Written by Calla Camero
Photos by Ramsey Cheng
In the midst of darkness, a cube structure with two facing screens light up the room in moody hues of red, closeups of a lighter flame to a ceiling, and a forest fire ablaze. Alongside the visuals a chord progression starts to build up, and a bassline so powerful it shakes the venue floor. The crowd’s gaze is transfixed by the moving images, their faces well-lit from the screens, like moviegoers in a theater. The music swells, the screens move apart and the beat drops, revealing the artist we’ve all gathered to receive; The Blaze.
The Blaze is French duo Jonathan and Guillaume Alric. The two have been creating together since their first project five years ago, while Jonathan was still attending film school in Brazil. Jonathan needed an electronic track to play over a film he was working on so he asked his cousin Guillaume, who was making his own music at the time, to produce it. What started off as a school project very effortlessly became a collaboration of melding art, music, and film - and just like that - The Blaze was born.
They released their first full length album this September, Dancehall, a gripping 10-track electronic music masterwork, that combines heavy dance tracks and light piano chords, with low-pitched emotionally allusive vocals.
My best friend and I decided to trail them on parts of their first North American tour. We packed our bags and dutifully followed the guys from Los Angeles to Chicago to Queens, New York. We’ve been eager to see them live since their first song release, “Virile” in 2016. So when they finally announced their US tour dates, we jumped at the opportunity to witness how The Blaze take Dancehall from concept to fruition.
Their music videos are artful plays on subtle ambiguity. Each video pulls you into a narrative that draws from nostalgic experiences, but through the eyes of unfamiliar characters. By the time each film is over, you’ve absorbed enough raw human experience to feel emotionally connected but with enough unanswered questions to leave you longing for more.
Take the video for their single, “Territory” for example, which tells the story of a man reuniting with his family after some time spent away, tears running down his face as they all congregate to greet him. The video explores an emotional and climactic homecoming, but purposefully leaves the question open ended: returning from where?
In their music video for “Queens”, one of the more well-known tracks off their latest album Dancehall, lyrics, “So long, so long, so long. You were my everything. For you, I see,” plays in repetition as flashbacks of a passionate relationship between a young woman and her counterpart is explored, immediately after learning about her death.
“We don’t know if it’s a sister or if it’s a lover, once again we just put things together and then spectators can imagine whatever they want,” Jonathan tells me. “We don’t want to say more than that.”
“We want to let the spectator imagine his own story,” Guillaume adds, both of them speaking with a heavy French accent, inadvertently romanticizing every word that comes out of their mouths. “We are speaking about love, and love is universal. And there’s many different ways. And it’s interesting to see how people give different interpretations.”
While some of the questions of details are left unanswered, the issues their films confront are much more straightforward, often focusing on a problem by juxtaposing it with something contradictory. In “Virile” the display of two men getting high, embracing, and dancing with one another, confronts the issue of masculinity through intimacy. In “Heaven” the peaceful image of a sleeping baby is followed by the arousing amusement of a man amongst friends. In “Queens” the gravity and complexity of death is embraced by the simple beauties of life.
“(In “Territory”) We use masculinity as a cliche, to make you feel some emotion,” Guillaume explains. “When you see a male crying, it gives you a contrast. It’s like poetry. So you can feel a lot of emotion because its sweet and it can touch you. That's why we use masculinity, because its charismatic.”
Jonathan and Guillaume understand that connection is at the center of any meaningful work of art, and as a result, have perfected the art of capturing human emotion at its most vulnerable states. Through their stories, they provide comfort. Through the rhythm of their music, they allow people to return to the dance floor, not only to dance, but also to cry, to love, to just feel. Their ability to accomplish this tastefully, speaks measures to the knowledge they possess, both of their craft and of the human experience.
“We work with emotion,” Jonathan proclaims. “So we can make some piano chord, and it can make us think about something sad, and then we start to talk about what this chord makes us feel, and we start to have some inspiration, so we start to write some stuff. But it works the other way also...there’s no recipes.”
“Every emotional experience is good for the artistic inspiration,” they tell me in unison. “The suffering experience is good too. Love can give and take sometimes but it’s always an experience to get no matter how it will end.”
While performing live they purposefully aim to take the attention away from themselves, hoping to act more like ghosts on stage, hiding beneath the images and the music to stay focused on the emotions they are giving back to the audience. Every once in a while, you’d see them look at one another with a slight gesture, smile and then revert their attention back to the audience.
“If we feel nervous or a lot of stress, we smile at each other or look at each other, and it reassures us that okay, everything’s going to be okay,” Jonathan tells me.
“We have the trust between us,” Guillaume says in agreement.
But during our final show with them in Queens, New York, it’s hard to keep my eyes off of their on-stage interplay. I look up at Jonathan and Guillaume, encased beneath the screens, watching them interact with the audience; signalling drops, pumping up the crowds, solidifying their connection with every beat pulse.
Now on the facing screens are the same young women from the “Queens” video, one on the left screen, the other following her footsteps on the right. As Guillaume and Jonathan sing out, “So long, so long, so long. Forget me,” the audience sings with them. The girls walk through a bright green forest in slow motion. Their hands reach out to one another, one crosses over through the split screen and grips firmly with the other. Finally, together.
Jonathan and Guillaume, the ghosts on stage, materialize as they chant in unison: “Feels so loud, feels so loud, feels so loud.”
During our interview, I ask what they are referring to. What is so loud?
“We are talking about life,” Jonathan responds. “Life is so loud.”