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The return of a long-gone family member in a framed moment of deep tenderness and love contrasting the face of grief fighting her way through a crowd of bodies holding her back. These are just some of the captions in the cinematic narratives of the French music duo The Blaze, which are so profoundly intimate that they inevitably resonate within.

Although the depicted environments of Algerian youth next to present-day Romani communities might seem far from our Western media perspective, they touch something as simple and complex as humans. And that is exactly the idea behind the duo of cousins, formed by Guillaume and Jonathan Alric, who’ve been on everyone’s lips since they first released Virile in 2016. Since then, their poetic and emotionally nuanced tracks exploring the notions of what makes us humans have spread all over.

How did it all start though, before their global success? As relatives, destiny brought them together when Jonathan was studying film in Belgium and had to create a music video for which he needed a soundtrack. Naturally, he approached Guillaume, the only other artist in the family and who had been a producer for a long time. They launched Virile, their first hit, followed by Territory and an EP. As of Fall 2018, they launched their debut album, Dancehall, which immediately turned into a massive success that has made them tour North America and, currently, Europe. We were lucky enough to catch them the day after their Parisian concert (and celebration of Jonathan’s 30th birthday), when they played in Copenhagen, for a chat about humanity, masculinity and the casting for their videos.

Two and a half years ago, you were this mysterious, faceless music group with one music short film coming out after another, making us crave every new release. And now, you’re out with a full album, have toured North America and are currently touring Europe. Was this what you hoped for from the beginning?
Jonathan: To be honest, I don’t think we expected anything. We wanted to make music and videos just for the fun of it; it is a way to express ourselves. We’re not good at talking, doing interviews and all. But, of course, we’re very glad that all this is happening. It all just came really naturally; we weren’t looking for fame.
And you’re both cousins. What was your relationship like before all of this? 
Guillaume: I’m a little bit older than Jonathan.
Jonathan: Much older…
Guillaume: (laughs) It’s only since we started to make music together that we really know each other humanly.
So you would just meet at family reunions in the summer?
Guillaume: Yes. I think it’s also because we’re the two artists in the family, so it just made sense that we started to work together and get to know each other more.
And what was the conversation that led to The Blaze like?
Jonathan: It was very natural, I’m not sure we can pinpoint a precise moment in time. I think we were skyping because I was living in Brussels (Belgium) and he was in Dijon (France), and we were saying, ‘let’s find a name for our group’. It just came to us and without thinking too much we decided on The Blaze because it means ‘the name’ in French slang. And just like that, we became The Blaze. Then we started making music videos and found our manager and producer in Paris, which led to Territory. From that, everything just…
…exploded.
(Laughs) Yeah.
For the newcomers or those who still don’t know you, how would you describe The Blaze in a few words?
Guillaume: Humans, emotions, poetry, dance…
Jonathan: Travel, intimacy, nostalgia.
Virile, your first release back in 2016, really set the tone for your cinematic narratives and music style. In this music video, starring two young men, there is a story that touches the fine line between friendship and a romantic relationship – a type of love that could be sensitive to the stereotypes of masculinity. How do you view masculinity? What does it mean to you?
Guillaume: I think that masculinity for us, to ‘be a man’ today, means to accept your emotions and feelings no matter your sexuality, your religion, the colour of your skin, your mindset, etc. Just accept who you are. And Virile is about that. The guys in the video can be friends or they can be together, they can be homosexual if you want. They can be anything. Each person took what he or she wanted from the video, what they wanted to see, and that’s why we chose to do something like this. No matter what they are, just that they are. You can make your own interpretation.

Seeing the different music videos, it’s clear that you both have a deep interest in the world of film, but also, in youth culture and environments that aren’t typically depicted in the Western world. What is your relationship like with these environments? How do they relate to yourselves? And why are these stories important for you to tell?
Jonathan: We don’t have a particular relationship with these environments, it’s just that we wanted to show them because they don’t appear enough in music videos. Both our music and videos talk about humans, so we want to shine a light on this. In music videos it’s always the same stuff, a beautiful girl or a muscular guy; with ours, we want to show the opposite, that they can be richer through a different type of cast. In Virile, the two guys are our friends, and we don’t consider them being from a marginal group. And in our latest music video we talk about the Romani people. We wanted to create a more human feel and show the human aspect of the community.
A possible homosexual relationship or the Romani community could be polemic issues depending on who you speak with. Is there any political intention behind your videos? Do you want to be perceived as political?
Both: No, no.
Guillaume: We don’t want to talk about politics, just humankind. For us, politics – no matter what kind – are dividing people, and we don’t want that, we just want to talk about poetry and humanity; that’s it.
In a previous interview with Noisey, you said, “What we are doing with The Blaze is humanist.” Do you think there is a need for a more human approach in music today?
Guillaume: I think that this need comes from a long time ago. Since the beginning of art itself, there has been such need because it’s a very human experience. It’s really intimate, and it’s also related to memory; we know of our past, partly, because of ancient artworks (like the cavemen paintings). So, of course, there’s a need for humanity in art but also in society. But we just focus on art now.
Not only the films, but the music too; there is a very human aspect to your vision. Each track revolves around a certain feeling or mood that, somehow, instantly becomes recognizable or relatable. How do you go about translating these moods into both film and music? What kind of conversations do you have leading up to the releases?
Guillaume: Our process is based on staying as natural as possible. We go into our studio together, our bubble, and try everything. And, of course, we have a lot of conversations about art, our personal lives, experiences about anything, etc.
Jonathan: Yeah, we get inspired by what is happening at that moment. There is always a different process. As an artist, I think it’s really important to not repeat yourself when you want to create something new. That’s why, for example, the music videos are directed in different ways. Sometimes, they’re very calculated and involve a bigger crew, like in Territory; other times, like in Queens, it’s more handheld and we don’t know what will happen. We shoot, shoot, shoot, and later decide during the editing process. It’s always a different type of creation.

“For us, politics – no matter what kind – are dividing people, and we don’t want that, we just want to talk about poetry and humanity; that’s it.”
How much time do you spend on ideas?
Jonathan: For example, for Queens, we had been thinking about the idea of doing something related to the Romani people for a long time, maybe one or two years. And for Territory, it was a mix: we had the idea of doing something about a ‘tough guy’, and when we spoke with our producer, he told us to do something in Algeria. But we usually take a lot of time to write the ideas; for Territory, it took seven months before we shot.
It all sounds very focused on the visuals. Is that how you normally work? The visual idea first, and then the track to go with it?
Jonathan: They’re both – music and video – on the same level. Once again, it’s all very natural, we don’t have a recipe. For Territory, we had the music before, but after the editing time, we reworked it to fit the images. For Virile, we had the music before and we didn’t touch it too much after the filming. And for Queens, we totally changed the music at the end.
Guillaume: Yes, we work on both at the same time all the time.
It’s really interesting that you rework the music to fit the images and not the other way around.
Guillaume: It’s important for us that the music fits perfectly with the images.
My favourite music video is by far Queens. It’s tragic and beautiful and very emotional, working around themes and contrasts of youth, death, violence and love. What were your initial thoughts behind this number?
Jonathan: The initial thoughts were the Romani people. We have an interest in them because we think they are much freer. They don’t settle anywhere, they can move around, they’re strong. 
Guillaume: And charismatic.
Jonathan: Very charismatic. Also, they suffer from a cliché that we wanted to break. They are human. They have the same physical framework and feelings as any other human being. We want to show this humanity, to show it from every perspective, which is why we chose the Romani. Another inspiration was also photographer Josef Koudelka, who took photos of the community a long time ago. They’re so beautiful.
Guillaume: He spent thirty-something years with them. He was living like them, sleeping side by side. It’s all black and white and it’s a wonderful work.

As with all of your films, in Queens the cast is absolutely amazing. They almost seem to be Romani. How do you find this authentic cast? Are they actually from the same environment or community they’re depicting?
Guillaume: No, they’re professional actresses – the two main characters, that is. We found them in Paris and cast them professionally. But all the other people are actually Romani, yes. We met them and shot them for three days in a camp. Before that, we had one week or ten days to prepare, rehearse and explain the shoot and everything.
That’s great!
Guillaume: We love to adapt to and meet people. It’s an adventure, a different community. It’s very important for us to know who we are shooting and what we are showing.
Jonathan: Of course, there is this ‘frontier’ at first. We were a little bit scared because we were going to a camp with nobody else, and we went with our own preconceptions of what Romani communities were like. But it’s normal to feel like that – you have to accept it. Then you go and shake hands, they prepare a barbecue, you eat with them, chat and laugh, and then you forget everything else. You just see the human side. It’s a really cool experience.
Which artists do you believe are helping define our times?
Guillaume: It’s very hard to say because there are a lot. In music, many of them. And in the film world, for example, there are directors making social cinema like Alejandro González Iñárritu, Terrence Malick, and so on.
Without spoiling too much, is there any project or story you’re currently working on?
Jonathan: (beep sound).
Both: (laughs).
Jonathan: Nah, it’s a mystery. We don’t really like to talk about the future because nobody knows what will happen. Only when we are sure that we are going to create something, we will talk about it.

Words
Sebastian T. Thorsted
Portrait
Paul Rousteau

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