'Mouvement' Documents the Birth of French Hip-Hop

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'Mouvement' Documents the Birth of French Hip-Hop

We spoke to Yoshi Omori about photographing Public Enemy and the notorious Parisian club Le Globo.
September 20, 2014, 3:56pm

I don't know what you were doing in 1986, but for my part, I was a six-month-old baby. That means I wasn't hanging around squats in Paris wearing blue training suits and painting decrepit walls with stolen cans of spray paint. While I was unable to eat solid food, hundreds of Parisian and suburban guys gathered in the gloomy wasteland of the 19th arrondissement to listen to accelerated funk, to dance on their head, and to lay the foundations of French hip-hop without even realizing it.

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Yoshi Omori, a young Japanese photographer then living in France, evoked the good old times in his cult book, Mouvement 1984-92, which he wrote with journalist Marc Boudet and artist Jayone. The book is an inestimable piece for anyone who is interested in French rap, subcultures, or contemporary history.

Omori agreed to answer some of my questions about a notorious club called Le Globo and some of the long-haired dudes who spent their nights there.

Stomy Bugsy, before the Ministère A.M.E.R.

VICE: What were you doing in Paris in the 1980s?
Yoshi Omori: I took the photos in Mouvement between 1986 and 1989 around Stalingrad [a square in Paris], at Le Globo and during some international street art contests in Paris, Berlin, Milan, and Bridlington, in England. That was my first report as a photographer. I had traveled from Tokyo to Aix-en Provence, and I had a second-hand camera, so the idea came pretty easily. I had wanted to become a photographer since I discovered the work of Robert Capa.

Why are you so interested in this subject?
Well,  because I went to a squat with my friend Marc Baudet, a journalist who co-wrote the book, and I discovered the district of Stalingrad and the club Le Globo. The year before, I spent one entire year in the US, and I noticed some tags, especially on the New York subway, but it wasn't the same. In New York, it seemed like it was only drafts. In Paris, it was art.

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An extract from Mouvement, the chapter about Le Globo

What was the club Le Globo like?
Marc brought us over there, with some of my street artists friends. I faced a mixed-race crowd, and it surprised me because I hadn't met lots of black people in my life. It was a very dynamic mob who looked at me aggressively because I was this new “Chinese” photographer. I think that's why I wanted to photograph them so much. So I went every Friday.

Who are these people who took part in the birth of hip-hop in France?
That's hard to say. There were multiple places in Paris, numerous wastelands, places where you could dance and sing. With all the street artists, the rappers, and the dancers, it was more or less a thousand people—it was enough to fill these tiny little clubs like Le Globo or Le Bataclan. These guys were wearing Burberry scarves with silk bomber jackets.

Then you had this famous wasteland in Stalingrad where the BBC—Bad Boys Crew—began. We met Bando (the street artist) and Dee Nasty with his own generator. The b-boys were very young. They organized breakdance contests. They came from Paris and the suburbs; it was a social melting pot.

Who were the big names of Parisian hip-hop at the end of the 80s?
You had Joey Starr and Kool Shen from NTM, Assassin with Solo, and Rockin' Squat—the brother of Vincent Cassel, the famous actor of La Haine. I was hanging around with some street artists such as JonOne, Mode 2, Skki, Meo. They became famous quickly after.

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Did you meet any violent gangs?
Honestly, I never thought about that. I'm Japanese and non-violent—I never saw violence. I saw energy. After Mouvement, I stopped following the hip-hop movement. It became more politicized and violent; it was no longer interesting to me.

Flavor Flav of Public Enemy at Le Globo, 1988

According to you, what was the most striking event of this period?
I'd say a Public Enemy concert at Le Globo. It was like they had come all the way from NYC only for us. The crowd was insane. They were late, everybody was sweating, and then they came in with their big chains, their crazy look. People were screaming. That's the craziest thing I remember.

You can buy the book Mouvement here.