a rare interview with the blaze, the duo behind your favourite music videos
They’ve won awards, blown minds and made you cry. So what’s next?
Photography Nicolas Poillot
Ask anybody with the internet and any kind of taste in 2018 about the greatest music videos of recent years and The Blaze will invariably get a mention. French cousins, Guillaume -- a long-time music producer and DJ -- and director Jonathan Alric, joined forces a few years ago when the latter decided to make a music video for his film school project. On combining their specialist subjects, the talented duo realised that they were onto something pretty special, and it wasn’t long before the world caught on too.
It all started with Virile. Back in 2016, Parisian label Bromance Records shared a completely beautiful short film on their YouTube channel. Set to slow-paced emotional dance music topped with distorted sung vocals, it featured two guys in a high-rise banlieue flat; smoking a joint, playing music and dancing. It was simple and beautiful. Full of intimacy and unspoken, unanswered questions: were these guys friends? Brothers? Lovers? Through their hugging and forehead-kissing and fight-like dance moves, The Blaze explored themes of masculinity and sensitivity, and, surprisingly, they did it all on a budget. Two years and almost 4 million views later, we should’ve seen their impending success coming a mile off.
Knowing that less is more, it wasn't until over a year later in April 2017 that The Blaze released their debut EP, Territory, a six tracker of tender UK bass-leaning productions centered around a video for the title track. Following the return to Algiers of a beloved son, it goes from emotional homecoming to contemplation over the contrast in cultures and attitudes. You’d better believe there’s dancing here too; with highlights including a dawn roof rave and the moment our protagonist’s boxing hooks align perfectly with the track’s synth jabs. Not only did Territory rack up almost 14 million views, but director of Moonlight and knower of great films Barry Jenkins dubbed it “The best piece of art I’ve seen in 2017 HOT DAMN!” The judges at Cannes Lions thought so too, bestowing it with a Grand Prix -- an award usually reserved for game-changing adverts. Bravo!
There wasn’t another music video until the start of 2018 when we were smiled on by the art gods and blessed with Heaven. There was less aggression this time, and more beautiful, all-encompassing perfection. Set under a giant old tree in a totally idyllic location, friends are seen dancing, celebrating, loving and laughing in their own slice of paradise. It was beautiful and viewers were left hoping that they wouldn’t be left waiting quite so long this time.
We still had our fingers crossed when, backstage at Primavera, ahead of a late night live performance that would see The Blaze perform with a backdrop of visuals by some of their favourite artists, we sat down with Guillaume and Jonathan. Over a bottle of Spanish champagne -- in a melange of French and English -- we discussed their favourite music videos of all time, how exactly you go about casting a tree, and the new themes they’ll explore in a project that we’re very excited to announce will be dropping this Friday.
Start preparing yourself emotionally as you meet The Blaze below.
Let’s start at the beginning. Was there ever any kind of mission statement or plan?
Jonathan: We didn’t really think about the future because Guillaume had his other project and I was still focussing on film. It wasn’t a big deal to us if it worked out or not.
Guillaume: We just wanted to make electronic music and videos with emotion, featuring young marginal people that usually society doesn’t care about. We tried to show them with poetry and emotion.
Jonathan: Yeah, poetry is the key word here, across both the music and the videos.
Are you a fan of traditional poetry?
Guillaume: I love Pessoa. I don’t know a lot of him but I like what I know. Now though, for us, poetry is not only in books by poets. It’s everywhere.
Can we talk about some of your favourite music videos?
Jonathan: Romain Gavras’ video for Justice, Stress in 2013, and Paulo Nutini’s Iron Sky directed by Daniel Wolfe in 2014. That one is about a drug addict who dances and it’s fucking awesome. All the music videos by Romain Gavras though are of course great. I don’t know… do you have any others?Guillaume: The Knife, Pass This On is really good. There are quite a lot, but yeah, the main one that influenced us at the beginning was Romain Gavras for Justice.
What about directors?
Jonathan: Andrea Arnold, who won some prize at Cannes for American Honey. That was really, really cool. Also Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican guy who made Babel and The Revenant. His first movie, Amores Perros, was really, really good.
Guillaume: What was the name of the guy who did Les Valseuses?
Jonathan: Bertrand Blier?
Guillaume: But just Les Valseuses! Only for one movie. It’s an old French movie.
Are you interested in moving into feature films?
Jonathan: One day. I think it’s a logical progression. We won’t be fed up of doing music videos but we want to explore another kind of art. It takes a lot of time to make a movie though.
You focus on themes of youth, freedom, masculinity and love…
Guillaume: We try to put poetry, emotion and sensitivity in places that people are not waiting for it.
Jonathan: To be honest with you, we didn’t do this on purpose. It’s just that we are young, we are men and we love poetry, so it just happens like that. We have lots to say on the subject. We like to work with contrasts though; normally guys aren’t supposed to cry, so we like to make them cry.
Guillaume: You feel free when you accept what you are. When you accept that; you can cry, you can show the world that you are sensitive and fragile, you can do whatever you want.
You gave us a sneaky listen to a new track called She, presumably you’ll be exploring new, more feminine themes with a visual for that?
Jonathan: Yes. We will always speak about youth and we will always talk about poetry, but I think that we’d like to evolve to try to not just speak about men. I don’t necessarily mean that we’ll focus just on women, but you know; children, old people, all kinds of people. It will be interesting, even though it’s kind of scary to branch out.
Back to freedom, when was the last time that you felt completely free?
Guillaume: I don’t know if it’s definitely freedom, but when you’re on stage you feel things, you know? There’s a deep feeling of joy and happiness and then when the concert is over, adrenaline.
Jonathan: But also when we work on our music videos or even on the music itself -- when we find that we’re on the same wavelength, we sing and dance and smile.
Guillaume: We call that epiphany time.
The best time! Important question: how did you find such a perfect tree for the Heaven video?
Guillaume: We did a casting of trees.
Did you really?
Jonathan: Yeah, we found this one in South Africa. It was a fucking huge beautiful tree in Cape Town and it was like the Tree Of Life -- that was our main reference. We were shown photos of trees in Alabama -- some huge beautiful ones that were in the movie Forest Gump. It was our first ever tree casting.
But hopefully not your last. So what would you own personal Heaven look like?
Jonathan: That’s exactly what we were trying to portray here. It’s full of youth, love, freedom, nature, smoking weed, people of all races coming together.
Guillaume: For us, heaven is that.
Can you tell us about the progression from Territory to Heaven?
Jonathan: After Territory, I think people were expecting to watch another video just like that. But we didn’t want to just think about the views, so we did exactly what we wanted instead. Territory wasn’t about emotion, it was about contemplation and quietude. With Heaven, we just wanted to show a little window into our imagined paradise.
Guillaume: There is no crime, nothing bad; just love and babies.
If you never get to make a full length, what film do you think that your discography would be the best soundtrack for?
Jonathan: I would say A Clockwork Orange.
You’ve already achieved so much, including winning the Grand Prix at Cannes Lions with Territory . What are you most proud of?
Jonathan: I would say my cousin but he’d probably cry. You’re asking us things we’ve not considered before!
Guillaume: It’s very hard to say what we’re proud of because we’re constantly criticising everything we do. Maybe I’m proud of the way we protect things? Things have happened very fast for us but we’ve always managed to keep this direction and not be polluted by the hype.
Jonathan: True. We’re here without any kind of attitude; we don’t take drugs, we don’t really like to show our faces. It’s only the art that matters.
Good answer. Finally, who would you most love to cast in one of your projects?
Guillaume: We’re actually thinking a lot about that at the moment because there are some very cool people who have told us that they want to work with us at some point.
Jonathan: Yeah, we’re lucky that there are some really good actors who actually ask to work with us because they’re seen Territory. We don’t want to make a music video with a famous person just for the sake of it though. Up until now we’ve always streetcast people, and we want to keep that kind of reality and honesty in our work.
Earlybird tickets for Primavera Sound 2019 are available here and now.