If ever there was a blueprint for how to survive and succeed as an independent label in the UK, then surely Champion Records must be it. Started by Mel Medalie in 1980, Champion enjoyed the simple strategy of picking up on underground club tunes both in the US and in the UK.
In the eighties dance music didn’t have the same crossover potential as it does today, so turning club tracks into hits was far more difficult. Mel trusted his instincts as well as those of his A&R scouts (including Paul Oakenfold for some years), and quickly elevated Champion into one of the leading dance labels. Early hits included Whistle’s “Just Buggin”, Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince’s “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble”, Raze’s house hits “Jack The Groove”and “Break 4 Love”, Royal House’s “Can U Party”and Black Riot’s “Warlock”. But it’s not just the hits that give a label credibility underground gems like Harlequin Four’s “Set It Off”, Blaze’s “Watcha Gonna Do”and Kinkina’s “Jungle Fever”are the real proof that Champion had their fingers on the pulse of club music.
Throughout the late eighties and into the nineties the label confirmed its position by releasing many of Todd Terry’s seminal works under the monikers Royal House, Swan Lake and Black Riot. Underground classics like the Beat Club’s “Security”and Earth People’s “Reach Up To Mars”got UK releases alongside hits from Raze and Sybil.
As dance music exploded in the nineties, many independent labels either collapsed or were swallowed up by the majors, but Champion remained steadfast. Hits like “Show Me Love”by Robin S and “Feel What You Want”by Kristine W proved that Champion was still at the cutting edge of club culture and could prosper in the new climate. Not only that but Champion have matured into a true label of stature and taught the major labels a thing or two about developing acts.
In 1993 following a meeting between Mel and Rollo Armstrong, the idea of Cheeky Records was conceived. The Cheeky name was quickly established with a series of successful dance singles but with the realisation that real credibility could only come with album success, Mel pioneered the formation of Faithless and the making of their best selling album, “Reverence”.
This paved the way for credible albums by other Cheeky artists including Dido, Rob Dougan, Skinny and Pauline Taylor and Cheeky soon became one of the most successful independent labels of the last decade.
The value of Cheeky’s independence was that Mel was able to license the product outside of the UK to people who were equally enthusiastic about the artists, two prime examples being Clive Davis at Arista Records with Dido and Faithless in America and Martin Dodd at Zomba with Faithless in Benelux.