New adventures for Hard-Fi
The twisted dance-punk of Hard-Fi is inspired by the angst of suburbia. But that hasn’t stopped them reaching for the stars – or breaking into an airport.
Ed Power, 27 Jul 2005
The grimy, far-flung suburbs of south east England provide the chav’s natural habitat. Muscled-up hatchbacks prowl the streets, bleeding hideous techno bass. Upended supermarket trolleys pepper the landscape, abstract art for sink estates. Boredom – a simmering heat-haze of ennui – clogs the air, treacle-thick and overpowering.
Such an environment might strike you or I as a duller kind of hell, but for Hard-Fi, an authentically ‘street’ indie four piece from the butt-end of the London sprawl, the emptiness of the ‘burbs has proved a fruitful wellspring.
“Growing up in a town that’s miles from anything interesting or creative forces you to create your own scene and to make up your own rules,” explains Richard Archer, the band’s pretty-boy singer.
“We didn’t feel we had to follow a scene or do what was cool – ‘cos where we’re from nothing is cool.”
All of which is a roundabout way of announcing that, while Hard-Fi may naggingly remind you of several of your favourite bands – The Clash and The Specials to begin with – they sound like nothing you’ve heard before.
Cutting and pasting genres with the boorish enthusiasm of a boy racer flaunting new alloys, Hard-Fi have patented an aesthetic that is richly – and seductively – evocative of urban Britain, 2005.
Their songs are a broiling soup of influences. Earthy rock moves jostle nastily against nagging dance postures; there are nods towards dub and hip-hop and, amidst the clatter, melodies to kill for.
Yet, in a way, music is the least interesting thing about Hard-Fi. The quartet first came to attention (and scored a record deal) courtesy of a series of stunts they, somewhat grandiosely, have dubbed ‘guerilla art’.
In practice, this involved recording a debut album for 100 quid and sneaking onto a Heathrow airport runway to film a video.
“We didn’t have any interest from record companies – nobody gave a toss about us, so we decided to do it ourselves," explains bassist Kai Stephens (whose previous incarnation as a pest exterminator has imbued him with the air of a hang-man having an especially pissy afternoon).
“For us, breaking into Heathrow with a handheld camera and making a video was a gesture of defiance,” he says. “We thought, ‘This will be a spectacular video – why the hell shouldn’t we have a go?’”
During the shoot a passenger jet almost landed on Hard-Fi – a near disaster they recall with a nostalgic shudder.
“Yeah, a plane came out of nowhere. It scared the living crap out of us, but what the hell. It made for a great video,” enthuses Stephens.
One part of Hard-Fi’s past will forever stalk their present. The band are sons of Staines, a bleak stretch of suburbia that has served as muse to the ‘urban’ satirist Ali G.
Yet, despite Ali G’s attempt to paint Staines as a sort of Anglo-Saxon riff on a ‘70s Bronx ghetto, Hard-Fi are fast to defend their home town. They admit too that the Ali G association hasn’t been completely harmful.
Archer: “We get that Ali G thing all the time. It’s so lame at one level – he was funny at the beginning but got rubbish as soon as Madonna noticed him. On the other hand, the connection gets us noticed. When we did [American indie rock festival] South By South West recently the Staines/ Ali G angle brought people to the shows. I wish the media would bloody stop going on about it. But we can’t say it’s totally a bad thing."