The Blaze Explore Humanity with Some of the Best Videos You’ve Seen
We went to Paris to speak to the electronic duo about their new visual “Queens” and how they came to make such vivid art together.
Guillaume and Jonathan Alric, by Benjamin Loyseau
You get a real shiver from listening to and watching The Blaze. Right down both cheeks. I'm sat in the basement of their label’s Parisian office and they're showing me the video for “Queens”, the latest visual from their debut album Dancehall. Despite the fact I'm only faced with a laptop placed in front of me and the French electronic duo, the private screening feels like a grand event. Perhaps more than anyone else working in music right now, The Blaze are impressively renowned for their videos.
From day one, their work has been emotional and nuanced – often in vulnerable, intimate ways that showcase people who might not have otherwise been on camera. “What we are doing with The Blaze is humanist,” says Guillaume Alric, speaking through a cloud of mentholated vape smoke.
Now 32, he studied photography in his early twenties and travelled to Nepal and India for street photo projects (he still keeps the film rolls in a cupboard at home). For a few years he wrote celestial leaning dub music under the name Mayd Hubb. Then his film student cousin Jonathan needed to submit a music video for a final exam, and that's where The Blaze came about. Guillaume’s dub music was too long, too hard to put images to. Perhaps it would be better if he created something more electronic, Jonathan said, who has since graduated and is a few years younger, aged 29.
That was seven years ago. The cousins knew they had something special – a kind of complimentary creative symmetry – and they released their first official video as The Blaze in 2016. Filmed on a budget of next-to-nothing, “Virile” is a charming and almost romantic portrait, hinging on an are-they-friends-or-are-they-lovers interaction between two men as they party in a high-rise flat. As the men break playfully into dance, a physical communication takes place, through stories their bodies tell. It’s as intimate as it feels real, a true fly on-the-wall scenario.
“Virile” was followed up with last year’s video for “Territory”: a powerful illustration of an Algerian man’s homecoming. It caught the attention of Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, who loved the clip so much he set a screengrab from it as his phone background. It also won a Grand Prix at Cannes, awarded for “its story celebrating the human condition”. Most recently the duo released “Heaven”, a visual allegory for utopia, “to show that paradise is all the colours of skin together, in nature, having contemplation” explains Jonathan. So can we watch the new video? “Yes, that’s why you have popcorn,” he says, laughing and pointing at the snacks that’ve been laid on the table for us.
“Queens”, which you can watch above, is The Blaze’s most vivid release yet. Coming from the same tonal palette as Andre Arnold, Sean Baker or Larry Clark – directors who present the fringes of society with a gritty yet warming realism – it celebrates the life of a gypsy woman via evocatively rich flashbacks to her younger self and another teenage girl. Maybe they’re friends, maybe they’re sisters, “we don’t know, and we don’t care”, says Jonathan. But what we do see is sentimental, albeit in the most visceral way. The young women swim at sunset. They blaze a joint in the backseat of a speeding car and shoot rifles. And when someone needs seeing to they show up for each other, a ride-or-die duo, pushing another woman to the pavement before spitting out warm red blood.
These moments inspire those shivers down my cheeks, because they’re told against the backdrop of a funeral. Both the track and visual are rooted in loss, beginning with a candlelit vigil and emphasised by the repeated hymn-like lyric “so long, so long, so long / you were my everything / for you I sing”. It’s a gut-wrenching, haunting watch, full of longing. “We are trying to make emotional music," Guillaume says. "We don’t want to just make happy music, we want to explore everything.” But even within the darker undertones of “Queens” there’s a sense of peace, an idea that life can be celebrated through death – a sad yet euphoric mourning.
By their account, it’s important for The Blaze to immerse themselves in their shoot locations. “We’re speaking about culture, so to be true and be honest in our videos we need to know what it’s really like there”, explains Guillaume, exhaling another big cloud of e-juice. Before shooting “Queens" they studied up: taking in documentaries, articles, books, movies, “everywhere we can find information”, as well as spending time in the video’s undisclosed location. They tell me how gypsies burn the caravan of the deceased, why they never pronounce the name of the person who has passed. We chat a little about traditions and spirits.
The Blaze create music because they want people to feel things, and they produce videos because they want to bring humanity a little closer, showcasing how emotions like grief and nostalgia or love and fear transcend cultures and are the definition of what it means to feel alive. Or something like that. We’re joined by a translator, on hand to help in case there’s any miscommunication – especially when speaking about such a vast and abstract subject as, you know, the human condition. Then again their work speaks for itself. When executed well, the combination of music and video can stir up an unparalleled reaction in any one of us. And The Blaze blend both mediums with the flair of maestros.
Clearly, the French duo don’t shy away from emotion. Guillaume tells me cried the other week while watching the devastatingly brilliant film Lion, starring Dev Patel. Naturally, both cousins are big film fans – of directors like Ken Loach, Alfonso Cuarón and Terence Malik – but like us all they’ll also sneak in a relaxingly crap blockbuster too. Their musical interests are loose. Jonathan remembers the first time he heard Beethoven’s “9th Symphony” and adores classical composition, while Guillaume started playing drums as a teen because he was a fan of Nirvana. As The Blaze, they draw from a deepening pool of salsa, dub, rap, electronic influences, combining them to create something that could be branded a new EDM: emotional dance music.
Though they might be seen as the next in a lineage of Paris-based electronic duos (Daft Punk, Justice), neither member of The Blaze is Parisian. Jonathan was born in Ivory Coast, grew up in Normandy, moved to Peru with his parents in his mid-teens, then studied film in Brussels before relocating to the French capital city. Guillaume – who travelled South Africa, Canada and Europe as Mayd Hubb – was raised in France's Burgundy region, in a small village, and feels a semi-permanent compulsion to return to the countryside. “It’s like the people when they’re raised near the ocean, they need to see the ocean and if they don’t see the ocean in three months they go crazy. It’s quite the same with nature,” he says softly, grinning.
With that in mind, Dancehall, which is ten tracks long, was written and recorded in Paris and the south of France, in their 98-year-old grandfather’s house. “We wanted to contrast the place where we worked, [the Parisian] streets, with the countryside,” reasons Jonathan. The cousins holidayed to the house as kids with their large extended family and returning, to remember little feet running from room to room, is nostalgic. It also helped that their grandfather is practically deaf, so it didn’t matter when The Blaze recorded. Does he know they’re musicians? “He knew but I don’t think he gave a fuck,” laughs Jonathan as they both smile, recalling how most evenings the three of them would sit down to dinner, eating bowls of soup.
If “Get Lucky”, the song of a thousand summers, takes place on a pristine but populated island beach, then The Blaze’s debut album was in the same place before everything got cleaned up and the paper parasols were placed in thick cocktail glasses. When everything seemed a little more free. Sand rubbing into toes instead of collecting inside the grooves of stiletto sandals and Gucci loafers. Inspired not by the music genre but the literal place, Dancehall is intended to cultivate a togetherness. All the people moving as one. “Not dancing in a, woo!, funny way. Dancing together, exchanging something,” explains Jonathan.
That said, there are only so many extended intros and drawn out vocals that one party can take. Unlike, say, DJ Koze’s Knock Knock album, Dancehall suffers from a lack of variation. Some of the initial charm of The Blaze's early releases are lost as well, no longer leaking into the 3AM detritus of the smoking area but blasting from the main stage. Still, there are stimulating moments: the surging in “Rise”, the fluid sensuality on “Places”. There are a few junctures where the music feels as alive as the videos The Blaze are so well known for. At times, the cousin’s also conjure magic: creating soundscapes that feel like coming home, wherever that may be; their songs creating space for epiphanies, the breaking of a heart into a thousand pieces, the playing over-and-over again of a memory to be savoured.
“I don’t know about you but if you like art, it’s because it gives you emotion,” says Jonathan. “If I go to the movies, it’s because I want to cry or feel something.” When it comes to music, Jonathan continues, “it’s because “you want to travel, you want to be in another place. And that’s the simple reason why we like to create with emotion.” Guillaume adds to his point. “When we say emotion, we mean all the emotion: sadness, happiness, all of it.”
This, The Blaze say, is “the poetry.” With another group, that phrase might not make any sense: to create something poetic might mean to be overly sincere. But coming from The Blaze, it works. It’s less of a music project and more a poetic exploration, an attempt to document or bring to life this intangible thing in all of humanity that is also bigger than us all. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. When Guillaume and Jonathan hit that sweet spot, though, when all the worlds collide within their work, explaining something that extends beyond music, or video, or live performance? That’s those shivers. And The Blaze have a real knack for creating them.
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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.