Dozens of teenagers have the building surrounded. Outside the front entrance of the venue – Nottingham’s Rock City, a 2000-capacity hall that, over four decades, has played host to the likes of Nirvana, Public Enemy and Arctic Monkeys – a swathe of young fans, bedecked in bucket hats and loose trackies, are waiting outside a cordoned-off door that is rumoured to be a secret entrance for their favourite group. Dedicated and excitable, at least 40 of them have gathered, battling blustery winds, risking it all on a rumour that the object of their fandom will be coming out to greet them.
It’s a cold, dreary Tuesday afternoon, and here, the snaking queue that has formed is growing so rapidly that a security guard has to keep walking away, sighing, to fetch more barriers. The doors for tonight’s show don’t open until 7pm. It’s going to be a long few hours.
The fans are waiting for Bad Boy Chiller Crew, Britain’s most lively new band. Made up of Gareth Kelly, Kane Welsh, and Clive (Sam) Robinson, the trio are part ridiculously entertaining MCs, part producers, part social media comedians. And today, an ITV2 camera crew is also on-site, filming for a six-part, unscripted, currently-untitled docu-series that is due to air next month. They’ve followed the boys throughout a triumphant festival run this summer, which included some of their biggest shows to date at Parklife and Reading & Leeds, the latter of which NME described as a “celebration of youth and young mashhood”.
For the past three years, the Bad Boy Chiller Crew phenomenon has proudly stormed its way past onlookers, raving, drinking, skanking with its middle fingers up. It started in summer 2018 when the group, then three friends working low-wage jobs around Bradford, began posting unfiltered comedy skits to social media, including recurring sketches of Mandy and Fez played by Gareth and Clive – an argumentative couple inspired by the “ridiculous characters” that they grew up with. Oh, and there was the time they took a dump in their manager’s spare prosthetic leg – but that video got deleted by Facebook’s servers for obvious reasons.
“We know people that are far more badly behaved than us – but we’re just the silly c**ts that went out there and put our lives on social media,” Kane tells NME backstage later that day. “If I had kids, I wouldn’t let them watch our videos.
“But we don’t give a fuck about what people think of us. We’re not trying to be role models for anyone – all we want to do is make people laugh. We’re doing this to make people feel good because it’s a shit world out there.”
Beyond the off-colour humour, the members of the Crew shared something special: an enviable knowledge of west Yorkshire’s history of bassline and organ house music, the region that spawned T2’s genre classic ‘Heartbroken’. Since the release of last year’s debut EP, ‘Full Wack No Brakes’, they have transcended their comedy origins, and formed the nucleus of something that’s been missing in British music for some time: an exciting, youthful scene whose leaders refuse to take themselves too seriously. Their biggest single, the fluorescent-hued ‘Don’t You Worry About Me’ – which appeared on this year’s polished five-track effort ‘Charva Anthems’ – even broke the Top 40 over the summer.
They’re so enthusiastic about the music they’re making that their conversation is breathless and overlapping – even though they’re visibly tired and nearing the end of their first-ever headline tour, which takes in 11 UK cities in just over a fortnight, including a massive homecoming show at Bradford’s St George’s Hall.
But between inhaling balloons and singing directly into the dictaphone at random intervals, the Crew’s hyperactive energy can feel slippery and uncontrollable. It’s undoubtedly a core component of their sound – an amused detachment that gives them the freedom to make music as loud and boisterous as they’d like, while ensuring it’s never taken as a joke.
When the band started out, their lyrics about dirt bikes, designer clothing and going on benders meant that comparisons were made to Kurupt FM, the parody pirate radio crew from BBC mockumentary People Just Do Nothing. This was unfair, they say, as the music (within which they are all equally dexterous MCs), was a result of necessity rather than anything else: when few of their friends liked bassline, they grouped together. They have since become unique and indivisible rappers that accentuate each other’s strengths, and trade equal bars.
“If I had kids, I wouldn’t let them watch our videos” – Kane Welsh
“We know exactly who we are and what people think we are – and we own it,” says Gareth. “We’ve always had a plan; when we used to do the videos and those early, joke-y songs, the amount of people that would message us saying that our humour helped them through their depression was amazing. If we can help people to escape from their day-to-day lives for five minutes, then let’s fucking do it.”
This desire for moments of ecstatic, life-affirming freedom appears in their music, too: over liquid beats and pacey BPMs, they rap about the highs of partying throughout songs that are made for those very moments. “Check me stress free, man I love life / Young minds gotta unwind sometimes / Step in the club and have fun”, boasts Gareth on ‘Needed You’. The sentiment may read simply, but for the young listeners who lost out on nearly two years of formative teenage experiences throughout the pandemic – festivals, holidays with friends, endless raves – their meaning feels important and profound. It has connected better than anyone could have anticipated – the Crew are certainly selling the good life.
They continue to drip-feed regular comedy content to their Facebook and Instagram pages, which usually involves drinking challenges or pranking their team – and they don’t regret any of the skits that they uploaded, even if eating a fry-up off an unconscious mate during an afterparty might be distasteful to some. “We still post videos, but we pushed our first album back so that people have more time to realise that the music we make is serious,” says Clive. “Put it this way: as soon as we get an idea, we’ll get in the studio and a single will be out in a few days. It’s as easy as that.”
Their first CD ‘Git Up Mush’, which was sold in vape shops and hand-delivered to fans around Bradford in 2019, was handmade by the boys, who sourced copyright-free vocals from online sample library Splice for their songs’ choruses – a production method they continued for their first two EPs. Now, their ambitions for their music reach much greater heights: “Tell Elton John that if he clears the ‘Are You Ready For Love’ vocals, we’ll remix it,” Kane says. “We’d collaborate with him and make a proper banger.” Your move, Rocketman.
When the trio signed a deal with Sony imprint Relentless Records (Headie One, Maluma) in late 2020, it was one of the first times they met face-to-face with the music industry. Gareth remembers the night they were introduced to a team of label heads at a central London hotel. “We had Relentless and Warner [Records] both fighting for us while they were in the same building. And fucking hell, we did a few days in the hotel and ran up a £15,000 bill on drinks and room service…”
Clive adds: “It got to the point where we were chucking these massive steaks at each other. We kept ordering them over and over, so we had steaks flying around the fucking room!”
“People see themselves in us. They’ve finally found a group that they can relate to” – Kane Welsh
He jumps off the sofa and begins to recreate the Jackass-worthy scene he has just described by throwing a cushion into the air. His bandmates burst into laughter. In moments like these, you come to understand that, with Bad Boy Chiller Crew, sometimes it is not enough to just go out in search of chaos, it is more often about making your own – and hoping you get away with it.
After Clive sits back down, Gareth turns to face NME head-on, so that we lock eyes. “Obviously, we’re a bit more professional now,” he says. He tries to conceal a little smirk when we tell him that we’re struggling to believe him. “You have to remember that we had absolutely fuck all when were younger. When you have all of this excess presented to you, it doesn’t feel real.”
At times, chatting to Bad Boy Chiller Crew can be a bit like directing chaos. When Clive walks out mid-interview to collect a Deliveroo order of vodka slush puppies, he fails to return. But ask any of the trio about their relationship with their hometown and there’s reason to believe that they use their behaviour as a shield: talking to a journalist at length about the two things most important to them – music and Bradford – is clearly an unnerving process.
“Not many people our age from Bradford do well,” says Kane. “So the people that you thought you were friends with… they aren’t the type of people to go out and buy a ticket for one of our shows. They don’t want to support us out of pride.”
“But beyond that, there’s fucking thousands of us out there – you just don’t know the others’ stories because they’re lads and lasses from estates. That’s why we do so well, because people see themselves in us. They’ve finally found a group that they can relate to.”
They say that they’re unable to walk comfortably around Bradford these days out of fear of being mobbed, and their community now sees them as a canvas to pin their hopes and dreams on – something which they reference on latest single ‘Bikes N’ Scoobys’: “Celebrate for the things we done / Bro, man, I made it out/Home soon gotta hold it down”, raps Kane.
As Gareth explains: “We don’t feel like celebrities, but we can’t go anywhere anymore. It’s a headfuck knowing that we can’t ever go back to normal jobs.
“This isn’t about proving people wrong – they’ll eventually understand our vision” – Gareth Kelly
“To be honest, there is jealousy from people back home, but we haven’t really had much love from the music industry either. We’re not a proper boyband. There’s nothing normal about us. We haven’t ever asked for any handouts and every single thing that we do is new. But this is not about proving people wrong – they’ll eventually understand our vision.”
Do you have any sort of pact? If one leaves because of the pressure, will the others follow?
“Bad Boy Chiller Crew is a team,” Kane affirms. “If one of them fucked off and didn’t want to do this, then we wouldn’t be us anymore. Everyone plays their part – this is about more than just the music.”
An hour later, just before he’s called to the stage, Clive makes it his mission to make amends. When we cross paths outside the venue’s stage door, he apologises for leaving halfway through our interview earlier and hands over a peace offering of sorts. It’s a pair of garishly bright yellow and purple BBCC-branded biker gloves that read ‘Full Wack’ on one palm and ‘No Brakes’ on the other. “Sorry – it were a good chat, earlier,” he says, looking to the floor as he gently fluffs his mullet. “Try these on.”
When we hold the gloves to his face, he creases up laughing. Clive, the quiet soul and reluctant mediator of the group, has come back down to Earth.
The following day, throughout our cover shoot at London’s Electric Brixton, where they play in the evening, a glaring issue hangs over the afternoon: the boys’ rider is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Clive has jumped behind the bar and is juggling multiple cans of Red Stripe (which he pinched from the fridge) with the same skill and bravado as a cocktail bartender. Kane eggs him on while filming an Instagram story, his laugh reverberating against the room’s acoustics. Gareth, meanwhile, has spilt beer down his white shirt. We haven’t even started shooting yet.
“Things are going well, given that this is our first tour,” Kane says later on, while NME’s photographer takes some topless shots of Gareth, who is flexing his new tattoo: a tiger’s face that covers the length of his back. “A year ago, we couldn’t have imagined that we’d be playing rooms like this one now. We wouldn’t have even dared.”
The gig itself is a heady blur of floor-wide moshpits and burgundy and yellow scarves. Two songs in, when the beat drops during ‘Get Out My Head’, the thousands of gun fingers that fill the air are so direct and pointed that with a single misstep, one could take your eye out.
“Tell Elton John if he clears a sample, we’ll remix it and make a proper banger” – Kane Welsh
Clive, who has perhaps been the most guarded member of the group throughout our two days together, adopts the role of a wired-up ringmaster on stage. He jumps around with the free use of his limbs, flinging his arms out when each chorus hits, for emphasis.
Watching from the back of the room, the boys show a looser side to themselves as they mimic each other’s goofy dance moves. As the silliness ensues, NME thinks about what Kane said last night when asked if they ever get a break from each other. “Sometimes, I just need my own fucking space. Don’t get it twisted, though. We love what we do but we don’t ever get time to just chill. Like, we never switch off.”
“With the tour, the documentary and the fact that we’re always making music, I think that we work harder than anyone else. But when we’re on stage, that’s when we have the best laughs. Performing live doesn’t feel like work.”
It’s encouraging that Kane already has an awareness of his own limitations. He’s the first to admit that the group have never played a show sober (“we make party songs – you can’t go out and party and not have a drink”) and that the pace they are currently working at is not sustainable. But positive changes are being made: as soon as the cameras stop rolling, the boys will be taking some time off. For all their reputation for provocation, Bad Boy Chiller Crew are very well aware of the limitations of being in a group as in-demand as theirs, and of how damaging to mind and body it could be.
They refuse to stop until then, though – a band this exciting aren’t going to sit still for long. The new songs being worked on veer from being “bolder, more funky” to “house-y as fuck”. But before they worry about finalising those, there’s more sold-out shows to play, documentary interviews to be filmed, hotel rooms to consider trashing. And of course, more steaks to be thrown about.
With the freedom of working with a smaller team – “we don’t need anyone to represent us, we know what we’re worth” – and a mixtape due in early 2022 to back it all up, they are set for the journey of a lifetime, marked by plenty more misadventures. From the brief sampler that NME has heard, the new music features the rib-achingly funny bars and playful pacing of old, but with choppy beats that sit closer to colourful, chart-baiting club bangers than bassline’s classic breaks. But, as we already know, confounding expectations is key to the Crew’s work.
So, with the world at their feet, what do they want to do with it?
The focus is now – as it always has been, and always will be – to take Bradford to the world. Chart (and reality TV) domination is in their grasp, and Bad Boy Chiller Crew are unafraid to stand before it, mush.
Bad Boy Chiller Crew’s upcoming documentary will air on ITV2 soon.