Friday nights aren't made for best laid plans. The original intention to be in a cab by 11:00 and inside a club by 12:00 fades as hours fall over each other. Before long it's 1:30, then 2:00. The clothes that three hours earlier smelled purposefully of laundry powder are now crippled by cigarette smoke and rings of sweat, and as you pull another bottle clinking from the fridge you quietly admit to yourself that tonight you're not going anywhere. In the front room slumped over the end of the sofa like a dead dog is a brother, a best friend, the fleshy incarnation of your worst and best memories. With a wobble you fall down next to him, pass a hand over his back and murmur something sentimental.
"Virile" by the Blaze dropped in January with little initial fanfare. Yet despite that, the song has since become a quiet phenomenon. The video for the track, released on the aptly named Bromance Records, is set in the bare cupboard of an empty high-rise flat overlooking a Parisian banlieue. Two young men spend an evening dancing alone to the track, all the while spinning out on a blunt. It's a soft-assault on the senses; part frank recollection of the long nights inside with drugs, part a portrait of friendship. If the video and track articulate one thing frighteningly well, it's the romance of fraternity, and especially its place in club culture. The coil the two characters find themselves in is a strain of male expression totally tied to the nighttime, to alcohol, drugs, and electronic dance music.
Nightclubs have long had an off-on relationship with the fraternal bond. The image of a group of male friends careering drunkenly through the party district with the intention of piling into a club isn't one that's overloaded with positive connotations.
A great deal of attention has focused of late on cultures of sexual harassment and intimidation in nightclubs, on the male mentalities that have made these spaces of inclusion uncomfortable and hostile to women. There are the nauseating archetypes known to anyone who's ever been clubbing: the leering loner, the shady dealer, the aged silverback raver, the ever-present bro. And yet while not many would admit to keeping the company of one of these stock types, according to RAINN, four in five sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the attacker. The threat of the male in nighttime goes further than just thuggish generalizations. An attacker could be anyone, dressed any way, with any eventual intention. As a result of this, the squad, the wolfpack, has become mythologized in the mainstream as something worse than just dicks on parade: booze, banter, and braggadocio tipping into something that transforms nightclubs into spaces of fear.
Between this mixture of stupidity and menace, it can be difficult to find any positive light in which to cast the male presence in clubland. Even fraternal friendship comes with its doubts. Friends tell friends they love each other on dance floors and in smoking areas and living rooms every weekend and often we're likely to dismiss such sentiments as the result of alcohol, lines, and aux cables. Yet there is something unsaid and under-represented that exists in this space. While the pathos displayed through "Virile" could be easily written off as a strain of fucked chat, the video in fact captures something important and neglected. "Virile" is a portrait of the true and valuable male bond that can be made in clubland. The one that transcends asshole dancing and punch-ups. There's a silent agreement you make when you get fucked with your best friend, a pact that says "if we both jump off the edge then we do it holding hands." If you're going to lower your guard, lower it enough to cough up secrets in cigarette smoke, then it has to be with someone you know will go down with you and be there to pull you back out. It has to be with someone you love.
It's this love that is the Blaze's ultimate victory. Masculinity is a strange shell to wear in the 21st century—especially in the cold stacks of a city. Of course, that's not to suggest being male is in any respect harder, but knowing what that identity stands for or how best to express it is something that is all too often lost in either silence or violence. Despite living so much of our experiences before the open gaze of the internet, we seldom talk about our problems as well as we should. Now, narcotics and late nights are not a legitimate answer to any anxiety, but communion of a friendship by night is a powerful outlet.
"Virile" treats clowning around with the utmost respect, appreciating the significance of strange jokes and wrestling matches to the rhythm of the nights that define us as people, fix us in time.
The night depicted in "Virile" captures every shade of this. It's inarguably romantic, with one of the two men practically serenading the other and the soft Parisian night light spread outside. Yet it's also a story of every time two friends have sat around—possibly in the build up to or aftermath of going out—smoking, drinking, and playing records together. It's not a ground-breaking concept on paper, but in execution it couldn't sing with more realness and power. The bareness of the floor, the self-serious nature of the dancing, the foreheads pressed together, the sporadic fits of laughter. It's this cartoonish commitment to each other, as the weed takes hold, that proves the point best. As the lyrics themselves capture, "We look so stupid first / Then we start to believe in something." "Virile" treats clowning around with the utmost respect, appreciating the significance of strange jokes and wrestling matches to the rhythm of the nights that define us as people, fix us in time.
Maybe the greatest single beat in the video arrives with a pivotal blowback, as a smoggy plume is passed from the mouth of one friend to another's. It's a moment that sends the rest of the visuals into a skittish whirl, as both men most likely splinter off into their own headspaces. Yet the exchange, the almost-kiss, best evokes their tryst. Two men, recognizing briefly how indebted they are to one another. "Oh, I need my loneliness / but I'm lost without you." A fitting tribute to the male friendship found and fostered above 4/4 kick-drums.
It would be futile and wrong to attempt to suggest that clubland is an exclusively masculine domain, a mistake that is all too often implicitly made. However, the vision "Virile" offers is a far more truthful account as to what the fraternal bond created in the dark of the nightclub is actually like. It would be impossible to chronicle a history of partiers cementing friendships over music and substances, but it's clearly something that has been happening since the dawn of it all.
Perhaps it's telling that the video appears to feature two actors of Middle Eastern descent—they speak a colloquial Arabic—and as such maybe the Blaze is drawing on different cultural references when it comes to fraternal intimacy (it isn't uncommon for men to hold hands in the Arab world, for example). Yet more likely it's just an honest portrayal of male friendship "under the influence." A portrayal that understands that friendships made in the nighttime are more likely to be linking arms than breaking them. That's not to vindicate any "Not All Men" bullshit, but "Virile" is a reminder that while clubs can prove a playground for the worst in macho posturing and predation, they can also play host to the most honest of connections.
It's this physical communication—tactile affection and gentle bruising—that is missing in the way we have come to characterise young men in nightclubs. We've been rightfully distracted by the bad news: the unsafe environments, the bros, the crime stats, and the douchebags, yet in this process we've perhaps forgotten that it's also under the low-lights of basements and dying lamps of fusty 4:00 AM living rooms that male friendships are often able to best communicate vulnerability, and are best equipped to know each other.
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