Hip Hub Hooray: shining a light on hip hop culture across the Euregion

Pictures by Tim Schrijnemakers

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As hip hop is taking over the global pop charts, event promoters are increasingly looking to their own backyard for inspiration. Enter Hip Hub Hooray, the platform for urban culture that aims to support and connect artists and fans across the Meuse-Rhine Euregion (aka the area around the Hasselt-Liège-Maastricht-Aachen corridor), taking place in Tongeren’s Ambiorixkazerne on Saturday September 14. After a successful first edition last year – they landed a second place in the Best Breakthrough Event on the Red Bull Elektropedia Awards 2018 – they are back for more. Think ‘hubs’, workshops, showcases and performances that shine a light on the broader hip hop culture and cross linguistic boundaries. We sat down with two of the festival’s leading figures Kaer (who’s a part of the rap collective Starflam) and Jules Thys (better known as Jewels). And before we forget, we’re giving away 5x2 tickets for Hip Hub Hooray. Scroll all the way down if you want to take your chance.

Hi guys, what’s Hip Hub Hooray’s mission statement exactly?

Kaer: Hip Hub Hooray is a cultural operation in the Euregion, between Belgium’s Flanders and Wallonia, the Netherlands and Germany. Specifically, Hip Hub Hooray is about street art, music and dance using different ways to promote urban culture. We curate murals across the cities of the Euregion, we organize creative retreats with musicians, MC’s, beat makers, street artists and dancers and the results of those will be programmed alongside international artists on the festival. This is our second edition, so our audience is still growing, as well as our ambitions.

How ‘alive’ is the hip hop scene across the Euregion? Is there a certain degree of interconnectedness?

Jules: Good rap collectives and hip hop parties have been active in the the Euregion for years, but international borders have made it difficult to connect in the past. Solidifying that connection is what our project is all about. Hip Hub Hooray has given all these youngsters an excuse to start working more closely and for an example, we’ve seen youngsters from Aachen linking up those in Heerlen. Or people from Limburg that now go to Liège. We bring them together and they help each other out. That’s great to see.  

Hip hop culture has been present in the area for years, but international borders have made it difficult to connect in the past. Solidifying that connection is what our project is all about.

As you’ve mentioned, hip hop culture is about more than music. Which other activities are you planning?

Kaer: Music is the key for reaching a young audience. Our aim is to support that extensive hip hop culture by extending our activities further than just the festival. For example, we visited Les Ardentes and Use-In with the former participants of the hubs. That was really a nice experience. We launched our mural operation in the city of Tongeren with a piece painted by Adele Renault, one of the top street artist in the world. We worked hard on the look and feel of the festival and connected with a number of designers and graffiti artists to build massive sculptures in recycled wood. Additionally, our breakdance artists are preparing a show for the new creative zone, another innovation to discover this year.

You’re talking about ‘hubs’, what’s the deal with those?

Jules: Each year, we ask coaches and professionals to organize workshops for young hip hop talent from the region. Our recruiters found talent in Aachen, Brussels and both the Belgian and Dutch Limburg provinces. The activities take place over an entire week in the Ambiorixkazerne in Tongeren. We offer 5 music studios for them to work in. Kaer then prepares them for a show at the festival with the productions they made during that week. Simultaneously, dancers and street artists come together and go through a similar process. Their art gets showcased on the festival too. It’s nice to have different people in different fields of creativity create something together.

This year you’re presenting the Hooray Zone. What does that mean exactly?

Kaer: It’s a new area where you can chill and discover local talents from Belgium and abroad. It’s the spot where you can show your skills in an open mic session, practice your dance moves or just have some fun. We like the idea that everybody can be a part of Hip Hub Hooray. We are a small festival, but we can make the difference by having a simple human approach, connecting people in the process. I think this kind of initiative will make the audience feel more at ease. Hip hop is about sharing, giving, having fun and this dimension can often be overlooked when you just look at it from the outside. We come from the scene, we know where we are from. 

Urban culture is incredibly universal, crossing international, cultural, racial and linguistic boundaries.

The lineup is a mix of big names and upcoming talent. I guess that’s what you guys were going for?

Jules: Definitely, not only does our project facilitate young talent from the Hubs to set their first steps on a big stage, they do so next to their idols. Kaer and I work on the lineup together, booking headliners like Zwangere Guy and Josylvio, but we always keep track of what’s moving in the underground. In our opinion, guys like Fosa YG & Loopey from The Netherlands or Slimka & Di-Meh from Switzerland are the coolest new acts in the scene right now.

Has hip hop become the dominant pop culture of this age? If so, what impact does this have on the existing scenes?

Kaer: I think hip hop has influenced pop culture for years now. Back in the 2000’s, the advertising industry started using graphic cues from graffiti culture and urban music in their ads. Meanwhile, the internet had a massive impact on today’s youth, solidifying hip hop as a major source of inspiration and identity. You can say that urban culture is the dominant pop culture nowadays. At the same time, hip hop remains true to its roots and values. I enjoy the diversity in our music, and I am proud to be part of it. That’s why this music is so influential and our aesthetic and vocabulary so popular. We live in a depressing world and the rapper’s career is a model of freedom, so that speaks to young people across the world.

Where do you see Hip Hub Hooray (and hip hop in general) evolve towards down the line? Are we at the highest point of the wave? Or are we still climbing?

Kaer: I think we are on top of the wave at the moment. For us Europeans, it may all seem pretty new, but in the US, it has been well established for years. I hope we can still take it further and further. Sometimes I’m afraid that we could face a backlash. When I see how the artists’ booking fees are getting disproportionally expensive, I expect that it could be a potential problem.

Jules: I agree. People assume there will be a new genre waiting in line, but I don’t see anything take over quite like hip hop has done in the last decade. It’s incredibly universal, crossing international, cultural, racial and linguistic boundaries. It’s really inclusive too, that’s why I can only see it gain even more influence. The recent peak in popularity hasn’t made it easy for festivals and bookers, like Kaer says, but we’re looking at it from the upside and try to translate that into a good strategy for our festival.

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