In 2016, Couleur Café festival created ‘Niveau 4’: An ambitious live show uniting the cream of the crop of Belgium’s hip hop scene. Artists such as Coely, DVTCH NORRIS, Roméo Elvis, Senamo & Seyté, Caballero & JeanJass, STIKSTOF and Woodie Smalls provided a mind-boggling show which deserved a continuation. Thus, Couleur Café decided to reprise the project at their latest edition in the Brussels park beneath the Atomium. This time, a new batch of promising hip hop artists stepped up. Zwangere Guy, L'Or Du Commun, TheColorGrey, Le 77, Darrell Cole, ISHA, Junior Goodfellaz and DJ Vega were present to serve one of the hip hop highlights of 2017. Now, the Niveau 4 project is leaving its familiar territory for a new show at Ancienne Belgique. We spoke to the entrepreneurs behind the concept: Samy Wallens (programming & production) and Gilles Vanesse (programming and promotion).
Hi guys, what was the original motivation to start the Niveau 4 project back in 2016?
Samy Wallens: "In 2016, we noticed the rise of a new generation of hip hop artists in Belgium. At the same time, we felt there was a lack of a real connection between our linguistic areas. So, we challenged ourselves to set up a multi-lingual show, to create this sense of unity, despite the differences. Another motivation was to establish Niveau 4 as a quality label to a wide audience."
Gilles Vanesse: "For hip hop fans like Samy and I, it’s incredible to organise this kind of project. So far, the artists - as well as the audience - are responding very positively, which feels super rewarding."
How does your selection process work?
S: "First and foremost, Niveau 4 is a live performance. We select artists based on their qualities on stage. We try to attend a maximum of hip hop concerts and festivals during the year, in search of that perfect vibe. A strong presence on stage, the drive to participate in our project and an interesting personality are what matters most to us, far more than any kind of notoriety or buzz."
G: "This year, for example, we have a guy like ISHA, making an amazing comeback after spending years under the radar. It’s not the course what’s important to us. What matters is their talent, their passion and a desire to perform."
Do you think 'Niveau 4’ can serve a social purpose?
S: "Of course, Niveau 4 can serve to prove that the image of a divided Belgium only exists in the minds of only a few narrow-minded people. The reality is that music and culture reflect what happens in society. People, the youth, rappers… are Belgian and proud of it. Niveau 4 wants to represent a positive image of Belgium as a whole."
G: "We live in a very individualistic era, where communitarianism is creating a lot of damage. Highlighting our differences and building bridges between people is what we have to do on a daily basis. It’s also in Couleur Café’s DNA since the founding of the festival."
After two editions at Couleur Café, you’re taking the concept to Ancienne Belgique. How come?
S: "Let’s put it this way: When you spend an amazing night with someone, it would be such a shame not to do that again! (laughs)"
G: "After what was created by the artists their amazing energy on stage and the success Niveau 4 had at Couleur Café, it seemed only natural to try and pursue the project. Ancienne Belgique supported us from the beginning, by offering a rehearsal space. So, when they suggested to do a new show in their main hall, it was the perfect opportunity to continue the experience. Ancienne Belgique is without a doubt the best concert hall in Belgium."
What’s the feedback of the Belgian hip hop scene on this project?
S: "It’s up to the scene to answer that question (smiles). Our goal is to create something ‘within‘ this scene. Surely, there will be people supporting and others criticizing it. That's life!"
G: "Obviously, to be booked on a big festival or in a big concert hall, is an opportunity that a lot of artists dream of. I feel like, up until now, this opportunity has only been offered to people who truly deserve it. There are definitely more people out there, but unfortunately, we cannot select 40 artists every year. To each his turn!"
What does the future for Niveau 4 look like? Do you think there is a sufficient development of artists to have a new edition next summer? Or is it something that can grow further beyond Couleur Café and AB?
S: "There will be a new Niveau 4 in 2018. We want to continue to develop this project together with the festival in the long-term. Up until now, we’ve never experienced a lack of quality artists, I don’t see why that would change. Couleur Café gave us the opportunity to realize this project, although it was a big risk. AB has also strongly supported us so far. Our goal is to take this project to the next level and reach a broad audience, rather than to just aim for an in-crowd, making it something predictable."
G: "We can see that the hip hop community is professionalizing in all its aspects. Artists, labels, booking structures, media, events ... Everything has become more intense these past years and that's a positive development. For example, I doubt that the French-speaking public was listening a lot to Zwangere Guy, TheColorGrey or Darrell Cole one year ago. Continuing to highlight artists that accurately represent what is happening in the current Belgian scene, definitely is a big part of our challenge."