The working classes have a hard time of it. Be it the continual mockery (however good-natured) of the underclass through comedy creations like Catherine Tate's Lauren the Teenager and Little Britain's Vicky Pollard, the voguish cause celebre of chavdom and the ASBO or the fact that Labour, their traditional political representatives, just don't seem to care about them anymore, working class Britain seems trapped in a world of cheap beer, even cheaper clothes, sovereign rings and a bevy and a scuffle on a Friday night.
Hard-Fi, from Staines, London, rise above this. Barely into their career, they already seem to be ready to step up to the mantle of spokesmen for a forgotten generation with their first live DVD, In Operation, containing a live gig at London's Astoria, remixes and plenty more.
The remixes, produced by (amongst others) Roots Manuva, make for an interesting juxtaposition with Hard-Fi's ultra-successful debut album Stars Of CCTV. The dub renovation of Better Do Better invigorates the album cut and reinvents it as something fresh and interesting, while the re-imagining of Cash Machine/Cash Converter is dazzling with innovation. While the remixes, photo gallery, featurette and videos (from Tied Up Too Tight to Better Do Better) are interesting, they are but a sidenote to the main event: the live Astoria gig, a document of one of Britain's most exciting young bands.
Hard-Fi have an earthy, everyman appeal, attracting the interest of both indie and mainstream audiences. Frontman Richard Archer seems a difficult character to pin down, alternating between the moody, studied seriousness the featurette showcases, one that seems to suggest a future Bono in the making and the blokey everyman-esque appeal that shows up between songs ("Sing your hearts out London!", "Are we gonna have it tonight or what?", "Make some fucking noise! You've gotta beat Glasgow!").
Hard-Fi wear their influences very much on their sleeve, be it The Jam (the bridge and coda of Middle Eastern Holiday), The Specials (the "woah-woah-woah"'s on Unnecessary Trouble) or, most acutely, The Clash. New song You And Me has an opening that seems to have been lifted from Clash City Rockers, while storming gig opener Middle Eastern Holiday has the propulsion of The Jam at their finest, mixed with Joe Strummer's aggressive righteousness, most accurately evoked with Archer's snarled vocal, sounding a lot grittier live than on record.
Better Do Better sounded a tad too overblown on record but here it is enlivened by shades of The Specials, and while the lyrics still seem oddly lumpen ("You're face makes me sick" sounds like something you can imagine the aforementioned Vicky Pollard, resplendent in pink Kappa tracksuit, saying), the strong melody carries it through to prevent it being swamped in over-sincerity.
Gotta Reason, with its refrain of "Got no place to go", demonstrates how Hard-Fi and, particularly, Archer, carry with them the stench of hopelessness, boredom and cultural despair that is ingrained in their council estate, inner-city life. However, their eyes are firmly fixed upwards, escaping the frustration and futility that ensnares and sinks so many. Theirs is the music of 21st century working class Britain, of CCTV on every street corner, ASBOs, teenage pregnancies, fights in the street at closing time and the struggle to survive beneath the poverty line.
Hard-Fi refuse to kowtow to the tradition of desperation that surrounds their upbringing: theirs is an intelligent and evocative portrait or a refusal to buckle under the pressure to conform to classist societal expectations. They do not have the art-school trappings of Franz Ferdinand or the bohemian street-poet credo of The Libertines/Babyshambles but their drive, passion and sense of their roots (and simultaneous need to escape such roots) earmarks them as one of Britain's most important bands.