In the video for Alto Arc’s “Bordello”—the second single from the band’s self-titled debut EP, released last week—Isamaya Ffrench appears in a courtesan’s lair, draped in diaphanous silks and surrounded by candelabras like Mata Hari by way of David Lynch. Her co-star, George Clarke, sits to have his tarot read by Ffrench as she sings a ditty over a guitar’s folksy jig, before a glitchy beat erupts and Clarke launches into a demonic growl, his heart bleeding through the white linen of his ruffled shirt and a snake wrapping its way around his throat. It’s every bit as weird and wonderful a visual trip as you might expect from the celebrated makeup artist and creative director Ffrench, and Clarke too, who is best known for his work with the shoegaze-meets-black metal band Deafheaven.
Despite the sumptuously cinematic feel of the visuals that accompany their music, speaking to Ffrench in London and Clarke in New York over Zoom, they explain that Alto Arc came together as something of a pandemic project, almost entirely over the Internet. Indeed, Ffrench, Clarke, and their two other collaborators on the project—experimental pop producer Danny L Harle, perhaps best known for his associations with the PC Music collective and producing for the likes of Caroline Polachek and Charli XCX, and Trayer Tryon of the offbeat electronic pop band Hundred Waters—have never even been in the same room together.