making music yet, either. What was she like at that time? I hear you were the one who encouraged her to play around with the Roland MC-505.
She was a filmmaker then, but she was a huge hip-hop fan. And I like to encourage people to express themselves in whatever form they like. I feel like people are more than musicians, more than doctors, you know? She watched me every night when I performed, because she was making a documentary on Justine, and she was asking questions about my machine, and I was like, "Go ahead, check it out." And she really wanted to. I wasn't like "Do it or die!" She got inspired, and it was so cool.
Do you also encourage yourself to branch out into other forms of creativity?
Yeah -- I just made a movie. It was in the Toronto Film Festival. It hasn't come out yet. It was a stage production; I wrote a narrative based on a fantastical biography of myself. I directed it, I wrote it, I made the music -- and we had a cast and crew of forty. We're gonna do a few more festivals and figure out its life. You can watch the trailer online.
How do you feel mainstream culture is benefiting from the existence of queer culture?
It makes mainstream culture cool. They get everything from queer culture. Queer culture is always first on everything: politically, musically, fashion -- everything.