hiphop culture in Liège

identity and meaning in a post-industrial city

Liège is a relatively isolated city. Although it is one of the largest urban areas in Belgium it’s not oriented toward the capitol Brussels - the political, economical and cultural centre of the country. Situated close to the Dutch, German en French border, Liège has a lot of international influenced. Yet, due to the language spoken, its main focus is on France.

With nearly 600.000 people living in the city and its suburbs, Liège is a metropolitan area that used to be one of the main centers of the Belgium economy. Around 1870 it was one of the first industrial areas on the European mainland, attracting workers from all over Europe. The city became one the most important places for mining and steel industry world wide. Just before world war II Liège had become a very wealthy mondaine city where the industrial elite would stroll along the banks of the river Meuse (or Maas).

That changed after the second world war. Due to globalisation Liège lost its position as one of the leading mining and steel cities. Industries left the city or went bankrupt. Leaving the city behind with empty factory buildings, impoverished neighborhoods and a middle class that moved away. The many migrants, drawn to the city by the wealth in the 1950s and early 1960s and actively recruited by the city council to come and work in the modern factories, stayed behind.

In their search for a new identity many young migrants were drawn to emerging youth cultures. Basketball, skating, writing graffiti became prominent ways of expression. In their wake music cultures followed. Different subcultures spawned from Liège and its suburbs. Today the city is infamous for its strong music scenes.

French is the dominant language in Liège. If you don’t speak French it can be difficult to make contact or to find your way in the various subcultures. That didn’t hold Guy Houben and Ivory van Appeven — both Maastricht natives — back to go search for interesting stories in the raw underground of Liège’s music scenes. For the minor programme Globalisation and New Media at the Maastricht Academy of Media Design and Technology they visited the city numerous times. They found their story.

With the help of translater Lucas Sinka Concee, Houben and Van Appeven dove into the notorious hip-hop scene. Nathan Adewole, who runs the rap cypher Trompe L’Oeil in Maastricht, they came in contact with Lado Shad, a rapper with Moroccan roots and one of the main figures in the local hip-hop scene.

From there it went well.

The documentary makers spoke to Gaetan Lino, one of the producers of the podcast Boom Bap Sur Meuse and they drank coffee with hip-hop veteran Pavé of the collective Starflam.

The story they found is told in the short documentary Generation1. A story about the first generation immigrants from outside of Europe, the effects and affects of globalisation and the rise of hip-hop culture as a bringer of meaning and shaper of identity.