Bradley Gunn Raver: The boy with Asperger’s who grew into a bonafide rave celebrity
“Oh my god! I’ve never met someone famous before!” enthuses a legitimately starstruck French student, “This guy is a legend”. The young lad and his similarly thrilled pals rather tentatively ask if they could pose for a selfie with Bradley. “Sure man!” he replies, with all the unwavering warmth and amiability of someone who hasn’t had to deal with this a million times before. A million times however, is probably not too far off the mark. We’re wandering around the frenzied, bustling halls of London’s Printworks — a 6000 capacity venue recently repurposed from an old printing press, and it’s a completely sold out Adam Beyer daytime event put on by techno specialists LWE. Bradley can’t go 3 minutes without someone scuttling up excitedly, smartphone in hand, to request a picture with him. I ask him whether it ever gets tiring, the droves of strangers perpetually wanting to meet and greet him. A toothy grin wriggles its way out of Bradley’s wiry, face-encapsulating beard. “I don’t mind at all. I actually think it’s really cool, turning up at a random rave in London and people are recognising me; it hasn’t got old just yet!”
For those unacquainted with Bradley Gunn, he is the man that dances. He dances in his bedroom, sometimes broadcasting live via video for the world to see. He dances at his desk whilst he’s developing software during the week. He dances at events all over the country hosted by major promoters such as LWE and Abode, and serves an ambassadorial role for major sober raving promoters Morning Gloryville, acting as a genuine pull for potential ticket-buyers. He once even danced for 38 hours straight, via no less than 4 back-to-back raves over 2015’s new year celebrations. Bradley Gunn loves to dance, and people love him for it. At the time of writing, Bradley’s Facebook fan page has 18,800 likes — more than a hefty few of the producers and DJs that Bradley loves so dearly. He tells me that 2017 is going to be his “biggest year yet”, mentioning that he intends to “become more global”. With international promoters flying Bradley out to Berlin and San Francisco for raves this year, it’s hard to disagree with him.
A childhood school companion of Bradley that I spoke to rather neatly sums up his appeal upon being asked why people gravitate towards him. “It’s the self-purpose and carefree nature, doing exactly what he wants to do, how he wants to do it. He’s simply living his life the only way he knows how: channelling all he has into one thing. Most people can’t really just throw all their eggs in one basket like that. Who among us could simply go raving every weekend and pour our hearts and souls into it like Bradley does? What would you become? Bradley doesn’t have those barriers, and people are probably wishing that they didn’t either.”
Bradley doesn’t so much dance like a man possessed; he dances as though nothing else in the entire world matters. He shimmies and shakes as if the floor was some kind of doomsday pressure sensor, giving the impression that if he were to stop moving his feet with such rabid nonchalance, the universe might just implode around him. Sadly, it’s somewhat of a rarity to see such raw and carefree dancing in clubs these days. The modern club has all too often become a hotbed for chin-stroking hipsters afraid to truly let loose from their inhibitions, fearful that the club photographer might snag them in a sweaty mugshot that they might have to go through the horrible indignity of untagging themselves from later on at home. When Bradley Gunn arrives in the club, he throws these inhibitions right back in their faces, challenging those around him to dare have even half as good a time as he’s having. It was interesting to note the different reactions that people had to Bradley’s dancing at Printworks. Some would simply stop doing whatever it was they were doing and watch in either awe or ridicule — Bradley couldn’t care less which of the two. Others reached for their smartphones, eager to document the unfolding spectacle. Most people however, simply danced harder, infected by Bradley’s sheer desire; upping their dance game around him through the crude contagion of his brute-force will-to-enjoy.
Bradley’s dance moves are made even more astounding by the reality that he is doing all of this stone cold sober. Not a drop of alcohol. Not a trace of anything illegal. Bradley explains to me that before he became a sober-raving phenomenon, club-goers would often approach him to ask “What are you on?” followed by a rather cheeky, “Can I have some?”, because god forbid anybody could be enjoying themselves this much without the assistance of drugs. Bradley, suitably amused, would simply whip out the ergonomically-shaped bottle strapped to his waist and reply, “Water, mate. Do you want some?”
Whilst he is a particularly well-known advocate of sober raving, Bradley isn’t the kind of in-your-face activist that one might associate with certain, more extremist teetotalers that they might have encountered. You won’t find Bradley Gunn doling out tedious lectures on how the cheaply sourced gin and tonic you’re sipping is something akin to liver-suicide, or how the cocaine you’re snorting is funding gang warfare in South America and probably made up of 95% speed, anyway. “To be completely honest with you, I just do what I do because that’s the way I personally prefer to operate. I try not to shove my sobriety down people’s throats.”
Prior to meeting up with him at Printworks, I hadn’t really decided where I stood with Bradley Gunn Raver. He is a novelty to most people, almost like an all-year-round costumed Santa for the club scene to chuckle “heh, that guy…” at whenever a new video of him pops up in their newsfeeds. From the outside, people often dismiss the BGR persona with the kind of “aw, good for you” that is usually reserved for when you see an elderly couple holding hands in the street. But here at Printworks, the sort of place that Bradley describes as “his element”, it’s difficult to maintain such a view. There’s a kind of uniquely intriguing aura to Bradley, particularly if you’ve never met him before. He has a friendly, youthful innocence to his demeanour. As we’re chatting away in the Printworks bar area, a childlike inquisitive tone becomes apparent when we’re engaging in smalltalk about our respective lives. If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Bradley, you’ll find that he is genuinely interested in whatever you have to say, and I’d like to think that you’d share my perception of Bradley as one of the rare nice guys. A true gentleman, who in the blink of an eye can become an infectious centre of attention on the dancefloor.
Speaking to Bradley at Printworks, it’s not abundantly clear that he bears any form of mental ailment. I guess that’s part and parcel of Asperger’s Syndrome; if you don’t know what to look out for you can very easily miss it, or mistake it for something else entirely. The mere fact that he’s attending a club event is testament to how he’s overcome such barriers in his life. By his own admission, Bradley maintains that the Asperger’s doesn’t affect him “in a bad way, nowadays”. Even pre-armed with the knowledge that Bradley does suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome, it would be easy to dismiss his case as one that rests at the more manageable, milder end of the spectrum. That may be the case today, but it hasn’t always been that way.
Upon being asked what he’d say in a conversation with his schoolboy self, Bradley’s answer is telling in its frankness. “I don’t know how that would go man. It would just be awkward. I was very different back then; I certainly wouldn’t be having the kind of conversation we’re having now.” The childhood school companion that Bradley grew up with echoes his sentiment, “Going through school years with a developmental disorder was probably quite an ordeal. Not everybody was on the same page as him, so I can imagine it was quite a difficult experience.”
I can visibly see that talking about such sensitive matters is ever so slightly unsettling him — a hesitation here, a nervy smile there. But through the self-imposed interests of openness and honesty, Bradley continues to explain his childhood. “When I was younger it was different to how it is now, and the Asperger’s was harder to deal with. I’d find social situations to be awkward and I didn’t like to travel because it made me feel nervous. I was a very closed off person. I’d stay at home playing video games alone because it just felt overwhelming to try to mix with people.” It beggars belief how this nervous, timid and travel-shy Bradley Gunn of yesteryear has grown into the globe-trotting, bonafide minor celebrity that he is today. As we’re ambling about during one of Bradley’s very brief interludes from dancing at Printworks, it’s getting late on in the day and the rave is now in full swing at peak hours, and Bradley still can’t go a few minutes without a stranger wanting to talk to him, or asking if they could have a photo taken with him. Much to Bradley’s credit, he’s absolutely at ease with such spontaneous social interaction that may have caused him untold anxiety in the past.
The degree by which Bradley appears to have learned to deal with his Asperger’s is impressive, and the manner in which he achieved it just as much. “Around the time I turned 18, I went to my first rave with a close friend of mine. It was held in a little village hall as a surprise for someone who was leaving town.” Dancing and music, as it turns out, were the catalysts to bringing young Bradley out of his shell. “It was like throwing myself into the deep end; heading full steam into what I was uncomfortable with. I used all that negative energy and channelled it to push myself into a positive state, which really empowered me.” At this point Bradley raises two fingers and a thumb, shaped like a pistol. Within a dancefloor context the ‘gunfingers’ are usually reserved for the most jaw-dropping of tracks played in clubs — or ‘bangers’, as those more acquainted might say. “It made my mind go pew pew pew”.
Kids, as we may already know, can be ruthless when they figure out that one of their peers is different. As a young man brought up with Asperger’s Syndrome, Bradley knows this better than anyone. “Of course there was bullying man, I just took it as a general way that kids behaved. I mean, it was bad at the time, but I think it put an extra layer of thick skin on me. I was bullied for ages in school, but I learned not to care about it.” Bradley’s school companion sheds more light on the matter, “Most kids just didn’t really understand mental illness, or Bradley at all for that matter. I think the characteristics simply translated to the kids as someone who was different. Unfortunately, in a secondary school with immature young children, that led to bullying. For Bradley, I’m aware that was probably a large part of his childhood.”
It’s evident in one swift glance that Bradley has learned not to care what other people think about him from a young age. Every aspect of his distinctly recognisable, utilitarian appearance is geared towards dialling in his rave experience, rather than for the purpose of appearing fashionable. The raggedy auburn beard gives him the illusion of age beyond his 21 years. The steampunk-esque goggles resting atop his forehead allow for an element of anonymity among the crowded dancefloor when they’re pulled over his eyes. The skin-tight lycra bottoms ensure utmost comfort and freedom of movement whilst he’s shuffling away. The fanny-pack strapped to his waist carries his hydration supply among various other essentials. In an age where people so often allow themselves to be defined by their appearance, Bradley’s middle-finger at convention is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Despite his experiences with bullying, Bradley seems to possess the empathy to understand that kids are just kids, and realises that over the years, people do change. “The thing is, the guys who used to bully me are all different now. They’re all really nice people.” He bears no grudges against those who’d made his school years so difficult, “I don’t hold anything against them, and I don’t think I should block them out just because of things they said or did years ago.”
I mention to Bradley that his trials and tribulations could be perceived as somewhat of a model success story in people who’ve grown up with Asperger’s Syndrome. Being the modest man that he is, Bradley is reluctant to accept such praise, but does offer some advice for young children suffering from the condition. “Go at your own pace. If you try and rush, it won’t help at all, but do try to experiment a little bit. Put yourself in an uncomfortable situation; if you don’t like it you can always get out. Try to learn to get used to uncomfortable situations, and you might just learn to enjoy them too. How else will you find out what you may have been missing out on?”
Glancing at the clock on my phone, I snap out of the captivation of our conversation. I realise I’ve probably spent a little bit too much time talking very sensitive matters with Bradley, on a day when he was likely expecting to come to a rave and just have some light-hearted fun. Bradley being Bradley however, is one step ahead of me. “That’s probably enough chat for today, isn’t it?” I nod back at it him, to which he utters his three favourite words, “Let’s go dance.”