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Hard-Fi Biography

Last updated: 09/25/2007 12:00:00 PM

"I wanna be successful." Richard Archer's dark eyes are ablaze, the bloody throat-gristle of modern success clenched in his teeth. "I don't see the point in being just another fuckin' indie band, I wanna sell records in the States. I'm not in competition with Razorlight and The Killers - I like those bands. I'm in competition with fuckin' Eminem. What's the point of being parochial and small-time? You've got to think big."

'Big'? Surely he means 'bigger'? "The smartest new kids on the inner-city tower block", they're saying. "A roar of defiance from below-the-breadline Britain," they slaver. "Hard-Fi speak to the heart of and soul of young Britain more poignantly than a billion Fat Tom From Keanes ever could," they swoon. The debut single gets showered with 'Track Of The Week' plaudits, Zane Lowe pronounces an unmastered copy of the second single 'the hottest record in the world today', Rick Rubin's on the phone declaring the debut album 'groundbreaking'. Fanfared by the dark-hearted, gritty dub-pop of their self-financed 'Stars Of CCTV' mini-album, Hard-Fi are already the best new band of 2005, now it's time to take the knackered council flat lift to the top of the charts...

The beginnings of this Cindarella Of Suburbia tale couldn't be more humble. In the grey dawn of the New Skint Millenium, Richard Archer was sucked back to his hometown of Staines - the armpit of Middlesex, a wasteland of All Bar Ones, Heathrow backwash and fake Burberry - crushed by the collapse of his former band Contempo and the death of his father. "I moved back to Staines because I ran out of money and it was quite a shock," he says. "There's no record shops, there's no decent pubs, there's no venues, there's no decent clothes shops. Look around, it's quite pleasant but if you're a young person living here then you're into a certain type of music - chart house - and a certain fashion, and if you're not into that there is nothing here for you. Here, you can't get home if you're out in central London after eleven. There's no night bus, there's no late train, you have to get a cab if you can find one and that'll charge you eighty quid to get home from central London. A lot of people live like that."

As The Specials found Coventry in Thatcher's 80s, Richard found Staines in Blair's 00's - a satellite ghost town bereft of soul, style or sobriety. So inevitably the music he began to write took on the dark, dubby shapes of the grainy early-80s - 'Ghost Town', Joy Division, 'Sandanista' - spattered with the modern-day Ritzy glitz of Stardust and all things funk punk.

In 2002 Richard gathered together a gang of fellow Dole Desperados - Lancastrian drum-bruiser Steve Kemp was a mate of Contempo's producer, guitarist Ross Phillips worked in the hi-fi shop Richard would go to and pretend he wanted to buy equipment simply so he could listen to his latest demos on the best systems and bassist Kai Stephens was nabbed from his job at Rent-O-Kill, where he was "tired of the constant death". Hiring a local industrial unit as their studio Hard-Fi recorded 'Stars Of CCTV' for about £300's worth of rent and the price of a second hand computer, and the results were a DIY masterpiece: a thoroughly innovative, post-Millennial urban horrorscape. Imagine a young, pill-popping Terry Hall ram-raiding a disco wig factory in a stolen panda car. Now double it.

"Whenever I think of a great British band - the Stones, The Clash, The Specials, Massive Attack - they're not just a rock band," Richard explains. "At the end of the day we're a rock'n'roll band but we listen to hip-hop, we listen to house music, we listen to dub and reggae and we're not afraid to introduce that. There's always been a punk rock instrument. It used to be the guitar because anyone could pick up a guitar, learn three chords and write a song. Now, if you've got a computer you can make an album, design the artwork, market it and distribute it all through that. That's what we did, all you've got to do is be creative. You've got limited resources but if you're creative you can make something great. You've got all these scenes going on in the metropolis but they don't really reach out here."

Indeed, the themes of 'Stars Of CCTV' reek of the ring-road. The likes of 'Hard To Beat' ('Music Sounds Better With You' if it'd grown up on TW19's roughest estate) and forthcoming single 'Tied Up Too Tight' (punk-pop hip-hop stomp-rock by Gorrillaz) celebrate the meat market buzz of suburban club-life. 'Middle Eastern Holiday' and 'Feltham's Singing Out' concern absent friends - lost to either Iraq bullets or the Young Offender's Institute down the road. First single 'Cash Machine', meanwhile, is the first ever dub-hop glam classic about having negative bling.

"It's literally about being skint," Richard explains. "It always takes me by surprise, like 'no man, this can't be right! I must have some money!' and it's always the cashpoint that says 'no, you're skint'. It's a story about the guy getting his girlfriend pregnant, which seems to be a recurring theme around here. You always seem to be paying out, you never seem to make any money and there's all this stuff trying to stop you - you have to have the latest stereo system or the latest baby buggy. We're saying having no money's not necessarily the end of the world, you can still get where you wanna be if you really believe in it and want it enough."

Until 'Stars Of CCTV' snaked its way onto MTV, Radio One and every major label's must-sign list (hence Hard-Fi found their self-financed mini-album licensed to Atlantic at the end of 2004 and they could finally sign off - "I went to sign on," says Steve, "and they went 'what have you been doing to find work this week? 'I've been talking to four record labels'. 'Oh, right. What about PC World?'"), their guerrilla manifesto came with an ultra-tight budget. Gigs were roadie-less, the studio went un-soundproofed and the 'Cash Machine' video was the ultimate in guerrilla gigs - the band bunked over the fence at Heathrow Airport and spent an hour filming a gig at the base of the main runway, 30 feet below the incoming planes.

"We wanted to make a heist video because we thought it'd be a laugh," says Richard. "Our manager said 'remember that U2 video with the planes coming in overhead' and the director went 'okay, get in the car'. We scouted out the perimeter and found a point where the planes come in to land and went 'it's do or die, we'll get ten minutes and we'll either get away with it, get moved on or get arrested'. People did drive past thinking we must have permission, there's no way we'd do it otherwise. The ground shakes when they come over. There is a rush about having something so huge flown over you. I can't believe we got away with it."

Risk-takers extraordinaire, then, in life as in music. While the burgeoning ska revival has thus far consisted of The Dead 60s and The Ordinary Boys photocopying The Beat with mindless abandon, Hard-Fi are something entirely new, merging disco, punk and dub until they sound like the late seventies having a fight with itself. The papers are calling it 'diska'. Want some?

"If people say there's a new ska movement," Richard ponders, "it's not our only influence but if it helps us take on Eminem then let's do it. I think we're more than that, otherwise what are you? There was a time a few years ago when you had bands that were just basically 70s rock bands. How are you gonna grow?"

Steve chuckles. "Do you turn into an 80s rock band or what?"

Watch your back, Shady: the shopping centre hangabouts of deepest Middlesex are on the rise.

Mark Beaumont