Peaches Has Spent Almost Two Decades Sticking Her Middle Finger Up to the Male-Dictated Music Industry

"We want real change, not just people saying we’ve hired a woman."

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Mar 8 2016, 10:10am

It’s a very interesting time for gender equality in music. Women’s voices have never been louder, but at the same time the forces working against them have never been stronger.

As part of Noisey’s continued effort to support and advance the social, economic, cultural, and political achievement of women, we are using International Women’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate progress while also addressing the ongoing issues affecting communities across the world. You can follow all of our International Women’s Day content on our hub here, featuring interviews with Peaches, Little Simz, and Robyn, an essay on Sia by Brooke Candy, a look at the Icelandic rap crew Daughters of Reykjavik, life as a female rapper in Guatemala, and a documentary about Zimbabwean rapper AWA, who has forged a career as a hip-hop artist against all odds, in the face of sexual blackmail, domestic violence and industry sexism. Happy International Women’s Day!

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If there’s one artist whose very existence is a big, brilliant “fuck you” to rampant music industry sexism, it’s Peaches—the famously X-rated 47-year-old electroclash pioneer who had us all singing, “Sucking on my titties like you wanted me” at the turn of the millennium, and still has us dancing to subversive songs about sex, gender and partying almost 16 years later.

However, it’s not just her unapologetic sex-positivity and flagrant attitude-packed realness that has us hailing Peaches a feminist icon (amongst many other things). It’s also her enduring predication for championing the female talents around her, from her collaborations with Karen O, Yoko Ono, Kathleen Hanna, and Kim Gordon, to vocalizing the need to make creative space for trans/non-binary women and women of colour.

Her attitude isn’t just refreshing—it’s imperative. The past year has seen countless brave accounts lifting the lid on music industry sexism, and it often feels like the white male roadblock at the top of the totem pole hasn’t really budged since the 1970s. In response to this, Peaches has spent her entire artistic career refusing to pander to male-dictated ideals, often risking censorship or rebuttal from the mainstream media, or those who still find a casually rapped line about female masturbation too shocking to get behind. In celebration of International Women’s Day, and in celebration of Peaches in general, we caught up with her briefly to speak about navigating her way through a far-from-equal industry, and what we need to do to push things forward.

Noisey: Hey Peaches! You’ve been making music for around two decades. How did you break into the industry?
Peaches:
I never really tried to break into the music industry. It was never a big ambition of mine, so it happened organically. I’m not saying it was easy, but I wasn’t trying really hard. I made an album that resonated, and I was lucky that a lot of different kinds of people liked it and contacted me to have me open for them, or play their festivals when I had no management. It wasn’t like I became huge, but opportunities happened and then it became a career.

Were there particular hurdles you faced as a female solo artist when you started out?
Well, I very quickly saw what a boys club it was in the music business. That is always a hurdle. Luckily (or naturally), the kind of music that I was making at the time was actually dominated by women and queer people, and it was quite sexually open too. There was me, Chicks on Speed, Le Tigre, and Miss Kittin who were at the forefront of making electronic music with a performance element to it—in other words, "electroclash." As a genre, electroclash was only really around for about six months. Years later, of course, it came back as "Nu Rave," which was more male-dominated and based on fashion. That died out quickly as well, but I really believe that a lot of genres today wouldn’t exist without electroclash, and people have to recognize that it was ran by women from the very beginning.

Do you think the music industry has gotten better for women in the past two decades?
I couldn’t really say the industry has become more equal compared to when I started out. It’s still a huge boys club because the men at the top haven’t died yet, and they want to hold onto their kushy jobs for dear life. If you look at any mainstream institute, like the Grammys, it’s still run by a bunch of 60-year-old white men. Of course there have been some minor changes, but there is still so much residue left over from the 1950s onwards. Those people are clutching on, and God help them if a woman’s going to get in their way. Sure, feminism is a trend right now, but we have to make sure it’s more than a trend. We want real change, not just people saying, "We’ve hired a woman, but the trend’s over now so bye!” We’re in 2016, and we all think we’re so open, but things are so safe on one end. Of course, we see a healthy underground of people trying to work against that, but the mainstream is hanging on for dear life.

How have you navigated that personally?
Maybe by defying genres. I’m not in EDM music, I’m not in rock music, I don’t make sing-your-heart-out music, and although I’m touching on these points that are trendy, you’d be surprised about the amount of people who are still afraid of what I’m saying. When I say specific words that can’t be said on TV, they back off me, when they wouldn’t if they knew where to put me. In that way, I’ve had great success in being very individual, which is really quite a feat for this place and time. But there’s a limit, of course. Certain festivals will never have me. TV will never have me.

Yeah, I remember reading about how you performed on Top of the Pops in the early noughties and they didn’t air the performance because they thought it was too shocking.
It’s not that I was explicit, but I was just doing something they’d never seen before. Yeah, I’ve always been sexually open, but I’ve always been misunderstood. What do people listen to music for? They listen to it for emotional release, so I’m offering an alternative way of expressing this. That often gets misunderstood as, “Oh, she just wants to fuck everything and get naked.” That’s not the point. I just don’t want to wear a chastity belt and hide in my room.

But these kinds of attitudes make sense when we look at the laws on women’s bodies in America. The Supreme Court is still discussing abortion rights, even if it’s from sexual abuse. How is it easier to get Viagra than it is to get an abortion? There are so many absurdities that exist—it’s incredible. Some people in power prefer to stick by the oppressions that they’ve built up, and not give women their rights. Why do we have International Women’s Day? We should have it every day, but we’re still fighting. It almost feels as if women themselves are niche, but for no reason.

What advice would you give to young women who are starting out in the music industry today?
I would tell them to just be real with yourself, and if you’re doing something different that people don’t understand, then you should probably continue.

In many ways, I’m glad I didn’t know what I know now when I first started out, because it might have hindered me. I’m glad people didn’t tell me that when I would play early shows with the Strokes at an NME showcase that there would be a headline in the paper the next day about me as a 33-year-old woman saying, “Grandma, you’re scaring the kids.” But really, you just have to have to make sure you’re still visible, and you have to keep trying. And that goes for LGBTQ people also. We need to be pushing forward and we need to keep going. The industry has an ageism problem too – that’s for damn sure. Look at what pop music is all about. But I’m a weird anomaly. I just keep going. I’m like, “Sorry, buddy. I’m almost 50. Eat it. Enjoy the show.”

Daisy Jones is the managing editor for Noisey UK. Follow her on Twitter.