The Blaze: Territory

How might an abolitionist approach ‘territory’? At first glance, the word’s association with “governmental authority” (“Territory” n.d.) suggests that territory is that which an abolitionist democracy seeks to expose and transform, namely, the “oppressive institutions” (McLeod 2019, 1617) – the territory of the prison, the territory of the segregated, the territory of the marginalized, and so on. While this may be true, by analysing the song “Territory” by The Blaze (2017) and its music video, I wish to think differently about ‘territory’ in ways that help reimagine what role territory plays in relation to some communities.

The song’s sound is characterized by its play with space. This not only happens through its heavy use of reverb and delay, but also in the minimal instrumentation and the linear structure of the song. For instance, consider how the song starts softly with a spacious pad synthesizer, accompanied by a reverberating melodic drum, and then how it slowly brings in new sound elements. A different example is the main hook of the song, the percussive melody that kicks in at 2:53. This melody is drenched in reverb and is only joined by a kick drum and synth bass. This play with space creates an abstract, almost transcendent[1] atmosphere.

At the same time, the music video gives the song an intimate character. Much of the beginning of the video depicts the main character coming home to his family in an intense, long hug. This transitions to communal scenes of sleeping and praying, dancing and playing. In this way, the video emphasizes the intimacies of everyday community life in the wake of the main character’s homecoming. Thus, the song depicts intimate community life while presenting it sonically in a transcendent way. A dialectic between the transcendent and the intimate is also reflected by how the lyrics jump between metaphors and sensations. The metaphors carry a transcendent character, that is, I exceed beyond myself, “I’m shining like the moon, I’m feeling like a bloom in the black sun” (The Blaze 2017). The sensations depict the homecoming through the intimate sense of taste: “I remember when I was young; The flavor is so strong; I’ve missed it so long” (The Blaze 2017). These lyrics are sung by both Guillame and Jonathan Alric, the duo behind the Blaze, but their voices are barely distinguishable from one another. This has the effect of creating ‘the voice of the community’ rather than any singular, clearly distinguishable person. However, it nevertheless sounds like a voice and thus anchors the voice of the bigger community in the local. The concept of community performed here is thus intimate and localized while simultaneously opening up beyond its own intimacies. If this opening-up is interpreted as a way for concrete communities to open up to positive transformation, then it seems to resonate with McLeod and how “justice for abolitionists is grounded in lived experience and positive transformation” (McLeod 2019, 1623).

Since “Territory” is the title of the song, the concept of community outlined above emerges under the heading of and in relation to ‘territory’. This can take many forms, the territory of the community, the territory that contains the community, the territory that is denied the community, and so on. In the case of the song, the beginning of the music video shows the wakes of a ferry, a symbol of moving between territories. By depicting the territory of homecoming, it is not only a pre-existing territory that the main character comes home to, but it transforms itself and opens in a literal, communal hug. While the territory follows from a lived history, it is also a form of becoming, a becoming-home. Territory in this sense helps us imagine how home-territories might be transformed in response to homecomings.

Perhaps, this song might lead one to add an active concept of ‘becoming-territory’ to the arsenal of abolitionism’s practices of transformation. Still, although the song provides a way that the territory of the homecoming may open up and transform itself, this is only one example of the becoming-territory of the homecoming. That is, one should still be wary of not reproducing the exclusionary territoriality of the nation state. Thinking through and incorporating ‘the wakes’ of the ship in the music video’s homecoming into the territory of abolitionist homecoming could be a way of combating this exclusionary territoriality. This is something that could be combined with similar attempts such as Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s (2017) considerations of indogeneity and territoriality. These reflections should at the very least problematize any inherent opposition between abolition democracy and the concept of territory.

Lukas Hjulmann Seidler


[1] Used here in the colloquial sense as that which is ”greater, better, more important, or going past or above all others” (“Transcendent” n.d.)

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