The Yorkshire hip-hop trio show how to electrify a crowd while shaking off the “self-indulgent wankery” of yesteryear’s rock stars.
It’s cold and dark on the Clyde, but punters don’t seem put off. A frenetic, nervous energy moves through the queue snaking parallel to the river, hidden away from the water by the walled train tracks that run overhead. Weather aside, the whole affair feels very Last Days of Summer – girls wear neon-to-make-your-eyes-hurt outfits last seen in August festival crowds, lads Under Armour-ed to boot. Girls ahead of me spot a Ford Ranger zipping down the road and the wild screams quickly reveal who’s inside – or outside, rather. Clive, one of three in Bad Boy Chiller Crew, a Bradford Bassline group enjoying viral success, is pouring champagne from the windows. The trio certainly know how to work a crowd. Plastered across the back of the four-by-four, a banner declares “Farmers’ Lives Matter”. The irreverence of it all is undeniably fun to get swept up in. Today’s rock stars speak in thick West Yorkshire accents, have crowds shouting “no divvies round here mush” in their own Glaswegian tones, and overall shake off the self-indulgent wankery of the Damon Albarn/Pete Doherty years of pop mischief.
And this is where the group excel – three natural-born salesmen with a media-savvy manager in Darren Booth, recently negotiating a recording contract with independent label Relentless, the former home of icons like Ms Dynamite and Artful Dodger. Throughout the gig the crowd are asked to get their phones out; a sea of lights held aloft by admiring disciples to capture footage which then gets reposted to viral effect across the group’s social media. Clive, who sports an impressive mullet, trades his kilt for a girl’s bra – the crowd are screaming. You get the sense from the start that it’s not the music the crowd are here for: it’s the people performing.
This makes sense when you look at the group’s origins; copious amounts of Glen’s Vodka, thick regional accents, and a West Yorkshire Jackass outfit made this lot big, and they’re doing well to capitalise out of it. The comparisons to BBC Three mockumentary’s People Just Do Nothing’s Kurupt FM come thick and fast. It’s no wonder the lot have gone and got their own ITV show, pinned as an “observational comedy”.
The music itself builds on a sort of “Bassline-Regionalism”: Liverpudlians enjoy Scouse House, Tyneside has Genno D, Bradford proudly houses DJ Innes and now the BBCC outfit. Local towns will have their own famed MCs and tracks (light entertainment: for a taste of my hometown Lancaster’s musical talents, see 808 Marsh Estate on YouTube). The shortness of Bad Boy Chiller Crew’s set is reflective of their shallow ambitions for musical careers. Listened to in isolation, it could easily be a brief but sparky Soundcloud mix, with little to distinguish the tracks from one another.
They say the lyric “serves as an expression of intense personal experience”. When Billie Holiday sang “Southern trees bear a strange fruit/ Blood at the leaves, blood at the root”, she expressed a pain at the racial oppression of Black communities in the Deep South. As Elton John cried “Lord I miss Daniel, I miss him so much”, he was yearning for a friend who’d taken their own life. When Bad Boy Chiller Crew’s Kane raps “Red light, risk it, bitch, I’m a charva, Big Goose parka, all-black ‘clava”, I’m unsure quite what intense personal experience he seeks to elicit. Perhaps that’s one for the fans.