Hip Hop 4ever sings the blues

The first indication that all was not well at the Hip Hop 4ever Festival came as I walked into the Palais des Congrès de Montréal. There weren't the usual types you see at these events, hanging around the front doors smoking funny cigarettes.

The first indication that all was not well at the Hip Hop 4ever Festival came as I walked into the Palais des Congrès de Montréal. There weren’t the usual types you see at these events, hanging around the front doors smoking funny cigarettes.

In fact, there weren’t any people inside either. ‘Oh didn’t they tell you? We didn’t have any rooms available,’ said the security guard. ‘So they decided to hold the event next week.’

To say that the Hip Hop 4ever Festival suffered from a few technical glitches during its first manifestation is an understatement. The event drew enthusiastic crowds throughout its four days of music, break dancing and DJ competitions, fashion shows and extreme sport events. But first-time events are typically plagued with difficulties since organizers often learn the business by making mistakes, and this one was no exception.

The first mistake was inviting local media to a high-profile launch at race-car driver Jacques Villeneuve’s trendy downtown bistro, and then handing out press kits publicizing the event’s date location and time, before actually signing a rental contract with the hall.

For unspecified reasons the Palais des Congrès backed out of its reservation commitment, and the event’s date, timings and location all had to be changed. This, after a big PR push had been made and press kits containing a slew of misinformation handed out.

Last minute arrangements were set up and the festival was moved to an abandoned toboggan plant in Montreal’s east end, which in fact was a far more realistic locale for an urban, young crowd.

The choice of Easter weekend may not have been the wisest timing for the festival, but the half-dozen or so dope smokers hanging around the front door as I approached the building on Good Friday gave cause for optimism.

As you would expect considering the last-minute locale change and the botched publicity, the Friday night crowd was small, consisting of maybe 300 people, in a room that looked like it could hold 2,000.

The visible promotions featured the usual suspects. A local radio station (CKMF) had set up a booth. Quebecor Media left a table full of Filles magazines lying around, and there were a half dozen banners for various stores, clothing and skateboard companies.

Organizers Karl Didier Graf and Aymar Missakila had an initial goal to bring together a variety of individual Quebec music competitions and special events into one big festival.

The idea was a good one, and they got off to a promising start landing some government grants, and signing on Olympic athlete Bruny Surin as the event’s spokesperson.

Listening to festival organizers trying to describe hip hop reminds me of what an American judge once said about pornography: ‘I can’t tell you what it is, but I know what it is when I see it.’

Diane Selesse, Hip Hop 4ever’s promotion director uses the same logic. ‘Hip hop is everything,’ said Selesse. ‘It’s a culture. It’s music. It’s rap, it’s soul, it’s reggae, you name it. It’s about music, fashion and extreme sports.’

Selesse – a veteran publicist – did a pretty good job in generating media coverage, including a full two-page story in Metro, a free Montreal daily newspaper. The crowds they attracted were enthusiastic and the competitions were great, especially the break dancing, which has to been seen live to be really appreciated.

But the botched hall rental and resulting debacle left organizers without hope of attracting the 6,000 people they talked about initially. Although organizers included a three-page list of sponsors in their press kit, few were in evidence.

The one company that got some bang for their buck was microbrewery Les Brasseurs du Nord, which managed to negotiate a deal whereby their Boréale ales would be the only brands sold.

‘Why didn’t you guys sign up Molson or Labatt?’ I asked one of the organizers. ‘The big beer companies never support small events like ours.’

Gee. I wonder why.