For a brief moment, it appears as though 2005 has barged into the bar demanding respect. Richard Archer, the lead singer of Staines indie rock giant Hard-Fi, enters a Thames-side Richmond pub with flashing brilliant blue eyes and jaw-length hair that has been cropped to resemble his trademark indie bovver-boy style.
He’s still as fired up as he ever was when he was in charge of some of the wildest live performances this writer ever witnessed during that disrespected decade when entire Academies would be bouncing right back to the (drunk dry) bar to clock-off clubland punk anthems “Living For The Weekend” and “Hard To Beat.”
He was a roaring spokesperson for Britain’s street stars of the surveillance culture and a champion of the poor yet gun-crazed.
It has been 17 years since Hard-debut Fi’s album Stars of CCTV ram-raided the UK charts, but the band is currently experiencing a Semtex explosion of success, so the haircut seems appropriate.
They sold out a reunion concert at London’s Kentish Town Forum in ten minutes after only four posters with their garish yellow warning sign CCTV camera emblem and a date surfaced on the London Underground. If additional dates had been available, they would have performed more.
People have been attempting to book jobs for three years, according to Archer. “[Our agent] would announce, ‘I have these dates and five individuals want those dates.
It’s just insane. Aren’t you doing anything more, many people ask? Actually, we can’t. Additionally, we were interested in seeing who would care. You simply have no idea. It feels like so long ago now.
In fact, eight years after Hard-final Fi’s performance, it’s simple to forget how big of a deal the group was at their mid-noughties peak. Stars of CCTV, which was first filmed for just £300 in a converted minicab office in Staines, debuted at No. 6 in the charts in July 2005 and took six months to reach the top and sell over 1 million copies.
Hard-Fi became known as the voice of the working-class satellite town outsider, raving weekends away to forget about poverty, unintended pregnancies, and friends and family in Feltham Young Offenders Institute (“Feltham is Singing”) with its exuberant dispatches from the suburban breadline, including uncooperative cashpoints (“Cash Machine”), clubland lusts (“Hard to Beat”), and payday blow-outs (“Living for the Weekend”).
As a result, they invited special guests like Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, and Mick Jones from The Clash to perform and smashed the venue’s record for the most beers sold in a single night. They also equalled the then-record of five sold-out nights at Brixton (since broken by The xx in 2017).
The business slightly opened the door to let those inside see the riot. Hard-Fi even received a visitation invitation from Gordon Brown to 11 Downing Street after Antony and the Johnsons nearly defeated them for the 2005 Mercury Prize.
Archer replies, “We didn’t go. We decided against doing that after seeing Oasis visit No. 10 Downing Street. Simply said, taking a side in the argument didn’t feel right.
I kind of wished we had left right away because we could have talked about it. Brown is currently one of the only adults in the room who can speak intelligently about issues like Brexit, the cost of living, and energy renationalization, so he pauses. Look at Gordon Brown right now, in fact.
Hard-ascent Fi’s was unsustainable, despite the fact that 2007’s Once Upon a Time in the West also peaked at number one. Archer acknowledges that “we definitely got upset with each other” with the third album Killer Sounds from 2011. There was a time near the end when it became quite challenging.
We all had a little less affection for it, but we never stopped being friends. We were very focused on “we can’t f*** this up” since Steve [Kemp, the drummer] and I had both been in bands that had failed.
And I believe that eventually, that started to hurt the project, as well as our mental health when we should have just been having fun. It has to be “we’ve got to get this right” throughout. We were anxious about everything rather than accepting it.
After Hard-Fi broke up in 2014, Archer started working on songwriting and production in the background. Kemp, who had Crohn’s illness, pursued a degree in nutrition and worked as a consultant for others. While bassist Kai Stephens briefly worked as a private investigator, guitarist Ross Phillips started doing crew work.
According to Archer, “He’s not doing it anymore.” In order to prevent him from revealing his identity, we halt the interview while he texts Stephens to request authorization to see the case files. We began declassifying the final hours of Hard-Fi after receiving permission to do so.
In fact, according to Archer, he was doing it toward the conclusion of Hard-Fi. “His neighbour was a private investigator, and he enquired of Kai whether he could assist him. Kai then followed the targets.
It was like an episode of Murder She Wrote when we booked our tour. He claimed to have been trailing someone around Sainsbury’s and other places.
He eventually had to break into a hotel room to catch someone having an affair. He impersonates a “gotcha” shot. He is an amazing man and ought to be a superstar.
It could yet be Kai’s day. After the epidemic derailed Archer’s intentions to record an album with OffWorld (the political soul punk band he founded with Olivier nominee Krysten Cummings), he casually decided to perform Stars of CCTV acoustically for a lockdown live-stream in his kitchen.
The performance unleashed a torrent of fan calls for a reunion, many of which came from people who were too young to witness the band in their heyday. It also occurred to Archer as he was performing the songs today how much more time they have become since 2005 as a result of austerity measures and skyrocketing wealth inequality in the years since.
Sleaford Mods, who are popular right now, and other punk bands are among the many bands that are now playing, according to Archer. “As I reflect, I wonder whether I should have been complaining.
Considering how horrible everything is right now. Videos showing Jacob Rees-Mogg stating, “Why should everyone receive statutory holiday pay?” have emerged. They are ignorant of people’s lives. Anywhere you go, everything is quite pricey. How is it possible for such to continue? people going four days without eating, and there are more food banks than ever before…”
Archer shakes his head in silence for a brief period. “Blair and New Labour left the right wing in a state of existential crisis, and then Barack Obama did the same in the United States. The question was, “How the f*** can this happen?
Here is where we become nefarious, sinister, and hard-core. For 13 years, the nation dared to vote for Labour. We’re going to exert every effort to discredit their accomplishments, erase their legacy, and persuade people that their approach was incorrect. They have travelled so far in the other direction. It’s as if we veered a little to the left, and the response from the right is to turn toward Nazi Germany.
Because of Blair and New Labour, the right wing was in such disarray that they experienced an existential crisis.
How much of Hard-difficulty Fi’s garnering the media attention their success merited may have been attributable to their songs about the struggles of the working class seven years into the New Labour era, when everything was supposed to be fine and the alternative was far worse?
In hearing Tony Blair deliver his address prior to his election, Archer recalls being truly enthusiastic because of his discussion of opportunities.
“I suppose that, from where we were, not much seemed to have changed after a while. Perhaps it had, or perhaps it was just that mindset. You can actually tell by looking back today how much better off the hospitals and schools were than they are now.
But there was always the nagging feeling that you were leaving some people behind when you left particular places, and perhaps this is what Farage and other people like him relied on. They continued to believe that their lives were unaffected by this. And that’s how it felt to us.
That notion that you could do whatever you wanted simply didn’t exist, he says. “In some respects, you could do whatever you wanted, but the obstacles were in our own minds because you weren’t raised to feel that way; you don’t have the super-confidence of, “I can do whatever I want.
You think upon leaving school, “I’m not very good at this, someone’s going to find out in a minute.” Because they lack this, public school-educated artists may be more prevalent because they exude such a sense of self-assurance. They simply say, “I’m f***in’ going to do this, whatsoever,”
The glass ceiling wasn’t only a psychological construct. Stars of CCTV reached the top spot the week before Arctic Monkeys’ debut album Whatever You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, which should historically class Hard-Fi as the final big band before the onslaught of Monkeys’ imitators at the end of the decade that would ultimately earn them the cloth-eared epithet of “landfill indie.”
But because they are frequently grouped with the horde, it is clear that there is classism at play. Nice middle-class artists like The Horrors, The Maccabees, and Foals avoided such reductionist criticism, but about 2008, any group of working-class teenagers from the social margins was advised in no uncertain terms to give up their dreams of being famous rock stars and get back in their box.
Archer’s attitude toward being thrown to the wayside is philosophical, in keeping with the working-class ethos of the time of austerity. He contends that “maybe that was what people wanted to hear.” “Because [indie rock] was so mainstream, they wanted to hear more of an art school vibe.
Even though they were probably just as anxious to go on the radio as everyone else, perhaps it was the mindset of those who thought, “Well, I want something that’s not trying.” Everyone in your band kind of aspires to be Oasis, you included. You want the entire Knebworth experience; you want to be performing it.
I suppose you reach a moment where someone shows up and appears to not desire that, which may be a welcome change for many. Since it is some of the best music now being produced, I believe it is excellent that there are more women and more diverse things available now.
However, in my opinion, the track’s quality should definitely be the determining factor. It was a fantastic experience. There were many different bands in the area, and you could go out and watch some excellent bands twice a week. When you reflect on it now, you ask, “What have we lost?
Archer has direct experience of the Noughties rock culture being reborn and renamed as “indie sleaze.” The majority of our Spotify listeners are between the ages of 25 and 35, which corresponds to listeners who would have been 10 and 15 in 2004 or 2005, according to the statistics I found.
One benefit of digitising music is that it is now accessible to everyone at all times. People don’t have to deal with any baggage; they simply hear it and say, “I like this, this is cool.”
People become weary of bands far more quickly than they grow weary of pop tunes; it’s as if you’ve gone from being the hippest thing in the world to the most uncool thing.
However, some of that burden has vanished. It’s unfortunate that you have to go through that, but everyone must, I suppose. It must have seemed ridiculous in comparison to the 1960s if you were in the 1980s and you looked back on the 1970s. Always be prepared to reevaluate.
The resurrected Hard-Fi are contemplating the possibility of more performances, such as a full-album Stars of CCTV presentation in conjunction with a vinyl edition, as well as the creation of new music.
“I have a few bits and pieces, which I believe are good. We can’t simply keep playing the first record, says Archer, “because that would be boring. But what’s crucial is keeping in mind how uplifting the band was at its height.
It was a celebration of not giving a f***, and we need to keep that in mind, he says, adding that there was a hint of tongue-in-cheekiness about it.
“I have a lot of thoughts about how the country is doing, but do people want to hear them or do they want to avoid them? They already experience it, therefore there’s no need to inform them of it.
Although everything is very pertinent, the music I listen to makes it seem a lot more contemplative and about relationships and other things. Do people really not want to know about it when the s*** truly hits the fan? Would they prefer to be reminded? Or do they desire to be taken elsewhere?
He takes the wheel with a grin that suggests he’s the designated driver for a late-night joyride. He declares, once more thriving on the thrill, “We’re simply trying to find some joy in the world.” “I wish I could watch folks leap about again.”
On Saturday, October 1, Hard-Fi will perform at the O2 Kentish Town Forum.
Irving is the Chief Editor at the Landscape Insight. He lives just outside of New York. His writings have also been featured in some very famous magazines. When he isn’t reading the source material for a piece or decompressing with a comfort horror movie, Irving is usually somewhere in his car.