Talking tattoo’s crucial cultural significance with Maxime Plescia-Büchi, founder of Sang Bleu
How the Dalston-based tattoo parlor and brand bridges the gaps between fashion, fine art, tattoo, and publishing—to a hip hop beat, London
Sonos × FvF
Interviews > Talking tattoo’s crucial cultural signific…

Around the studio, tattoo machines are being sterilized, sketches drawn, stencils printed, waivers signed as a Lil Uzi Vert song murmurs in the background. With his desk at the center of everything is Maxime Plescia-Büchi, proprietor of Sang Bleu.

To describe Maxime as “multidisciplinary” is tragically reductive. During the interview he met with a new client, interviewed someone for a job, replaced three halogen light bulbs, put in a new order of tote bags, had lunch, and hand-drew the design for a massive tattoo of a pouncing lion—approaching each task with the ferocity of, well, a pouncing lion.

Describing Sang Bleu itself as simply a tattoo studio is also an understatement—it’s also a publishing house, an online magazine, a creative agency that collaborates with clients like watchmaker Hublot, and a Sang Bleu fashion label with two separate lines of apparel. There are two Sang Bleu Tattoo studios: one opened in London in 2014 and another in 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. There are five separate Instagram accounts actively posting about the tattoo studios, the fashion label, the publications and two accounts dedicated to curating tattoo art—not including Maxime’s own account that showcases his work. Maxime is also co-founder of Novembre Magazine and type-design company Swiss Typefaces. And he still finds the time to spend with his daughter, twin sons and wife. He also tattooed Kanye West one time but that’s neither here nor there.

The music we surround ourselves in our homes and workplaces help define and shape our personalities. We’re happy that our collaboration with Sonos allows us to meet unique and inspiring individuals like Maxime, and explore the impact of music in their daily lives.

“Everyday in my work I apply things I learned in my studies in design, psychology, art, typography, business, and things I learned when I was a kid or from books.”

“Tattooing for me is simply pulling together all the things that I have interest in. Everyday in my work I apply things I learned in my studies in design, psychology, art, typography, business, and things I learned when I was a kid or from books,” he says while selecting another pen to accentuate the musculature of the lion he’s sketching, “Tattooing gives me an incredible sense of understanding why I did all these things. They can all come together under a profession that has a name I can define myself by more or less.” Maxime flitted between psychology, fine arts and graphic design until finally apprenticing under renowned Swiss tattoo artist Filip Leu in Maxime’s hometown of Lausanne, Switzerland. Somehow, that was the education that stuck the most for Maxime.

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But Maxime and Sang Bleu’s elusiveness for definition may explain his affinity for hip hop music, “Hip hop cannot only defined by its sound, like most other musical styles,” he says, “It’s defined only by who does it. Identifying them purely by the music is metonymy.” Maxime’s first taste of subculture in the Swiss countryside was hip hop, which opened doors to graffiti, fashion and eventually tattooing, “It’s this definition of hip hop—as not only a music—that makes it very special. I’m still into rap and new things in rap, even though I don’t identify with 20-year-olds rapping about smoking weed. I still enjoy hearing it though.” A Post Malone track cuts through the studio. “Since we’re listening to music all day—basically 10 hours a day—we go through a lot of music. There’s always a lot of debate in the musical selection,” he says. “I listen to a lot of Drake, Future and I love Curren$y.” A signed portrait of Rick Ross hangs on the wall and Maxime has a tattoo homage to the ice cream cone on Gucci Mane’s face.

“Tattooing is going to be a driving cultural force in the next decade or two. It’s the last existing subculture in the original sense of the term.”

Tattoo parlors are more commonly associated with music and culture of the metal-end of the spectrum—the fascination with the morbid and body modification tend to go hand-in-hand—but Sang Bleu is a decidedly different studio. The studio is bright and airy, and there is USM furniture punctuating the space. They’re at the forefront of a renaissance not only within tattoo culture, but culture on the whole, and Maxime keeps his eyes trained on this evolution.

“Tattooing is going to be a driving cultural force in the next decade or two. It’s the last existing subculture in the original sense of the term. There are no more musical subcultures going on really,” he says, and finds that the internet is a catalyst for the sudden rise in interest in tattoo. “The internet has challenged the notion of ownership. The internet has disembodied things—from material possessions to digital files. And in many ways, tattooing is the ultimate ownership. It’s a thing that will live with you and die with you. That no matter what you can’t pass on. It’s yours and it’s done once and for all.”

A special playlist of songs curated by Maxime

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A signed autograph from Rick Ross
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Some of the lifelong works that Maxime has created

Pulling influences from Albrecht Dürer, European iconography and more

Maxime has a keen understanding of the tattoo game in the internet age, where Instagram acts as a portfolio, knowledge base and promotional vehicle for tattoo artists. The Sang Bleu Instagram accounts have hundreds of thousands of followers each, showcasing the works of artists working in the studio and Maxime has to have several assistants helping him keep up with tattoo bookings.

The idea behind Sang Bleu’s latest publication, TTTism, was to bring the work of artists off of Instagram and into print, and posed the question “Why do you tattoo?” to each. When asked the question, Maxime had to give it some thought. “A person’s image is something that has been hijacked by society and media,” he says after a time. “As much as people have visually emancipated themselves, society has found ways to completely exploit this new world of emotional, libidinal and symbolic investment we have in our appearances,” he says as an older woman peers in through the window in awe at a tattoo in progress. “Brands, politicians and religions have been using this as a method to pressure people to feel a certain way about themselves and behave in certain ways against their will. My goal is to give individuals weapons to fight the battle against this. And to not just be a victim, allowing agents of power to pull you in different directions.”

“If you try to define people by cultural practices then you will struggle.”

We’ve entered a period of time where people are discovering new ways to express their identities, free of national, religious or political influence. The internet has exploded culture and allowed individuals to collect the pieces they find fit, creating a new understanding of the self and of social groups. “A certain musical genre or clothing style is not enough to define a person anymore,” says Maxime, “People will dress differently for different days of the week just because they feel like it. Identifying with one group or culture doesn’t work anymore, and it stopped working in the ’80s or ’90s. If you try to define people by cultural practices then you will struggle. It will be a lot of different cultural practices.” This holistic interpretation of culture is what Maxime attempts to capture with Sang Bleu in its various forms and the momentum driving the entire project seems to be Maxime’s interests. It’s a massive undertaking, but it somehow seems to work.

Finishing up at the studio, we head to his home where his wife Hope is trying to put pants on one of the twins, who squirms with delight at seeing his father arrive. His daughter is away at the park, celebrating the completion of her potty training. It’s an almost painfully sweet scene to witness. As Maxime steps into his home it’s as though a switch is turned and the attention of the towering, tattooed man never content with doing just one thing is utterly consumed by his family. Any question leveled at him here drops to the floor as he holds one of his sons on his lap, his headspace far and away from the world of Sang Bleu.

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Hope and Maxime's first child, Olympia
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Maxime and Hope’s twin boys, Atlas and Orion

Thank you Maxime,
For letting us into the world of Sang Bleu and your home. Check out the Sang Bleu website to see the myriad projects that Maxime has cooked up.

We also opened up the pages of TTTism, one of Sang Bleu’s publications here.

For years we have glimpsed into the work and home lives of creatives worldwide. With each visit we have discovered something new, but what we’ve found everywhere is music. The collaboration with our friends at Sonos is special, together we have asked the people around us what the role of music plays in their life—what tunes they grew up with, and what their favorites are now.

With advances in technology, the way that we listen to music changes. Independent of personal taste, Sonos is the home sound system. Learn more here.

Text: Kevin Chow
Photography: Dunja Opalko