BIMM Berlin students were treated to an incredible Masterclass session recently with none other than Canadian electronic musician and performance artist, Peaches. The event was hosted by BIMM Berlin Music Business tutor, Jeff Collier, who is an American recording artist, drummer, singer, songwriter, producer and vocal production specialist in his own right, and it began with a brief introduction of how Peaches (real name Merrill Nisker) came to the attention of the music world in 2000 thanks to her album ‘The Teaches of Peaches’. She’s since spent the past 16 years pushing buttons and boundaries with her sexually-charged blend of electronic music, hip hop, and punk rock delivered via one of the most raw and creative stage shows in popular music.
Peaches began the story of her musical journey by explaining to the room her early interest in songs on the radio aged five, and how her first love of live music was Broadway musicals. She fell in love with the theatre and went to university to study being a theatre director, with the plan to put on experimental musicals with a range of grotesque and controversial themes. Her life as a theatre student didn’t last long, however, and she dropped out of the course when she decided to become a musician, and started studying music instead.
After graduation she became a music teacher, but still hadn’t found her niche, so she left the profession after an offer to play in some bands, which was much more her ‘thing’. She decided to move to Europe soon afterwards, purchasing some electronic musical equipment in the form of what she calls “the machine” and performing in bars and festivals around Amsterdam and Berlin.
Peaches talked about her decision to move to Europe as being largely based on a cancer diagnosis: “I didn’t want to be victimised as often happens to people who have survived cancer – I wanted to be seen as a strong person.”
Her experience of cancer went on to influence her breakthrough song ‘Fuck the Pain Away’ which she began to play at gigs around Berlin. She created a demo and sent it to a few producers who liked it, but she decided fairly quickly she didn’t want to work with producers because she wanted to stay fully independent and didn’t like that producers tried to tell her what to do.
She then signed a deal with Berlin-based label, Kitty-Yo, releasing ‘The Teaches of Peaches’, which was very well received and led to a tour with UK Britpop band, Elastica, and praise from the Beastie Boys.
‘Fuck the Pain Away’ started to gain in popularity, despite it not having a video or being played on TV or radio. In 2003 the song was used in the Sofia Coppola movie ‘Lost in Translation’, which gained Peaches a lot of credibility and new fans, and she talked about how one of her songs was also used on ‘South Park’.
Peaches also discussed with the audience her subsequent albums ‘Fatherfucker’ and ‘Impeach My Bush’ and how her success has led to her working with a wide range of artists including Iggy Pop, R.E.M, The Flaming Lips, Pink, Karen O, Josh Homme, Christina Aguilera and Yoko Ono.
After a question from the audience regarding her flamboyant performance style, Peaches concludes the Masterclass with some insightful advice about playing live:
“I believe that if you’re playing a show, you should make sure it’s good. I learnt very soon into my career that if I do something crazy, like climbing or walking through the audience, then you will get much more energy from the crowd. At the start my mix of performance and music wasn’t well received by everyone because people would ask ‘are you a musician or a performing artist?’ Now it’s normal, but back then it wasn’t.”
Peaches’ diary certainly looks busy, with upcoming tours around Europe and the US, a string of festival shows this summer and lots of plans for songwriting and video production. We’d like to say a massive ‘thank you’ to Peaches for coming in to chat to all our BIMM Berlin students, and we can’t wait to hear where her musical experimentation leads to next.