Electro superstar Peaches returns to London this weekend for a range of shows, at the request of Yoko Ono. After performing with the Plastic Ono Band at the Japanese artist’s 80th birthday party in February, the singer, producer, DJ and performance artist was invited to appear at Meltdown, the annual festival at the Southbank which, this year is curated by Ono.
On Saturday night, Peaches will DJ alongside Neneh Cherry & Oscar Scheller, Kim Ann-Foxman and Pam Hogg at a silent disco in front of the Royal Festival Hall, overlooking the Thames. She’s back the following day to perform Yoko Ono’s famous ‘Cut Piece’ where members of the audience will be invited on-stage with a pair of scissors, to snip off parts of her clothing.
She’ll risk the wrath of Andrew Lloyd Webber by treating London to a one-off performance of Peaches Christ Superstar, her one-woman homage to the famous rock opera, and she’ll also be talking with Jude Rogers about activism, Pussy Riot and whether we all have a part to play in making the world a better place.
We caught up with the controversial Canadian to hear about shows she’s taking part in at the festival, how she’s unleashing her inner diva, her dream line-up for Meltdown and her love of Tina Fey.
You’re doing a fair bit of DJing at the moment. How does it compare to putting on a live show?
Well, my DJ shows are live shows. I can DJ and I can mix but when I started Peaches at the beginning I was using just one electronic machine and I saw all these guys, the same as now, DJing and looking down like they’re Einstein or something but it’s really not so difficult! So that’s when I started to perform and put a rock n’roll energy into it. It’s actually quite close to my earlier shows — that freedom again to be alone on stage and do whatever I want. I even have more freedom because now I’m doing everything – mixing my own voice and mixing the music. It’s developed in the last two years because I’ve been doing so many other projects as well as DJing on weekends, so that turned into a whole new show. I call it Peaches Extravaganza! People get confused so I take out the word ‘DJ’ because it’s not just ‘DJing’ – there’s a thousand times more to it. It’s me doing what I do, jumping on people, singing and screaming and being predictably unpredictable.
So this is a silent disco. How will that be different?
That will be a different thing. It will completely be an auditory experience. I’ll be coming to you like a late night DJ in your bedroom.
Have you done that before?
I have done it before – at a previous Meltdown festival when Grace Jones played. The Massive Attack Meltdown.
Are there any acts you're particularly enjoying right now that you like to include in your set?
I’m really into Baltimore Booty. I include a lot of that in my set.
Has there ever been an occasion where you’ve really struggled with a crowd?
Those are the greatest because by the end, they’re either with me or they’ve left. That happened more in the earlier days. These days I’m DJing art parties and things that aren’t always music, which is always new and exciting and I love to see the transformation of an audience, quite frankly.
Do you enjoy that process of winning an audience over?
Either winning them over or making them leave!
Have you got any surprises in store for the London crowd?
Oh yeah, well I’m going to be performing my own show too, which is Peaches Christ Superstar.
Is this the first time you’re performing the show in London?
I’ve performed it in Berlin, the States and Toronto but this is the first time in London. I was actually banned from performing it for a long time because it doesn’t generate enough money for Andrew Lloyd Webber. I sing the parts of Pilate, Jesus, Mary, Judas and everybody. It’s cover songs so it’s not like I’m doing a full theatrical production but I’m singing all the songs so it’s quite theatrical in itself.
Have you heard anything about what Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice think of it?
Well Tim Rice actually came to see the show in Berlin. We took pictures together, it was all good.
I think that show has made people look at you in a different way as a performer. Would you like to do any more of that — putting the Peaches persona aside and doing more straight acting, so to speak?
It’s not really acting. That particular performance is completely an eruption of emotions. It was a great foray into doing other stuff. Last year I studied opera and performed in the first opera ever written, L’Orfeo by Monteverdi. I sang the role of Orfeo with six other opera singers doing all the other parts. So the secret’s out that I can actually sing.
As part of the festival, you're also going to be re-enacting Yoko Ono's famous Cut Piece performance. How did that come about?
At the request of Yoko.
And have you spoken with her about the performance itself?
I have spoken with Yoko and I know why she was doing that piece in the first place, which was to give the audience the chance to take what they want from the artist instead of having the artist always choose what the audience gets. Some people see it more as a feminist piece or they see it as an exploitative or anti-exploitative piece. I can’t really comment on that but for her, it was strictly the artist giving instead of the artist taking.
I've seen some clips of when Yoko Ono first performed it…
She was terrified!
She looks terrified! And she sits there remarkably passively whilst the people around her get more confident about snipping off parts of her clothing. It's hard to imagine you just letting it happen...
It’s going to take all my strength not to just grab someone’s arm and tell them don’t cut my pussy hairs off or something. I mean, I don’t know how far people are going to go. Sometimes Yoko’s done it and people have been quite afraid and taking their time, and then one time it took twenty seconds, it was like cut cut cut cut cut cut cut! I think it’s interesting that I’ve been chosen for it, being who I am, my outspokenness and my sexual forthrightness. So I think it’s a good challenge for both the audience and me. They could well be thinking ‘well she doesn’t care; she wants us to see her tits'. But I’ve actually never shown my naked body on stage, although people have claimed they’ve seen it. That’s not really the point for me. Also, people can say whatever they want to me because I’m going to be completely silent.
That goes against your nature doesn’t it?
Yeah but I’m always up for a challenge.
Do you ever get nervous?
I get more nervous speaking in public than singing in public. Reading aloud in public is the most nerve-wracking. So sitting in silence might be the ultimate.
Last year you campaigned on behalf of Pussy Riot and produced a single ‘Free Pussy Riot’ to raise awareness of their situation. What was it about them that struck a chord with you?
If I was in Russia, that would be me. I need to express my freedom of speech and my left leanings, gay rights and that everybody should be a feminist. So I couldn’t just accept what was going on.
You got a huge amount of interest and thousands of signatures for the petition.
Yeah it was over 250,000 signatures. When we started they were like, ‘yeah we’re hoping for about 1,000 signatures!’ But there needed to be a middle ground between the superstars who were saying ‘do something’ and the artists who were making incredible statements and works of art about it but weren’t getting any attention.
Did you feel that was the best way to go about it, to take it into your own hands and produce something with a similar ethos to Pussy Riot?
Yeah, and people really responded to it. For the video I just put out a Facebook message to say come meet us to film at Café Gloryhole and then 400 people showed up.
If you were to curate your own Meltdown Festival, who would be top of your list to perform?
God there’s so many people. It’s funny because I’m sure a lot of people have tried to get Kate Bush but I don’t think she’d perform. My dream would be to see Kate Bush do a full show like back in the day. That would be incredible. And I’d love to do something selfish like have a private four-hour show by Prince.
Just for you?
Just for me.
You've worked with a huge range of people including Iggy Pop, Chilly Gonzales, Simian Mobile Disco, Boyz Noize, Christina Aguilera, P!nk… Is there anyone out there you'd still like to work with?
I’d like to work in different capacities with people. I’d like to work with Tina Fey.
She’s a fan isn’t she?
My music’s been on the show, yeah. I’d like to work with her or Kristen Wiig. I love their form of comedy and the way that they stick it to the world. And on the other hand, I’d love to sing a song with Mastodon. I just saw them play last night and they were amazing. I’d love to sing a song with them. Or I’d love to make a video with Cindy Sherman.
Loads of people basically…
Yeah, in all different directions. Or (excitedly) I’d love to sing with the Plastic Ono Band!
As a pop star, you were once described as so niche that you needed a category of your own. There's quite a few acts around today that have taken a leaf or two, or more, out of your book. Do you see that as a natural progression, does it make you feel proud or do you find it frustrating when you see them getting more mainstream attention?
No, because that’s the way they’re doing things. There are certain levels of ambition or artistic endeavour. I wouldn’t like to be a huge pop star to be honest. I’ve walked down the street with huge pop stars and huge actors and it’s not fun.
Do you feel that if you went down that route you wouldn’t be able to branch out into all the different areas of performance that you do?
There are some really awesome artists who do that and make a point of it. I think Björk has done an incredible job of turning her shows into educational projects and including all these incredible instruments that people have never heard of. You can do it the way you want but I’m happy where I am.
Your last album, I Feel Cream, was quite soulful in many ways.
I’m gonna take that as a compliment, thank you.
It is a compliment. But you’ve also said that you’re enjoying playing lots of hard techno in your DJ sets of late. Is that any indication of what new material from you could sound like?
My DJ sets include hard techno, booty, me singing over songs and stretching my voice and then I’ll go into singing something like Private Dancer just with piano. So it’s just a platform for me. I’ve never actually said this in an interview but what I think about my DJ shows, not the silent disco but the new DJ shows I’m doing, so I’m not sure if you want to hear this?
I feel like it’s a kind of futuristic way that someone like Diana Ross or Liza Minelli would perform their variety shows. But you don’t need an orchestra or anything, I just use DJ decks and I can do anything I want.
So you can unleash your inner diva behind the decks?
Yeah! But doing it all myself.
You once sang 'hair in a mullet, you know you've got to love it'. Do you still stand by those words?
Mullet forever! I live in Germany. I get so excited whenever I see a mullet. I think that’s what Germany and Canada have in common. But we call it a hockey haircut.
I had one once but I don't think I carried it off quite like you.
It’s not for everyone.
If the world was ending and you were DJing, what would be the last track you'd play?
Cody Chesnutt – The World is coming to my party
Meltdown Festival, curated by Yoko Ono, starts this weekend. Full listings and tickets are available here. And here's a preview: