Channel U: The pioneers
Throughout the years, we have witnessed an influx of platforms that give home-grown talents the capability to showcase their musical ability, either visually or via radio. Nonetheless, one of the very first that we instantly loved was the infamous, Channel U. Established in 2003 by the late Darren Platt, the urban satellite channel had an extraordinary 15-year run before its unfortunate demise in 2018. During that time, it achieved its goal of feeding music to the relatable watching crowd. With it being a few clicks away from the mainstream channels such as Smash Hits, Kiss and MTV, it sat pleasantly pretty. The genre that became the main attraction was Grime, a genre that had been overshadowed for years due, to the increased criticism from the authorities/journalist regarding the impact that it could have on the youth.
As you could expect, many of the artists were raised in a predominantly Black community with the aim of ‘making it out the hood’ – with that being said, the lack of professional experience that they had, led to the iconic DIY videos that were the norm to all. The backdrops that will always be ingrained in our memories are a car park, estates, and community parks, to name a few; videos were low quality, yet it was the start of a big shift of people jumping to Channel U from pirate radio stations.
The surging popularity that surrounded it came with a sense of freedom to experiment with alternative ways of becoming more interactive and allowing the viewers to get involved. What they did was brilliant and got everyone hooked. Knowing that everyone’s music taste is different, they created an opportunity for the viewers to dictate which songs got air-time with their text-in song request format. To say that the feature was addictive would be an understatement. The queue of requested songs that were shown on your screen made you realise how popular it was.
As the Channel continued to cement their place into black U.K culture, it drew in more upcoming acts that wanted to make a name for themselves and produced some of the nostalgic tracks that we know and love. Regarding the latter, they gifted us with: Hands in the air by P2J and Anthem by Nu Brand Flexxx and My Youth by Stylo G, IceKid and Sickman. The bitter-sweet feeling upon hearing these songs increased, as they take us back to a time in our lives when it was continuous care-free living and people weren’t worried about the real-world truths. For most of the millennials that attended Primary/Secondary during the peak of the Channels successes, it may have been part of what was some of the most unforgettable years in their lives. The inevitable emotion of nostalgia will shoot through every part of you, knowing that those past memories won’t be able to be recreated.
Channel U gave a platform to some of the best artists in the urban scene too. Gracing our screens were: Kano, Chip and Wretch 32. They all came to the forefront very early on in their careers and didn’t look back from that point.
Kano made his mark his mark in 2005, after the release of his debut album ‘Home sweet Home’, arguably his best album to date. Wretch 32 made a big impact with his first few singles, with the classic 2011 releases of “Unorthodox,” and “Don’t Go,” giving us a glimpse of his lyrical genius. Lastly, Chip, there is nowhere else to start without mentioning his infamous single debut “Who Are You.” He came into the scene as a talented young man, and was consistent for many years, claiming a #2 spot on the official album charts with ‘I Am Chipmunk’ in 2009. All legends of the scene.
The Channel was the stepping stone for many artists to develop their abilities and build up a dedicated fan base, opening the door for future chart success. When you digest the early beginnings, it gives you more reason to appreciate their constant mainstream appearances – a category that was once ignoring their art.
Exploring different avenues could be nerve-racking, but the momentum that was gained filled them with the confidence to try something new. With the evident fact of perfecting the music side to things, they brought skits (which was popular at the time) to our TV screens, with the addition of roadman comedian, Jazzie, and creating the well-loved programme, Jazzie Show.
The sky-rocketing popularity of the show instantly made it a cult classic – gaining access to some of the hottest urban acts during that period and providing us with unforgettable segments.
With all the success, the choice of rebranding from Channel U to Channel AKA in 2009 was the unfortunate start of the long-winded demise. Watching the show crumble was emotional for everyone to see – with the added pressure of other online platforms emerging, the competition may have been too much. Coming to the forefront were: SBTV, Link up TV and GRM daily – a shift that was almost impossible to stop. Their advanced cameras and “new kids on the block” buzz, were recognised by artists, and they ultimately took their talents to them.
As we reminisce on the good ol’ days of times gone by, let’s appreciate and congratulate the shift that they brought to the UK music industry, and giving us some of the best childhood memories you could think of. Channel U, the pioneers.
Words: John-Mark Collymore