Hard-Fi: on racism, Staines and Coldplay

“I’m gonna rise/I’m gonna shine” – Richard Archer, 2001, singing with his old band Contempo on ‘Ain’t Going Out Tonight’

If we really are “Generation ASBO”, mobilised by the war, defined by Vicky Pollard, victimised by the Daily Mail and living for weekends on a miserly wage, then our soundtrack to the party of life, our best excuse to dance, should un-questionably be Hard-Fi. Their (near)-Mercury Prize winning (Richard: “As it happens we were one vote away, it was that close”) debut album ‘Stars Of CCTV’, is a ringing call of defiance from the anti-inspirational suburbs, a mix of ska and house and soul and garage-rock that is as poignant as it is hedonistic. It is still the finest British album this writer has heard all year.
Richard Archer, the band’s wide-eyed frontman, agrees:
“I think it’s the best record of the year. I have to say it’s the best, otherwise how can I expect people to go out and spend ten quid on it? We never wanna take the piss out of our fans”
Sitting forward on a brown leather couch in a small room within Atlantic Records HQ, Richard isn’t merely massaging his own ego, keeping one eye out for a potential soundbite; he speaks with a genuine, un-shakeable belief in his music.
“We made our record for three hundred quid in a lock-up in Staines, with budget equipment and a computer that kept crashing, and we’re up against Coldplay, who probably made their record for hundreds and thousands of pounds” he reasons, still discussing the Mercury shortlist.

Hard-Fi are a band refreshingly hard to categorise, something that comes from their perpetual love for good music, whatever its background.
Richard: “We used to set up decks in the back of a pub in Staines, cos there was nothing else to do…you’d probably hear ‘Crazy In Love’ next to, say, ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’”
The Smoke warms to this theme. Any specific influences the band would name?
“You can just reel off bands: say the Stones, Dexy’s, Smiths, Happy Mondays, Nirvana, Massive Attack, The Streets’ first record, Public Enemy, a lot of house music…I love 60s soul music, I love reggae. We’ve kinda always been into music for music’s sake”

During the late 70s/early 80s, bands like The Clash and The Specials would play under the ‘Rock Against Racism’ banner, a movement Hard-Fi are also keen to support.
“A 14 year old kid now has got no idea who The Clash are, but these problems are still around. You have to have new groups making a stand so people can relate. Look at the Anthony Walker case, this (racism) is still going on” Richard gesticulates wildly.
“We don’t see ourselves as a political band, but if you talk about things in real life in your lyrics, things that you believe in, then that’s intrinsically linked to politics, you can’t get away from it”
Above all, it’s these lyrics that have seen Hard-Fi really connect with the down-at-heel kids of depressing satellite towns the length of Britain. As Richard says, they talk about “real-life” with autobiographical license and a heart looking to a happier future. But now that Hard-Fi are actually tasting success? Steve Kemp, drummer, (who halfway through is dragged out of our interview for his own ‘Lost In Translation’ moment with a Japanese television crew), picks up on the subject of lyrical development:
“I don’t think (a second album) will be Hard-Fi on a beach in Miami, do y’know what I mean? We’ve got like a 25 year backlog of that kind of thing, which we’ve grown up with”

And if there is any justice in the world of music these days (in the week of writing the Pussycat Dolls hold Coldplay off number one, so clearly there is), an entire generation of indie kids and Burberry boys will cite ‘Stars Of CCTV’ as the album that they grew up with, that spoke to them at the exact moment they needed someone to re-assure them things would get better.
“We’re a British band, we’ve got a British sound. But what we talk about is universal. There’s towns like Staines all over Britain, all over Europe, all over the world y’know…towns where people are bored, people are bored of being bored, bored of being skint, get their heart broken, sick of their job, they fall in love”
Hard-Fi: band for life.

(An edited version of this interview appeared in Westminster University paper ‘The Smoke’. This one is better as it has more words)

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