Berlinale 2024 review: Teaches of Peaches (Judy Landkammer & Philipp Fussenegger)

“A cinematographic space in which different time periods blend into one uninterrupted present, where the energy and the nonconformity triumphantly live on, unspoiled and evergreen.”

Born under the name Merrill Nisker, the musician Peaches is a woman with one drum machine (and sometimes an electric guitar) and a whole lot of curse words and all other kinds of material that would result in the notorious ‘parental advisory: explicit content’ label we can find on physical and digital audio recordings. After all, the title of her first and best-known hit is “Fuck the Pain Away”. The incredibly high number of occurrences of the word ‘fuck’ in the documentary feature Teaches of Peaches (shot during the 20th anniversary tour of the eponymous album) is a good indication of how much the film and its subject are on the same page. These shared attitudes and world views certainly made directors Judy Landkammer and Philipp Fussenegger part of the Peaches family, thus giving them what looks like unlimited backstage access during the tour, and access to a substantial number of archives, going back to the very beginning of the musician’s wild career.

Before all the “drinking and drugs“, as put bluntly and sincerely by one of Nisker’s many friends sharing their anecdotes and insight, the oldest archive footage shows us Nisker singing a nursery rhyme to kindergarten kids. A snippet from another time, another life, when she had not yet become the woman with the drum machine and the sexually explicit content. From there, we almost instantly cut to the first underground shows she performed, in ridiculously small clubs and venues in her hometown Toronto or in Berlin, where she lived for a few years, prompting her to call this city her other hometown. The testimonies accompanying these images are from fellow musicians Chilly Gonzales, who formed a band called The Shit with Nisker prior to her Peaches years, and Feist, who did backing vocals for her under the stage name “Bitch Lap Lap”, and in an odd turn of events that is also a testament to their versatility as artists, after having met while touring, collaborated with Peaches to make “Let It Die”, a much softer chamber pop album.

Landkammer and Fussenegger play by the retrospective documentary genre book. They have their witnesses reminisce about their time with Peaches, and emphasize her importance as a remarkable and fierce queer female figure that our times are in dire need of. They also have Peaches herself tell the stories of her major breakthroughs – the only recording of “Fuck the Pain Away” being handed out to her on a cassette tape, for five dollars, by the sound engineer of the first show she played the song at. And her rejections – when the mainstream music industry in the form of legendary BBC TV show Top of the Pops (never broadcasting her performance) and Sony (dropping her after her first music video, obviously too offensive to their eyes) denied her the possibility of reaching the next level of stardom. But Peaches remained Peaches, giving the same raucous and genuine energy in bigger venues now as she gave in the past when still playing small clubs.

She sings foul and crude words, half-naked (or wearing a silicone hat in the shape of a giant vulva), not with the intent to be provocative but because she thinks there should not be anything wrong with this behaviour. Her attitude provides Landkammer and Fussenegger with a way to bring something different, inspired and vibrant to the genre; by simply editing together images of Peaches on tour twenty years ago, and now at 56, they create a cinematographic space in which these different time periods blend into one uninterrupted present, where the energy and the nonconformity triumphantly live on, unspoiled and evergreen.

Image copyright: Avanti Media Fiction