Combat pop

By JAMES PARKER  |  April 12, 2006

Does he feel a kinship with the other British bands currently assaulting the US? “Seems like everywhere you go music from the UK is taking over the world,” he muses. “Kaiser Chiefs, Arctic Monkeys . . . So when we’re out and about we do feel part of that. But back at home there’s all these different regional scenes going on — you’ve got the Futureheads and Maximo Park from the Northeast, and your Libertines and what-have-you from East London. They’re friends, they influence each other. Where we’re from there’s no music scene at all, no rehearsal spaces, nothing. We’re outsiders, I suppose.”

Hard-Fi, as has been exhaustively chronicled in interviews and hype jobs on both sides of the Atlantic, are from Staines, a town to the southwest of London that is distinguished at this stage in British history only by its proximity to Heathrow Airport. It’s a big thing with them, this business of coming from shitty old Staines — it’s their heroic punk-rock narrative. Urchins! No future! Jet fumes and sonic shudder are their birthright! (“Dole Desperados,” says the press kit, from a “satellite ghost town bereft of style, soul or sobriety.”) I tell Phillips that an American band who gave such a consistent public slagging to their hometown would be noisily rebutted by that town’s burghers or elected officials: We have plenty ofwunnerful opportunities for young people here in Hairdryer, Tennessee!

“Well, there’s this club in Staines called Cheeky’s. It’s the only nightclub in town and it is as bad as it sounds. The two e’s on the sign are a pair of lips. The music they play is dogshit, just — agh — bollocks. And we’ve gone on about it loads of times in interviews and that, and my brother knows the geezer who owns the club and he’s like” — with a tone of haughty injury — “ ‘Why do those boys keep slagging off my club?’ ” Phillips gives his rustling, private laugh. “But it’s the only place that’s open so you always fucking end up there. You go, right, ‘I’m not going to Cheeky’s tonight,’ but at half-two you’re in there, drinking watery lager, looking at the birds . . . ”

Hard-Fi decorate their shouty pop with zephyrs of melodica and dub-loaded basslines, and so naturally get compared to the Clash. They sing about teenage pregnancy, and so naturally get compared to the Specials. But when Archer cries “Oh shit! My clothes are all counterfeit!” in “Living for the Weekend” he is in a tradition that goes back to the Who’s “Substitute”: the pinned-down working life, the leisure explosion on Friday night, the refusal — in the face of enormous pharmaceutical provocation — to transcend. It’s a tradition that was only intensified by the rave culture that is now the common heritage of all young British bands.

“People compare us to the Clash and that’s cool, man,” says Phillips. “We love the Clash, we’re never gonna be ashamed of that. But there’s so many things that we draw from. I mean, have you heard that track ‘1 Thing’ by Amerie? That is fucking quality, that is. I think they’re using a break from the Meters . . . We try a lot of different things in the studio — someone comes up with a bit of drum ’n’ bass and we just think ‘fuck it, let’s try it out, no one’s gonna hear it in here.’ ”

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