” Seeing [someone] who sounded like me, with the same voice as me, MCing and not with an American accent, was inspiring, ”says grime novelist MC, who grew up watching the channel. “I always wanted to be a part of everything that happened when I got older.”
With virtually no competition at the start, Channel U struggled to compete in the early 2010s when British rap and grime platforms such as SBTV, GRM Daily and Link Up TV emerged on YouTube. Things were not helped in 2009 by an unsuccessful name change to Channel AKA, before it was eventually sold to a subsidiary of Universal. After 15 years on the air, the plug was withdrawn in 2018.
But, after two years of absence, the pioneer channel is back: it returns tomorrow to its original home on the Sky 385 channel as part of the premiere of the “first grime film”, Against All Odds, directed by Femi Oyeniran and Nicky “Slimting” Walker. This is their second co-directing following 2018 British crime thriller The Intent 2: The Come Up, which starred a host of British rappers including Ghetts and Lady Leshurr. Fleeing the usual streaming platforms, Afryea Henry-Fontaine, marketing director at Motown records, suggested broadcasting their independent offering on the station owned by Universal.
As channel 385 still exists under the free dance music channel Clubland, Oyeniran and Walker decided to launch a week-long takeover where they would bring the station back. Universal agreed to six hours, with all of Channel U’s content also appearing on Link Up TV’s YouTube channel. This resulted in a busy and nostalgic schedule: the duo Ace & Vis are back to host The Ill Out Show, and the weekly Top 10 has been revamped with a countdown of Channel U’s top 10 videos (according to the viewers vote. online), hosted by the show’s original presenters, Jazzie and A Squeezy. There will be live performances, interviews with grime veterans, and it will all be broadcast on the Link Up TV YouTube channel. As part of the rollout, there is also a soundtrack EP featuring the likes of D Double E, Novelist and scrambler.
It is a roll call of artists that reaffirms the importance of the platform. Channel U was clearly black and British at a time when darkness was considered synonymous with the United States. It wasn’t just in his music but in his programming; as the media lacked so many diverse representations of working-class culture, the station was present on all fronts. He recreated the iconic MTV Cribs series with a more grainy iteration Yards, in which comedic rapper Mr. Wong showed cameras around his mother’s house in Peckham. Youth lifestyle magazine RWD’s Booo Krooo comic has been redesigned as an adult animated sitcom for the network. He also documented the misadventures of three cranky aspiring MCs, linked to the majority of boys with voicemail and cell phones during this time. Everyone in the “ends” wanted to be a grime artist and part of the magic of Channel U was that anyone could be, for a while.
He thrived with his mishmash of real musicians and part-time MCs whose aspirations seemed to start and end with their video showing on the channel. In 2015, I tracked down a handful of the channel’s lesser-known legends, famous in their own right, for a documentary called The Lost Stars of Channel U ‘. It was greeted with hysteria, with fans demanding a new spinoff series, updating them on the ones we hadn’t covered. The industry has never given the channel the credit it deserves, but when founder Darren Platt passed away in 2016, many cited his station as critical to their careers. Lethal B called him “visionary”: his song Pow! (Forward) has been banned elsewhere. “Channel U was a real master plan,” says Cat Park, the former station manager. “I remember going in there the first day. I was young, but the team was really young, and I said to myself: “I’ll take care of it in six months!” And she was. Even behind the scenes, a disjointed and cobbled together youth culture flourished, similar to the one that became notorious on screen. In the heyday of grime, MCs were mostly recognized by name and voice, via pirate radio stations, club nights, and Sony Ericsson Bluetooth songs.
Even in a post-award-winning Mercury Boy in Da Corner landscape, music channels from the mid-2000s continued to sideline the scene, so apart from the clashes recorded as part of the Lord of the Mics or Risky Roadz DVD series. , fans were more likely to see performers. in their region rather than on the screen. The channel democratized music videos years before YouTube: A tech-savvy generation, already honing their design skills on social media sites like Piczo and Bebo, became videographers for equally amateur artists.
“Sometimes people take the microphone from the [production] quality, but that’s exactly what defines Channel U, ”says Park. “It was accessible, it was achievable. It wasn’t MTV, so you didn’t have to have thousands of pounds and a label budget – it was like, you can go get your video and do it. We don’t have to go down the pirate radio route and stay in our bubble – all of a sudden it’s sort of broadened nationwide. The audience has changed. ”
Her understanding of youth culture even translated into the way her playlists were organized. Viewers requested songs by text and, in the spirit of mid-2000s social media (which by then was all about Myspace lists and ‘best friend’ cries), sent personalized messages to display in time. real in a box next to the clips. Pioneering measures like this have made the station’s failure to make the trip online all the more disappointing. If he had, he would undoubtedly be an industry leader. Channel U returns to a landscape very different from the one it left two years ago, and even more unrecognizable compared to the one it landed on in 2003. Today, maps and airwaves are dominated by those that she inspired. At one point, Channel U’s Top 10 was seen as the official equivalent of the card for those the UK Top 40 eluded. “I put one of my first videos on Channel U, The Link Up, which made me famous,” Walker recalls. “It was a huge game changer; If you were part of Channel U’s Top 10 countdown, you felt like you could accomplish anything. ”
As the country continued to vilify the black youth soundtrack (in 2006 then opposition leader David Cameron claimed that BBC Radio 1 played hip-hop and grime ” [encouraged] people to carry guns and knives ”), Channel U portrayed our peers as we knew them: as children. Acts such as Ice Kid, Age Iz Nuffin and SBD – a rapper who couldn’t be over 12, lamenting his father’s absence from the infamous single Where Are You Now – showed intelligence and charisma. of the street with which we grew up.
“What people don’t talk about is the intersection between being black and being a working class; the first time I saw that, it was Channel U, ”says Oyeniran. “You see these guys, they’re wearing black tracksuits like your bredrins and Air Max 90s and baseball caps – and they’re on TV. For me it was mind blowing. Before your Kidulthoods and all those movies, Channel U was doing that in bite size with the music videos. ”
While views on YouTube often eclipse television viewing figures, its undeniable prestige, combined with an increased need for nostalgia, makes Channel U’s return a ripe time. With conversations around British black history in the foreground, its relaunch comes at exactly the right time.
“There’s not so much preservation of the black British heritage and black contribution to what it means to be British,” Oyeniran says. “We need to do a lot more to preserve black British culture. And I feel like Channel U is one of them. ”
Against all odds is outside Fri. U channel returns tomorrow on Sky 385 channel and you can Check it out online via aaomovie.com