THE SCENE: Marseille

Marseille. Love it or hate it… It's a city you have to adopt, where you can enjoy the smells from all over Mediterranean. Its inhabitants come from everywhere and go everywhere. 
An expression such as ''Marseille native'' is not even to be considered, it's not part of our vocabulary. “We don't care where you come from and who you are,’’ just know that ''you're welcome here''. No need to be born here!! 
People in Marseille shine and the French national anthem is just one thing that proves this among so many others: it's called ''La Marseillaise''!!

For sure Hitler would have told you that Marseille is filled with gangsters and that it should be bombed!!
Napoleon would have liked it to become an open-air prison!
And the General De Gaulle said you are not in France when in Marseille. He called it the ”49th Algerian Wylaya” (which means ”department” or ”prefecture” in Algerian).
Marseille is a wild city, hosting people from all possible origins. Here we talk with our hands, slap you in the face when you don’t show enough respect, drink, play, shoot, smoke, chill and skate 24/7.
Marseille ain’t nothing like Paris, it ain’t nothing like France; it’s just us right here!! It’s Marseille and we have the Champions League star on our soccer shirts! If you feel like Marseille is too dirty, sketchy, and noisy… Then get the fuck outta here son!!!
– Karim

“…Today she is one of the only Antic capitals that don’t oppress you with all her monuments from the past. She seems friendly and grinning. She is dirty and badly conceived. But she is nevertheless one of the most mysterious, most difficult to decipher cities in the world.”

This quote from Blaise Cendrars is from around the 1930s, and is still true to this day.

Marseille is France’s oldest city (600 years B.C), and it’s also France’s second biggest city (850,000 inhabitants), but it looks more like a village surrounded by several other villages (where I never step one foot). We only have 57 rainy days a year on average, but it’s really very windy sometimes, which can be even worse.
Also, the average temperature is 15.5°C, and 26% of the population lives beneath the poverty threshold.

The city is currently benefiting from one of the biggest urban rehabilitation plans in Europe: Euromediterranée. The aim is ”to remodel certain neighbourhoods so as to give them a new lease on life and ensure that they have an international standing… To turn Marseille into a first-rank metropolis of the Mediterranean Basin…”

It’s actually a reorganisation of the city centre as well as a ”social clean-up” that started in 2001 with the creation of a TGV line allowing us to reach the capital in only three hours. The regeneration reached its peak with the recent title of ”2013 European Capital of Culture”.

The city has been getting an insane amount of publicity: Wallpaper magazine named it ”The Best City of the Year” (along with San Francisco), The New York Times said it’s ”the secret French capital”, and so on. That huge communication plan has turned Marseille into a trendy, bankable city, so we now have to deal with an unremitting influx of tourists, new inhabitants, a huge flood of bohos, high-waters, five panel hats, etc.

But Marseille keeps it real and its legendary bad reputation won’t fade away that easily. The preconceived ideas conveyed by the (same) media, always caricaturing its inhabitants and highlighting the shoot-outs, drug trafficking and embezzlements, seem strongly set in people’s minds…

This is mainly due to the fact that the unwanted population resides in the city centre (myself included) contrary to most other cities where the hoods are located on the outskirts.

The result of such an uncommon geographical structure is a very popular and uncivilised downtown, really messy and unstructured, covered in graffiti, with junk all over the floor, and very little concern from the police and the municipal services. (Plus palm trees and topless beaches as a bonus!)

The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed and you don’t really feel any social pressure. It’s a sort of heaven for sabbatical years where you can spend the day at the beach and have drinks on bar terraces without feeling any guilt. Every 10 metres you can see or hear some weird stuff: old ladies feeding seagulls, a sign saying ”No parking, even for Police vehicles”, graffiti like: ”my mother hits on my friends” or ”boho, watch out at night”, bars with shitty names, bin men on strike for a whole week, etc.

The cost of living is quite low, public transportation can easily become free, and the beach is only 15 minutes away from the city centre… Anyway, here’s a quick portrait of Marseille: a joyful mess where skateboarding has found its place for a long time.

There are so many problems that even if a session is annoying people, it’s not serious enough to put you into trouble. If a pedestrian, a neighbour or even a cop wants to kick you out, he will also have to put an end to a street soccer game, two joints, a Raï music album, kick a homeless person out and pick 20 beer cans up to feel like he is in France again. In other words HE will be the person disturbing the community in the end.

The only law forbidding skateboarding applies to the Hôtel de Ville, but it’s null and void since the by-law has never been published (according to the Police themselves). Plus we have already spent 10 years skating the Police Commission where the only skatestopper is nothing but a perfect metal edge stuck to a ledge.

Cruising through the streets is probably the best part, since pedestrians don’t freak out and car drivers are quite predictable (you can easily catch cars and stuff like that). Bikes are having as much fun in the traffic as we do, manholes are very numerous, there are potholes, shards of glass, oil stains and we have several types of ground due to the chaotic reparations made by the highway department employees… You have to be always on alert then. It’s really absorbing; it helps you enhance your reflexes and makes you forget about the rest.

Well no, I think the best part is actually the ridiculous amount of hills the city has to offer (bus line number 60): a 400 meter long 14% slope on boulevard André Aune, a long ride on boulevard Notre Dame, the boulevard Périer, and so many others. Each of them offers many grind-able marble stair sets in front of buildings, tight bends, double bends, and street gaps…  (Have a look at Mazaki Ui’s Downtown TKO part).

The biggest spots are quite close to one another, and the Euromed project being mainly focused on the city centre, you will find many recent plazas (or renewed ones) really close: Saint-Charles train station, Colbert, Hôtel de Ville, La Major, Place du Refuge, La Joliette, Les Archives Départementales (Regional Archives), etc. You can pretty much visit all the classic spots in just one day and thus have the pleasure to skate banks, stairs, ledges and manny pads.

There are still many worksites in the Port Autonome neighbourhood, so expect new spots soon. We watch carefully the evolution of the works and despite the requirements probably added to the architects’ specifications; ledges are still delivered without any skate stoppers. They did put very rough ground on several new spots such as the MuCEM and La Promenade des Docks though.

Plazas left aside, you should also know that there are loads and loads of spots if you have just a bit of a creative mind. There are many banks, a lot of marble, jersey barriers everywhere, stair sets, bumps, wallrides, small streets leading to hidden plazas, many seaside spots in the southern neighbourhoods (you can even find a bowl there I think), a few hidden ditches… The city is an interesting mix of all kinds of architecture.

You should also keep in mind that there is always something wrong with the spot, making the trick even harder to do: a pole, a crack, a manhole or a motorbike…

The meeting point is the Opera where you will find perfect flatground, and leaving such a perfect spot to go on a mission is sometimes really hard.

The most interesting things can be found in the Northern neighbourhoods though: hash dealers, a crazy spot right by the projects’ towers (Félix Pyat, La Castellane, Les Flamants): the banks of Ruisseau Mirabeau.

If you go for a night sesh you will notice that the streetlamps are quite old and give a good eighties style light on footage, but you will also quickly find out that many places lack lighting: Hôtel de Ville for example. On the other hand, there is always a grocery store open near you, and if you go there late you are very likely to meet the craziest characters.

Don’t hesitate to ask skaters if you have difficulties finding a spot; keeping them secret is not one of our habits. The only secret spot we have is Parc Saint-Cyr (address: 130 Chemin la Valbarelle, 13011 Saint-Marcel).

If you are into skateparks, you will be very happy to know that there are many skateparks inside the city and also in the surroundings thanks to Constructo, an agency of architects and skatepark builders whose offices are located in Marseille.

That leads me to talk about the ”Palais de la Glisse” (an indoor complex with a 3,500m² wooden skatepark and a skating rink) and La Friche (an outdoor 610m² concrete skatepark). It’s been both a good and a bad thing for the local scene: it put an end to the spot called La Préfecture, where you were sure to find a session going on 24/7, it took the skating out of the city centre and brought it to the suburbs, and it drew much attention on us. But at the same time it allowed many skaters to get a job.

I was talking about idleness earlier, and I should add that the city is characterised by a certain immobility. There are a lot of things going on every time, but we are always complaining, saying there are no parties, exhibitions or concerts.

You can also feel that in the skating, but in a positive way (I barely understand myself on this one). What I mean is there are many people trying to make things happen and push the scene in the right direction, but they are often disappointed by the lack of cohesion, enthusiasm and gratitude.

In the end I feel like it keeps skateboarding at the right place, allowing less divisions, conflicts or jealousy. It’s quite rough and there is little shit-talking and self-props. I like to think that there is absolutely no competitive spirit, and no one-upping on the spots. Fitting in is a matter of being happy and easy going rather than doing hammers on the all the spots. It’s all about friendly sessions here; everyone is welcomed and skaters from all generations get along and mix without judging themselves that much. This is something that many people who move here have trouble understanding, and if they don’t get it they might have a hard time finding their place. You should also know that making acquaintances can be easy, but it’s hard to make real friends.

I don’t think we can talk about clans though, but rather geographically spread groups, and except the youngsters everyone skating always says ”hi” like if we were a real family.

There’s really a lot of people skating here; the eldest never quit and most people practice for the good reasons. It’s a big university city so many students are arriving every year, trying to find their place in the scene with more or less success depending on their behaviour.

We have a lot of skaters with a very unique style, a mix of tranny skating and street ripping. Still, the bowl remains a microcosm where many guys just roll and don’t care about what’s going on outside their ‘bowl bubble’.

Skaters from the surrounding cities often pay us a visit and these friendly sessions are really a good thing for the scene. Marseille is the only city where I’ve seen sessions getting completely replaced by partying on some occasions.

Be careful, gangs of bored teenagers who like to have fun and kill time annoying the tourists, so be aware that you’re a potential target and keep an eye on your backpack. Be ready to lend your board to a kid too, and if unfortunately it disappears, don’t forget that Laurent Molinier is waiting for you at Bud Skateshop (cheers Momo, I did it, haha).

Having just arrived here in March, here is Antoine Jouguet’s testimony:

”Most spots are quite rough, but there are spots everywhere and they are look pretty good. Despite the pressure caused by the existence of ”adapted structures”, street-skating remains socially accepted and that’s cool. Sessions are always relaxed and fun, everyone pretty much skate together, and it never rains. Locals are easy going in general, and gathering a good crew of motivated people just comes naturally.”

Have a look at Vivien Feil’s article in Soma Issue 22. He depicts the passion for exaggeration and absurdity of the people from Marseille perfectly. You should also watch the Formula Prod videos, the 21 edits, and above all IAM’s music clip Demain C’est Loin.

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