Bradford bassline rappers Bad Boy Chiller Crew are used to performing in nightclubs to drug-fuelled dancefloors with one or two fights breaking out, but tonight the average age of the crowd is around 12. It’s January 2020 and the local stars - a trio of MCs known as Kane, Clive and GK - are performing an all ages gig in a working men’s club a few miles north of Bradford’s city centre. In part the idea for the show is to give something back to their hordes of young fans. Many have become enraptured by the group’s wild internet antics and catchy tunes, but aren’t old enough to attend the late-night venues they usually play at. The demand is off the scale. “We've had to take the tickets offline and do first come, first serve because there's too much hype around it. I think there'll be people waiting outside who won't get in tonight to be honest, which is unfortunate,” Bad Boy Chiller Crew’s manager Darren, aka Dr Google, tells me. One young girl living in a residential home in South Wales was driven 250 miles by her carers to attend, with BBCC sorting them VIP passes.
As the room starts to fill up, it begins looking like the rowdiest primary school disco ever thrown, with swarms of kids dressed in North Face puffers, Armani tracksuits and baseball caps with Nike shotta bags slung over their shoulders running around screaming in anticipation. When I exit the backstage area the change in expression from expectant eyes - as wide and excited as the green aliens from Toy Story - to sharp disappointment is enough to send my self-worth into a nosedive. When BBCC do come through they are mobbed, with kids practically climbing up their legs and arms to demand selfies. Bradford is gripped with BadBoymania, and over the next 18 months that feeling spreads much further: with Bad Boy Chiller Crew releasing their debut mixtape ‘Full Wack No Brakes’, racking up millions of streams, scoring Radio 1 airplay and a top 40 single, selling out high profile tour dates, signing to a major label, and starring in a VICE documentary.
Creating content for the film is the other reason for putting on the all ages show. It came out last July and named the trio as 'The World’s Most Deranged Rap Group’. A fair portrayal? “Yeah. Bang on,” says GK, real name Gareth Kelly, speaking nearly a year on from its release. “Yeah, fucking idiots,” agrees the mullet-haired Clive, whose real name is Sam.
The group’s origins were initially nothing to do with music: Clive and Kane are childhood friends, and started making Jackass-style videos featuring pranks, boozy forfeits, cans downed through traffic cones, in-character skits and the odd painful-looking stunt. Initially Kane would stay behind the camera. “I can't do the acting,” he says. “He prefers not to look a cunt!” adds Clive, who would star in the videos alongside former member Tony Lovell, and fellow viral Bradford MCs Fraz and Molegrip, who, despite being present on early tracks, I’m told have no affiliation with the BBCC. “They're gone mate,” says Clive, unwilling to elaborate further. “I don't even know who they are mush, adds Kane. The videos took off, clocking up millions of views, making the crew local celebrities.
In November 2018, Gareth, who had been making his own comedy videos online, took a liking to Clive, Kane and co’s antics and reached out to connect. “We messaged each other and started collabing. Since then we became really good friends and we've built a bit of an empire,” says Gareth.
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Doing comedy videos evolved into doing comedy rapping, which then evolved into doing serious rapping. They started out spitting over grime beats, Kante noting he was a fan of Ghetts, then gradually began carving out their own sound rapping over the organ bassline they grew up on. “We found us own sound doing it over bassline. Organ bassline, old skool Bradford/Leeds type of bassline. It's not like down south bassline, it's not like garage. Fair enough we might do a few garage tunes, but our bassline is the organ,” says Kane. “It's what we've learned off us Mums and Dads, people from estate, us uncle's mates. It's CDs going about, mixtapes, tape recordings, tunes that have passed down,” says Gareth.
“We aren't from down south. Everyone from Bradford, when they rap they're all trying to act like down southers ‘n that. We want to stick to us own. We want to have us own style. We aren't trying to be anyone else but ourselves. I think our sound is unique; I wouldn't really compare it to anything else,” adds Kane.
Making music is when Kane’s role in the group, as the most accomplished MC, came to the fore. “We consider ourselves more serious now,” he says of the group’s progression into music. “We still do the funny stuff, but we can do both. We aren't bothered what people think.”
"We're like a PG Jackass. It's an all round entertainment package, that's what we are,” Gareth declares. The Bad Boy Chiller Crew name neatly fits the comedy and the tunes. “I came up with the name,” says Kane. “Obviously it's just like a joke innit. You see these rap groups 'n that, and they always have a serious name. That were the biggest pisstake name we could think of.”
Bradford once ranked among the wealthiest cities in the world. In the 19th century a booming wool industry, and the success of businessmen such as Titus Salt, who funded the creation of the neighbouring Saltaire model village - now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, pumped money into the city. Although Bradford city centre is still filled with grand Victorian buildings, that wealth has long since drained from the area. BBCC’s gig takes place a stone’s throw from the Grade II-listed Carnegie Library, which has fallen into a state of crumbling disrepair since it closed in 1985. “I'd say it's classed as being rough, not many good things come out of Bradford,” says Clive. On my taxi ride to the venue, the driver bemoans the London economic bubble and lack of government investment in Bradford, which he says is crippling the city. In the week leading up to the gig, Prince William and Kate Middleton made a royal visit. “They went to the roughest part of Bradford, Ipswich fucking College. You can't go three feet without seeing a rat there. I bet they wiped their shoes before they got back in car,” says Clive. These days, the lists Bradford ranks top on relate to West Yorkshire crime rates and, as the UK’s youngest city, youth unemployment.
Financial constraints were a challenge for BBCC getting into music. “It’s difficult because we aren't rich, we ain't got a load of money, so right at the start we had to put us own money in,” says Kane. “We were spending more than we were making. None of us are good with computers, we never had no iMacs. If we had the money to fund everything we could have had a sick camera, sick laptop, recording studio.” Clive had a job fitting ventilation systems, Kane worked as a glass processor, and Gareth moved around various odd jobs. “I were fucking driving buses, ice cream man, DJ, taxi operator. All sorts man,” he says. They earned extra money by making tracks promoting local businesses such as Billy’s Carwash and Manjaros restuarant. This helped fund recording sessions at Moorcroft Studios, where they would record a track in an hour.
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The first bassline beats they rapped over were ripped from YouTube, before local connections and the platform they had from comedy videos helped things grow. Producers RKSwitch, who Gareth was friends with, and Klublove started making their original beats, guest verses came from local MCs such as S Dog, Dorzi and Max Naylor, Northern-focused music channel KODH TV reached out to feature their tracks, and a director called Rob Attwood got in touch asking to make their music videos. He made the visuals for tracks such as ‘Pablo’ and ‘Charvas Anthem’, which saw their combination of bassline beats and illicit bars about partying and drug taking go viral beyond local fame. Music stars such as Dappy and Tom Zanetti got in touch with words of encouragement, as did West Ham footballer and England Euro 2020 star Declan Rice, whose number they promptly misused. “We had a few drinks, rung him up and pranked him,” says Clive.
Another fan is Warp Records producer Evian Christ, who tells me over email: “I think they’re funny and that the songs are good”. He booked them to perform a debut London gig at the December 2019 edition of Trance Party at Corsica Studios alongside DJs like Total Freedom and Varg2™. “It were mental, best show we've ever done. The crowd were like completely different people. Everyone were just smiling,” says Clive. “Crowd were sick. It's not like round here, there were no one fighting. You go to Bradford you get stabbed up,” says Kane. “Last two times we performed in fucking Bradford we've had to get off stage cos us mates were fighting. When you go to London it's different. Everyone's loving each other.” PC Music artist Danny L Harle can be seen going mad for the set front left in YouTube footage. “I was star-struck in all honesty,” Danny tells me. “There was a hysterically positive vibe in the crowd and a communal love for BBCC in the air. These lads have a kind of energy I've only ever seen in MCs from Up North.”
“There were people in hi-vis like they've just come off a 50 hour shift on M5,” says Clive commenting on the London crowd’s fashion choices. “They're like these lot, VICE lot, that's how I'd describe them,” says Kane, gesturing at the film crew around us.
It was at Trance Party where they caught the attention of VICE and the documentary wheels were put in motion. BBCC credit the 13-minute film, which saw the trio likened to a real life Kurupt FM, for taking their fame to the next level. “That's what we think proper took us from where we were to where we are,” says Gareth. Now signed with Sony sublabel Relentless Records and supported by the major label machine of PR teams, radio and DSP pluggers, music consultants, and so on, they’ve quit their day jobs to do music full time.
While their rising profile has seen them gain fans from California to Sydney, the fame levels at home in Bradford became intolerable. There were signs of it getting too much when we first met. “I don't really like it me,” said Kane of being regularly recognised and stopped in the street, and Clive noted: “I have to sit in car when I go shopping.” After the documentary came out, it grew from unwanted attention into harassment. Eventually, they had to move out of Bradford.
“We’d have people demanding: do a video, do this, do that, ringing you up at early hours in the morning cos they've got your number from before. I were getting woke up at early hours in morning by people partying - 'speak to so and so! He don't believe I know ya'. I had to change my number. People were parking outside my dad's house beeping, knocking on his door,” says Gareth. “We're obviously just three lads from estate, we had to go ‘cause it were getting too much - you couldn't breathe, you couldn't relax. You go from a nobody into summat like that, and there's a lot of jealousy, you know, stuff like that, so we had to get out man.”
Although Bradford became too small for its breakout bassline stars, they’re still proud of the city and want to spread the sound they were raised on to the masses. Their debut EP on Relentless Records ‘Charva Anthems’ remains rooted in organ bassline, but the production is noticeably more polished and poppy, aiming for the mainstream. Lead single ‘Don’t You Worry About Me’ marked their first entrance into the top 40.
According to Kane, this is the type of music they’ve always wanted to make. “We prefer that commercial organ sound, we just could never get it, know what I mean?” he says. “Before we were just fucking getting what we could get, because no one makes the beats. If you go on YouTube now mate, 'Bad Boy Chiller Crew types beats', there's fucking 50 of them.” The lyrical content hasn’t changed: bad boy bars about seshing, girls, nice clothes, cars, and having a laugh being a charva, which they define as a ‘boyo’ or ‘chav’. “We're chavvy innit, but we own it,” says Kane.
“We're making them old songs - them old organ/Niche songs - we're making them good quality, good production, and everyone's buzzing off them,” Kane adds. “I knew it would pop off because no one did it, do you know what I mean? The thing is with bassline, yeah, the beat and the vocal, people just love it. You're in every audience aren't ya? You're hitting young people, you're hitting old people, old party heads.”
Gareth has also been paying for surgery to look the popstar part, documenting his various cosmetic alterations on social media, including a chest reduction, hair transplant and new teeth. He also has a BBCC knuckle tat. “I weren't bothered about it me, but Kane kept bullying me saying you're making band look shit n that, so I had to go get it done, dint I?” he jokes. “Now I'm getting stick for not being natural and him being natural!”
Bad Boy Chiller Crew’s latest single 'Come With Me' saw them collaborate with GRAMMY-winning electronic music producer Riton, who they recently guested with in Mixmag's The Lab LDN. Forthcoming releases will see them grow into their polished organ sound, with plenty more material is in the works.
“All this is new stuff that you're gonna hear now mate, it's 10 times better, 20 times better,” says Kane. “It's proper music mate, commercial, stuff that you hear on charts ‘n that. We're going for commercial, we're not going for the underground.”
A long-awaited UK and Ireland tour is finally scheduled for autumn after several lockdown enforced setbacks. Sold-out dates in Manchester, Glasgow, Leeds, London and more show BBCC are leading the Northern bassline sound to levels of national popularity it hasn’t seen since bangers by T2, DJ Q and Jamie Duggan were laying waste to dancefloors up and down the country circa 2007. When borders open up again, they’re ready to take the sound global. “Obviously we'll be going everywhere,” says Kane. Fingers crossed. If there’s one thing that can help the world recover from a pandemic-induced malaise, it’s the irresistible vibes of organ bassline.
Bad Boy Chiller Crew's 'Charva Anthems' EP is out now, get it here
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Editor, follow him on Twitter