Noisey Cover Story September 2021: Bad Boy Chiller Crew
All photos by Chris Bethell

Bad Boy Chiller Crew: Bigger Than Bradford

The bassline trio had to leave their hometown because they got too famous. With a debut album and ITV2 show on the way, the world is theirs.
Hannah Ewens
London, GB
Chris Bethell
photos by Chris Bethell
September 9, 2021, 8:00am

Almost anyone as north as Newcastle and as midlands as Sheffield will know about Bad Boy Chiller Crew. What most won’t have realised is that the bassline trio are no longer knocking about in their native Bradford, the city that they narrativised and became synonymous with. In November of 2020 they were forced to move – first to adjoining apartments in Leeds (they left those trashed) and in May 2021 to a sparsely spread village in an undisclosed location – to get away from the drama of becoming nationally famous during the pandemic. 

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When I pass through a neighbouring village and mention their name to a dad on an evening walk, he says, “Oh, not them boys. They’re like Jackass with music.” It’s a crass assessment but not wholly inaccurate. A local taxi driver gets over-excited behind the wheel and says, “Oh, those boys are of Bradford, that’s for sure. I heard they’re around here now” and repeats lyrics from their hit single “450”: Big boy lines of that naughty stuff. After I mistakenly ring the security buzzer of the mansion next to the mansion-sized farmhouse they’re renting, a middle-aged woman in a luxe robe and silk turban glides out to greet me. “Oh, the boys…” she says with a tight smile and points to her right. “That’s next door.”

Next door is the “farm” or BBCC lair that looks like a footballer’s paradise, kitted out in full influencer’s grey velvet and (now muddy) cream carpets. They’ve got a mini-working men’s club for three, complete with sofas, a pool table and a fully stocked bar. There’s a swimming pool, a sauna and a mirrored dance studio where they’ve been practicing for their run of first ever ticketed live shows, delayed due to COVID-19. Most importantly to Clive, who seems genuinely disturbed by the attention, both positive and negative, of being recognised in public, there’s a vast garden and fields for riding their numerous dirt bikes that are stashed away in a spacious garage. It’s never serene here though. The revving of those dirt bikes, eurodance blasting out speakers, people screaming “what you sayin’?” and hysterical laughter in the air is near-constant. 

Noisey Cover Story September 2021: Bad Boy Chiller Crew

Noisey Cover Story, September 2021: Bad Boy Chiller Crew. Photo: Chris Bethell

On arrival, a topless Kane is slouched, arms crossed and scowling on a grey throne on the cobblestones. A barber is giving his hair an imperceivable trim. “Who are you then – ITV lot?” Kane asks. He’s disappointed when it’s a no but perks up when he hears from one of their entourage that the film crew is coming over tonight. For the last fortnight, ITV2 has been filming BBCC out and about riding dirt bikes and getting wrecked, which each member will summarise as “doing what we do” for a 10PM reality series dropping early November. “Only thing is they filmed us the other week and I don’t remember a thing. I was off me fucking head,” Kane says. Are they going to get approval in the editing stages? “I fucking hope so.” 

Everything in life will level up for the three Bradford boys, who made comedy videos and starred in an early VICE mini-documentary about their local infamy. They’ve timed their first album to drop alongside the reality show for maximum impact. Some chat is had about a new party van they need to buy because travelling in taxis to London is becoming too restrictive – “we need to do what we do” – and costs over a grand each time. Kane tells his friends to make sure the car interface is in English. “Last time we had a car it was in Japanese,” he says to us, frowning. “Took us about forty minutes to get fucking tunes on.” 

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As he explains that a car pulls up through the gates. Out the doors storm a mulleted Clive, and Gareth in head-to-toe Burberry with chains and a veneer Cheshire grin. They’re back from a trip to Morrisons driven by their unofficial fourth member, Kitchen Steve, a bloke in his fifties with a deep tan who could pass for any of their dads. A longtime family friend, he’s with the boys as Gareth’s mentor to ensure he doesn’t start using ketamine – a substance he has an ongoing addiction problem with. Also because the music industry is “full of snakes” – a commonly held belief and gospel to Kitchen Steve, who has witnessed people try to do business deals with BBCC when they’re heavily inebriated. 

The mood is unsettled: they were harassed by a man in the supermarket, who was shouting excitedly and filming them on his phone. “I wanted to kick him. They’re proper cheeky, man,” Clive says, unpacking the waters and enormous bags of dog food from the car. “It was packed, bro, and just him going [does an impression of this ‘fan’ roaring at the front camera of an iPhone].” This is a typical quick trip to the supermarket for BBCC now, even around here in the arse end of nowhere. 

Noisey Cover Story September 2021: Bad Boy Chiller Crew

Photo: Bad Boy Chiller Crew, by Chris Bethell

Frequently, the buzzer for the front gate will ring and it’s a group of fans. Without realising, the boys moved right in the middle of multiple travellers’ sites, a demographic obsessed with them and their music. “Recently one guy had his two kids out there, like a five-year-old and six-year-old hanging out the window drinking gin and tonic cans and singing Bad Boy Chiller Crew songs that were playing out the car,” Kitchen Steve says, shaking his head. This brings us onto the dog food from the supermarket – it’s for a huge Caucasian Shepherd: a breed that will take down anything with a pulse from humans to bears, used as prison guard dogs in Russia. Kitchen Steve bought her from a friend who trains personal protection animals (“She’s had two litters and eaten all the pups. She’s an eater.”). Usually, she will sit at the closed gate barking at anyone who comes close, but today we’re here so she’s locked up. Kane takes us to look through the shed window that backs onto the small courtyard where she’s kept. She looks like she’s pacing in slow motion; it could be due to her kinetic might or the fact that the observer’s adrenaline is through the roof. Either way: terrifying.

After showing us the dog, the straight-faced and still topless Kane gets on a dirt bike with a front plate that reads ‘BBCC 666’ and beckons us to follow. He gives the grand tour of the gardens. Despite the fact that he’s impossible to read emotionally, it’s suddenly obvious he’s showing off with the air of a kid who is pretending they’re not showing off: tossing his chin up as he passes us, riding around a field bigger than a football pitch and casually doing wheelies for thirty meters. 

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Spending time in their company is like hanging out with your older brother and his mates as a kid: you constantly feel like they’re about to salt some slugs or trick you into drinking an indigestible “potion”. Their stories are 10/10: for example, when they visited London recently they were outside a funeral, all three with nos balloons in their mouths and one of them pissing. A distraught man comes out and tells them “can you not lads, we’re having a funeral in here”. Their general knowledge is even more entertaining; Kane tells me, very seriously, that if you put a chicken in front of a straight line drawn on the ground it will become hypnotised and deathly still. (As proof, he spends five minutes trying to load a YouTube video on his phone of a Japanese game show where this was demonstrated.) 

If BBCC can pull you into their own fluid banter you’ll get on with them, but they’re completely unbothered if you don’t. The crew is its own self-sustaining microcosm and they’re high on the experience of it.

Noisey Cover Story September 2021: Bad Boy Chiller Crew

Bad Boy Chiller Crew. Photos by Chris Bethell.

The three boys are leaning across a dirt bike to be photographed and start talking about hair loss. “You’re balding,” Kane tells Clive, whose apparently thinning mullet is tossing about in the wind. Gareth says that men often go bald young. “Then I’ll have to get a transplant with you,” Clive tells Gareth, who laughs that transplants fucking hurt, rubbing his own recently refurbished hairline. Each of them is so different that they’re a mismatched motley crew, but it works – partly due to their common goal of hustling hard and seeking fame and riches. They all give the same approximation of their characters as Clive does: “Gareth’s the confident one, the speaker. Kane’s the serious one, the genius. I’m just a fucking idiot.”

As individuals, cut off from the BBCC life-force, they’re more reserved. Gareth, the confident one, grew up in Bradford with a little sister. Their parents split up when he was 11, so he went to live with his dad and his sister with their mum. “We had a proper family estate life. That’s why I think it was challenging and I went a bit mental,” the 26-year-old remembers. He went on a rampage of being kicked out of “more or less every secondary school in Bradford” and eventually from a bad behaviour school where he had one-on-one tuition. He was even arrested as a child for smashing up a classroom and held in a cell for four hours.

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Essentially barred from every educational facility in the area, at age 15 his last school referred him to college for a cooking course. There, his anger and lack of respect for other people dissipated – he found the kitchen tasks therapeutic. As he’d later find with music, there was a joy to doing something where you could see clearly why you’re doing it, versus, say, at school completing tasks with no obvious purpose. He was doing something that needed to be done. 

Noisey Cover Story September 2021: Bad Boy Chiller Crew

Gareth of BBCC. Photos by Chris Bethell.

After Gareth passed his NVQ level 2 at 16, he worked as a qualified chef at a nursery, a diner, and then as a Sous Chef at a casino. He had two children at 17 and 18; by his own admission he was young and didn’t necessarily prioritise being a father. By 19 he had left his straight job to take drugs and become a DJ. First it was DJing at pubs and local boozers and parties, then he graduated to pirate radio and eventually reached Bradford nightclubs, becoming well-known on the Bradford nightlife scene. Whether it was the positive reinforcement he got from punters or a feeling that he was living in some sort of alignment, Gareth just knew he would be famous. He started making comedy sketches on social media, which is how the other two members of BBCC – who were making funny content for social media as a duo – learned of him.

Soon a diet of unhealthy food and drugs left Gareth feeling consistently terrible, and he was addicted to ketamine and cocaine (he went to rehab again for ketamine addiction, finishing in February of this year). At 20-years-old he was 25 stone. His dad took him to Spain for four months to relax and get sober. In that space of time he lost six of his 25 stones, but no number of chest presses could change the shape of his upper torso so he later got chest reduction surgery in Turkey. Gareth has been open about his cosmetic enhancements, which also include veneers and a hair transplant – posting about them on social media with both self-deprecating humour and pride. 

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“I do it because there could be someone out there suffering with themselves. I’m a bit of a public figure, I like to put out there it is alright, you can [have cosmetic procedures] whether you work hard, you don’t work, whatever money you have you can get work done and feel more confident. It’s definitely made me feel more confident,” he says and laughs, “I’ve got more surgery than Katie Price.” He shows me a photo of him with his previous partner and their little boy on his phone. He looks unrecognisable: a quiet, aggressively normal man. “It’s mad innit,” he grins. 

Noisey Cover Story September 2021: Bad Boy Chiller Crew

Photo: Kane of BBCC, by Chris Bethell

Kane, the genius, speaks so fast it’s like a footballer dancing around a ball, coming at the sentence in multiple different directions. As a kid he played the sport every night – one activity on a long itinerary his parents developed to keep him entertained and happy. By secondary school he was “a waste of space” and a “proper little bastard”. Besides bunking school and asking addicts to buy him booze and cigarettes, he was good at art. His first dream career besides football was vamping cars Pimp My Ride-style. When he started doing comedy videos in his first miserable job it scratched a similar itch to the art and car styling; it allowed him to stop the mantra he’d been repeating for years: “What do I do?” With the videos, he could see his progression. “Even when we were getting smelly little 100, 200 quids for shout outs and that, the thought in my head was ‘imagine doing that five times a week’.” 

Now 24, creating these videos brought Kane out of his shell, gave him a way to express himself: “I was very shy. I never used to have Facebook or any of that, the only thing I had was Snapchat because that wasn’t writing. I used to look at people writing statuses and they’d have a Facebook persona and it used to make me cringe. But Snapchat, you can be yourself. You can see something funny and video it and share it with your mates.” 

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“That’s the other thing,” he adds, “I like making people laugh – we all do.” 

Meanwhile, the idiot, Clive – who is anything but; shy one-on-one, practically melting into the furthest side of the sofa – was doing something similar: making videos on Snapchat and dreaming of a life beyond a job fitting air ventilation systems. Clive was longtime friends with Kane from school, where he was an entrepreneur – using bus and school dinner money from his mum to buy chocolate bars and Lucozades to upsell at school – but they usually met up afterwards because Kane bunked off so much. During the day at their last “normal” job packing boxes together, they plotted out videos and afterwards ran home to make them. “It’s just making people smile. People are on about their depression and how the video made them laugh or something and it’s like, OK, at least I’m doing something decent,” thought 24-year-old Clive at the time. “We’re not just polluting kids.”

Noisey Cover Story September 2021: Bad Boy Chiller Crew

Photo: Clive of BBCC, by Chris Bethell

The pair met Gareth, started creating videos with him, and something clicked: they were supercharged as a trio. Gareth adored being the centre of attention and Clive was willing to be the second face, despite becoming increasingly introverted over the past two years. Kane was almost always behind the camera, reluctant to make a tit of himself. Videos ranged from challenges and full mini TV-sketches – a “Gumsucker trial” where a local toothless old guy and regular star of their content is invited to eat different foodstuffs; the adventures of recurring hopeless couple Mandy and Fez played by Gareth and Clive – to still life and real life – eating fried eggs off their unconscious mate during the sesh; celebrating Clive’s negative clap test result with champagne and Jagermeister. 

These are the videos that brought them local fame throughout 2019 and 2020, with an uptick across the country when everyone was inside scrolling during the pandemic. Now signed to Relentless Records in partnership with House Anxiety and bringing in over 10M views on music videos, both Clive and Kane feel uncomfortable about continuing to make the content that drew in their original audience.

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“It wouldn’t benefit the music, it could be detrimental,” explains Kane carefully. “We were never trying to offend anyone, we just wanted to make people laugh as much as we could.” He contrasts the comedy with what you’d see on TV, an industry helmed by the middle and upper classes. “You’ve got to remember, if you live on an estate, everyone’s a character. They’re not what you see on TV, what’s ‘normal’ on there. If you go on a night out on an estate you have a right laugh because everyone’s funny. Nobody cares what anybody thinks about them, because people probably judge them as it is.” Much of what they joked about on camera was directly lifted from their own lives; Mandy and Fez were based on the “down and outs” the boys would see on their estates. 

As their music expands to meet new audiences, regionally and across the world, they understand they’ll be perceived in a different way. What could be read out of context in bad faith as Little Britain-esque sketches is their innocent banter toeing the line of acceptability. There’s a sense that everything that began as a joke – the core ethos of BBCC is and always will be to make people laugh while having a laugh – is now to be taken seriously. “Even ‘Clive’ was a joke and now it’s my name. I used to be a bad drunk, rude and nasty, it was Jekyll and Hyde so they used to call me Clive,” explains Clive. He repeats the words ‘Bad Boy Chiller Crew’ to himself. “We used to laugh our heads off seeing that and it just became a brand.” 

Noisey Cover Story September 2021: Bad Boy Chiller Crew

Photo: Kane of BBCC, by Chris Bethell.

The brand produced joke music at first. Comparisons were made to Kurupt FM – a radio station crew in a mockumentary show about UK Garage – but there was no light mockery of people or their culture in BBCC and their work. It was a celebration of everything around them. Their first mixtape Git Up Mush was sold in vape and convenience stores in Bradford and direct to fans. “These probably didn’t,” says Kane of the crew, “but I knew we’d get somewhere with it, because there was nothing out there like it. We were doing something different.”

All three of them grew up immersed in bassline music, a sound that if they didn’t hear at home (Kane was tortured by his dad constantly playing Elvis Presley), they heard everywhere in Bradford. Once they settled into the idea of making music, they had minimal funds to create it. “When we first started we were looking for old songs to rap over,” Kane remembers. “There was hardly anything that didn’t have singing on, that sounded good enough, and with spaces long enough for us to MC over. But once we found a sound it was like we knew what we were doing.” Combining organ house and bassline tracks, they used generic pitched-up female vocals – copyright free and all they could afford – to create a sound that was, to them and their fans, catchy and distinctive. It’s the music of 90s school discos, Panda Pops and hysterical fairground rides. It’s ten gags a minute, lyrics about stealing people’s birds, doing lines and living for the weekend.

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By the release of “450”, each member of BBCC realised that they actually had talent. Kane had MCed a little for fun and Clive, whose only experience rapping was listening to his favourite artist Eminem as a kid, was learning quickly from Kane. For this upcoming album, they had the funds to supersize the music and move away from copyright-free vocals. “Now the songs sound very, very good,” Kane says comically bluntly.

Exactly a week later, at a free show in London at Notting Hill Arts Club, fans of all ages from teenagers to those seemingly in their 50s line-up outside. The vast majority have travelled down from the north. When BBCC step out of their car stationed at the back of the venue, they toss their bodies out. The ITV2 camera crew are roving about and each of the boys plays up to their presence, inhaling balloons and jeering. Gareth and Clive in particular are crawling out of their skin with eagerness to get into the club. It’s impossible to hold a conversation with them. This is BBCC doing what they do. 

On stage, they’re barely organised chaos. Gareth collects hands and fist-bumps people, stomping across stage when he has to deliver a line or initiate a back-and-forth with the audience. An extra wavey Clive jumps and sways around, but not a single word is fumbled. An inevitably topless Kane is the star: centre stage and po-faced with the gravitational centre of a bull. He’s a legitimately great MC. Men in the front row start taking their shirts off like they’ve seen God. Each song registers at a cocaine frequency and fills the room with something like pure joy. At the start of “450”, a shirtless male fan is pulled on stage by Kane and raps the whole song word-for-word into a mic. For those three minutes BBCC’s success is for this lad, too.

Noisey Cover Story September 2021: Bad Boy Chiller Crew

Bad Boy Chiller Crew. Photos by Chris Bethell.

Legitimate spotlights are focusing on Bad Boy Chiller Crew, and they can’t turn away from the light now they’ve found it. At the farmhouse, Clive, the member who has taken the intrusion of their newfound fame the hardest, expresses that their formative years are truly over. “We can’t ever go back to Bradford and live a normal life. We’ll get hounded and be depressed. I was really paranoid, I didn’t leave my house unless I was doing a video. I couldn’t go anywhere. You’d go up the pub and get bothered in the pub. I went out for some pizza with my girlfriend before and this table noticed me and they got their kids running past me playing videos and it made me look like a right cunt. All I was trying to do was eat my food, but I can’t fucking go out.” He attributes this paranoia of being constantly surveilled to his anxiety, too, but says the others feel similarly. 

Has his anxiety got notably worse over the last two years? “One hundred percent. You’ve always got that thought in your head when there’s a fan: ‘are they a fan?” He returns to the situation in Morrisons that day. “He just put me off what I was doing completely; I just wanted to get out the fucking shop. People think I’m pissed all the time and they put their arms all over me, and I’m trying to do my shopping with my basket in my hand and I’m on the phone or something.” 

The difference between the boys as people and the boys when doing what they do is significant. Even – especially – Bradford doesn’t feel comfortable to Clive anymore. “I could go back to Leeds, Newcastle, Middlesbrough and people notice us, we’ve got a big following there. But it’s different in Bradford, it feels like everyone’s jealous. No one will come up to you but they know who you are. You can tell they’re talking about you, it just sends your head a bit weird.”

Their debut album will have everyone talking; that’s always been the intention. As Kane says: “We aren’t stupid, we want to be as big as we can. If that means changing to be commercial then that’s what we’ll do.” From a brief sampler, the album seems to have airhorn moments of their old bassline and organ house sound but more accessible club bangers; a something for everyone buffet. With that comes the opportunity for the music to be taken at face value. “People are gonna realise we aren’t jokers, we’re serious,” says Gareth. “The words in our lyrics actually demonstrate who we are and where we’ve come from without any gangster acting. We’re just chavs from an estate and that’s who we are.” 

Noisey Cover Story September 2021: Bad Boy Chiller Crew

Photo: Bad Boy Chiller Crew, by Chris Bethell

Art still imitates life and always will for BBCC. “What you hear is what you get: from getting a better bike, to better clothes... better birds,” Gareth laughs. “You write about the now and what’s going on in the world, but we’ll always write about Bradford. Always, until we die.”

The shadows grow long across the farm and Clive is busy organising what they might shoot if ITV2 turn up tonight. It’s a choice between getting pissed at the pub or getting pissed doing paintball. Gareth is mooching about the kitchen, alternately swiping on dating apps and firming merch and business deals over the phone, while Kane rears his head to smoke a spliff and sort out the dirt bikes. They’re working hard, sure, but to the haters, the secret to BBCC’s success must be infuriatingly simple. As Clive says, smoothing his mullet, “We’ve come from having absolutely nowt and we made something from having a laugh and taking the piss with mates. It’s mad, really.” 

@hannahrosewens

All photography by Chris Bethell.