Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Suburban Knights

Hard-Fi are the kind of "landfill indie" band that we're all apparently supposed to mock. Quite why this is so I've never really understood, as they seem to me to be clearly unrelated to any of their British peers of the noughties. For a start there isn't the slightest element of nostalgia in their sound, which seems to have been ruthlessly excised of any sentimental cues or knowing quotations. Only the heavy dub of Lee Perry (from whom they took their name) seems to linger recognisably at the edges of their music.

Originally from Staines in Middlesex, what the band documents is the minutiae of contemporary working class life found in the particular milieu of mid-sized, light-industrial southern English towns - a world of industrial estates, replica football shirts, Sky TV, modded Peugeots, vertical drinking and the kind of unsteady work that intersperses periods of scrimping with periods of low-rent decadence: the Saturday night millionaire syndrome.

The dinosaur-vampire super-ego coterie of exhausted rock-crits charged Hard-Fi with two contradictory crimes: the first being the age-old canard of them being somehow inauthentic (there were endless attempts to prove that singer Richard Archer wasn't really working class), and the second that they were simultaneously too wedded to a narrow provincialism to be of any wider cultural significance. In many ways the band inconveniently documented a lumpenised proletarian culture that many metropolitan liberals wished wasn't there, a world in which the likes of News Corporation and Chelsea Football Club and Max Power and Carling lager constituted the staples of cultural life - England as it really is (was?), not as how their denigrators wistfully believed it should be.

As someone who has spent most of their life in a middle-sized southern English city, I have to say that Hard-Fi's curiously inorganic music does ring awfully true - you can almost smell the stale fags and lager-sodden carpets in their sound. But ultimately any authenticity they may possess is superceded by the fact that they write great songs, and rock them hard. Alas, as has been pointed out before on these blogs, there's nothing the tastemakers hate more than something that is just too easy to "get".


Anonymous said...

Good to see someone sticking up for the oddly misunderstood Hard-fi who I would much rather were embraced as a peoples band than the monotonous Elbow (does it not highlight how low our expectations have sunk that we applaud a band for merely trying their best, not for being brilliant or beautiful or even crazy but for trying their best?)
I thought Hard to Beat was one of the better products of the flattened-out indie scene of recent times. I also thought there No Cover Art album sleeve was striking and witty. Duchamp would have loved it.

Alex Niven said...

Yes! I always had a soft-spot for Hard-Fi, and now I know why.

Although it's only a short leap from them to The Twang/The Enemy, I agree that there was some grain of value in the Hard-Fi project. I can remember working in a shitty car panel warehouse in the summer of 2004 and thinking that "Living for the Weekend" was fantastic and apposite.

Phil Knight said...

I like the fact that they filmed one of their wide-screen videos in Basildon.

Of course their problem (or rather our problem) is that they don't fit into any existing British musical-geographical fantasy stereotypes i.e. Northern/melancholy, London/ironic/vibrant, Rural/folkish.

I mean I like places like Luton, Watford, Reading etc. precisely because they don't have that self-conscious craving for the "unique" and "iconic" that increasingly infects all the UK's major cities.

Alex Niven said...

Interesting point. I suppose The Streets occupied a similar cultural space (although perhaps more outright-London)? There's some sort of lineage with The Jam too isn't there?

Phil Knight said...

Well The Streets and The Jam were both more enamoured with Our Glorious Capitol (as of course we all should be). I can't actually think of a real antecedent to Hard-Fi, to be honest.

Over to our enterprising readership...

Anonymous said...

mmmm.... musically I always thought HArd-Fi were just incredibly dull, but hadn't really thought about them lyrically. Always thought it was just about Suburbia, which is a bit of a tradition in pop.

Feels like an awfully short step to The Sterophonics, The View, latter-day Oasis, The Twang, Ordinary Boys & Kaiser Chiefs etc from this (less said about them the better). Can see why you might think Hard-Fi are unfairly done by in this company, but mostly this just reminds why people ignoring hip-hop, dance, electronica etc were missing out on, well everything basically.

Phil Knight said...

Well, you see, I think popular music as a living cultural form died around 1982-85, and pretty much everything since is simply a case of zombification (hip-hop), parody (indie) or melancholia (electronica). So I'm not going to get that excited about any of it.

I am a bit of gloomy Eeyore, though.

Simon said...

never heard a note of them!

your description makes them sound like they're a sort of un-dance version of Flowered Up and Lo-Fidelity Allstars

also makes me think a bit of the grim Jam-my side of mod revival - Chords ("The British Way of Life"-- "i swallow my dreams with my beer"), Purple Hearts

melancholia = electronica -- ?!?! the opposite, surely, mostly -- artificial euphoria.

Phil Knight said...

Dunno, I've never heard Flowered Up or LFAS or The Chords or Purple Hearts, so you've got a full house there. They might well be antecendents though. Although a big part of what I like about them is that I couldn't slot them into a ready-prepared context when I first heard them. Not that the context doesn't exist - just that I don't know what it is. Ignorance is bliss and all that.

As to electronica, yes I've always considered it to have a certain downcast feel - maybe elegaic rather than melancholic, from Cluster to Boards Of Canada.

Although I'm far from an expert on the genre (cos it's not really my sort of thing) so will defer to your greater expertise.

Ed said...

All those reference points work, although they are less baroque and proggy than LFAS, and less retro than the Purple Hearts. The Jam but with 90s House taking the place of 60s Soul is about right.

What I love Hard-Fi for, more than anything, is their appearance on the soundtrack for the Carling advert that shows flocks of starlings sweeping and whirling in the autumnal sky. The combination of transcendently beautiful visions of the glory and mystery of Nature with a tawdry attempt to sell pissy fuel for punch-ups and vomiting is a perfect encapsulation of the band's aesthetic.

Phil Knight said...

They advertised Carling as well?


Ed said...

Oh yes. What's the one with the chorus that goes: "Going out tonight, going out tonight, Baby you and I, going out tonight"?

That one.

Phil Knight said...

Well, I hope they showed it alot on Sky TV.

During Chelsea matches.

Ed said...

They certainly did.

It was a brilliant piece of advertising, I thought. You know how most drinks marketing tries to make you feel like the buyer is individual, distinctive, discerning, a connoisseur? Well Carling took the opposite route. In my memory, the slogan they used was "follow the herd". I am not sure it was actually that blunt, but that was definitely the message.

The the thrust of it was not just "everyone else is drinking Carling, so you might as well." More than that, the footage of the starlings suggested there was something romantic, glorious even, about submerging yourself in the crowd.

If you wanted to push it, you could tie it not only to traditional working class "living for the weekend", but also to ideas about sacred rituals of mass ecstasy and collective delirium. Like rave theory, but with weak lager instead of E.

The patterns made by the swooping starlings were reminiscent of gangs of lads weaving their way through suburban town centres after closing time, too. You could imagine Byrne and Eno coming up with that parallel.

All in all, a cut above "probably the finest lager in the world." I am not sure how many extra tins in shifted, though.

Phil Knight said...

Well I'm OK with Carling Lager (it's not that weak is it?) in the same way that I'm OK with Ford cars - the gap between them and the "quality" brands is really an infinitesimally small space that's stretched into a pseudo-cavern by marketing. I must get round to reading that Bourdieu fellow sometime.

You should contribute to the blogs Ed - send Carl or Wayne an e-mail if you'd like to join in.

Ed said...

That's kind, thanks. Not sure if I have time for more than the occasional overblown comment. But if inspiration strikes, I'll get in touch, if that's OK.

Alex Niven said...

Ed Miliband has apparently chosen Hard-Fi's Stars of CCTV as one of his Desert Island Discs, thus proving that he is alive to the potential in detourning forgotten sub-traditions of the recent past.

I knew he wasn't all bad.