If you squint, it kind of looks like a Renaissance painting…
Bad Boy Chiller Crew’s Gareth Kelly (aka GK) is lying in the middle of a road on the edge of Covent Garden, belly out and mouth open, like an overindulging king. Looming over him is his bandmate Sam ‘Clive’ Robinson – his mullet poking out from beneath a novelty jester hat – pouring a stream of Stella over his mate’s face. A passing school trip looks shocked. Someone puts down their Pret to take a picture. It’s 2pm.
If this was an ordinary magazine interview with an ordinary band, a moment like this would be a total coup. But for Bad Boy Chiller Crew, it’s just business as usual.
Proper pop stars
Over the last three years, the trio of Bradford twentysomethings have become an unlikely pop phenomenon. They’ve found their niche pumping out serotonin-inducing rave music, rapping over relentless bassline beats to make records that evoke sticky superclub carpets and £1 drink deals.
Their lyrics are funny: ‘PC Plonker, drives like my grandad’. Their social-media channels are full of comedy skits and ‘Jackass’-style prank videos that might have popped up on LadBible back in the day. (GK’s heroes are ‘Little Britain’, Peter Kay and Keith Lemon.) Depending on who you ask, the tracksuit-clad gang are either 2022’s vom-flecked answer to parody group Goldie Lookin’ Chain or transgressive pioneers, bringing northern council estate culture to the mainstream. Whatever they’re doing, it’s working. Single ‘Don’t You Worry About Me’ hit the Top 40 last year, they’ve got a US tour lined up for the autumn and they’ve even bagged their own ITV2 reality show. In fact, up north, the group have achieved the kind of stardom that means they have to go round with two security guards at all times.
‘We can’t go to the Co-op, we can’t go to the pub, we’ve had to move from our houses because of fans showing up,’ GK tells me. ‘The only time we can walk about and not get hassled is down here in London.’
A grand day out
The band are making the most of their near-anonymity in the capital today. Well, Clive and GK are. Third member Kane Welsh has gone AWOL. (‘Fucked if we know where that guy is’, is the explanation I get for that.) We’re on a whistlestop tour of the sights of central London with their security guards (bald, middle-aged and hench) and a load of people from their label (skinny, grey-faced and concerned) before they play a show at Kentish Town Forum as part of their UK tour. It feels like a stag on steroids.
‘Look at that hat, you silly cunt! Hahaha!’
As our unlikely group makes its way past Boris Bikes, street performers, tube signs and statues, utter chaos ensues. GK – a charisma machine with bright white veneers and a laugh like a jolly giant – is constantly up to mischief. I look away and he’s chatting up a Hare Krishna. I look away again and he’s yelling, ‘All right, lads, do you mind if I get in the back?’ at the occupants of a police van. Then he’s mooning the camera or wedgying his own shorts. Meanwhile, Clive follows in his wake, sunglasses on, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, cackling. (‘I’m tired’ is his catchphrase of the day. A clay-like tinge to his skin hints that ‘painfully jagged’ might be nearer the truth.)
Bradford, as described by BBCC,is a rose-tinted land of rolling fields and green hills. The roads are empty, it’s relaxed, chilled and multicultural – ‘like London, but everyone gets on’. Kane and Clive met at school there and started making comedy videos together. They befriended GK while he was DJing in local pubs and shilling pirate CDs, instantly clicked and started making daft music videos together, advertising local businesses. ‘Carbon fibre tint in ceiling/Give us ten minutes we’ll leave your car gleaming’ they rap in the one for Billy’s Hand Car Wash.
‘We’re all idiots so we didn’t have anything to prove to each other,’ says GK. ‘We could just be free and enjoy doing something.’
It’s a few days after the Renaissance Painting Incident and I’m catching up with them over Zoom as they get ready for another gig. Everyone’s talking over each other. GK’s sweating profusely. Kane’s here this time, slouched in his chair, taking the piss out of my questions like I’m an unlucky supply teacher.
He chips in.
‘My first impression of GK? He’d just had a line of a ket. He said, “All right, I’m going.” Then I came out of the house two hours later and he was [sitting] mangled in the car, hahaha!’
The lads talk about drugs a lot. That GK did DMT on the tour bus last night, for example (‘I like a party in my head’). But Kane – the sort-of Gary Barlow to GK’s sort-of Robbie Williams – is insistent that they want to be known more for their music than their misbehaviour. It was him who pulled together the group’s first proper song, chopping up a remix of DJ Jean Jacques Smoothie’s 2001 one-hit wonder ‘2 People’ and writing verses to go over it. It’s still him who leads production now.
‘We sit down with Abba on, with Queen on…’ he says, pouring himself a vodka orange. ‘Who were we listening to last night? The Chili Peppers.’ He adds, confidently: ‘We listen to every genre. That’s why we don’t sound like anything else in the mainstream. The beats are fast, the rapping’s rapid. We’re just getting better and better.’
Breaking the south
None of the lads had ever been to London before BBCC. Now they’re regulars. ‘It’s fucking expensive, though!’ says GK. They’ve managed to do a bit of sightseeing – ‘I thought Buckingham Palace was going to be massive but it’s like a shed,’ says Clive – and have been clubbing at the Ministry of Sound (GK: ‘I was dressed in a yeti costume’). They’re starting to build a fanbase down here too, although their London gigs don’t go off like the ones up north, where the hyper-speed dance music the boys sample is still a staple of club playlists. (Listening to their album in lockdown made me homesick for nights I had as a teenager at Breeze Bar in Warrington.)
‘I think at our London gigs people are coming for a bit of a pantomime rather than a rave,’ says GK. ‘They want to see what sort of nutjobs we actually are.’
Is he okay with that?
‘I don’t give a fuck, hahaha!’
In many ways the group feel like they’ve cheated the system to get to this point. ‘We’ve never had a plan,’ says Kane. ‘We weren’t doing collabs or loads of media. We were just making music and funny videos and it worked.’
The lads reckon it’s because they represent the kind of people who don’t usually get much positive coverage in the media. ‘All you see is high-class, serious people on TV normally,’ says Kane. ‘But our fans are just like us: idiot radges from council estates in Bradford and Leeds.’ He explains that’s why they stick to wearing high street tracksuits and rapping about JD Sports rather than indulging in designer gear. It’s also why they do fundraisers at all their shows to support foodbank charities. ‘We’re still connected to that community,’ he says. He gestures at me. ‘For instance, we’d rather be doing meet-and-greets than doing this.’
The price of fame
The vibe has shifted. Everyone’s antsy now. GK walks off and comes back. Kane’s explaining that the group have got to keep pumping out good tunes. They’re too famous to go back to their old lives now. They’ve got to make this work.
‘We’ll do more things in a week than someone might do in a lifetime,’ says GK. ‘That’s the benefit of being famous. But the cons are like, fuck me, you go to the toilet and you’ve got a security guard outside waiting for you.’
He sounds exhausted, and despite my having only hung out with the group twice, it’s obvious why. Being around the BBCC is like getting caught in a firestorm. They have a fizzing energy that you can hear loud and clear in their music. (I genuinely crack up more hanging out with them than on any other Time Out interview.) But there’s also an air of combustibility to them. One security guard tells me that they’re called the Bad Boy Chiller Crew for a reason. Coming away from the chat I can see how they can have an obsessively passionate fanbase, be seen as archetypes of toxic lad culture and be treated as a joke all at the same time.
‘There are people who are famous and rich who are still caught in their nutshell about how they’re seen,’ says Kane. ‘That’s not winning. The prize of life isn’t money or fame; as long as you’ve got that “don’t give a fuck” attitude you’ve won.’
‘Although if everyone was like us, the world would be fucked,’ he says. ‘Hahaha!’
Bad Boy Chiller Crew play Parklife on Jun 11.
Photography: Jess Hand; make-up: Hannah Sorcha; hair: Nat Bury; Styling Time Out/Bemi Shaw; Thanks to Tootbus.