He might not look like a punk icon, but the star of The Office and Life On The Road would be at least as good at flogging butter as Johnny Rotten. If you really look at him, there’s one lurking beneath that doughy surface. He might be a bit more goatee and double chin than leather and safety pins, but it’s there, it’s there…
1. HE USED THE MAN
Nobody wants to sell out to The Man, but if you do so and then use The Man’s cash to fund punk rock, isn’t that arguably even more punk than not doing so in the first place? It’s like, in your face The Man, here’s the money you paid me being used to make anti-authoritarian music, and all it took was 40 hours a week. Brent is hardly the first person to do it either. Joe Escalante from The Vandals spent 12 years as a lawyer while running Kung Fu Records – is that really so different to making paper by day and smooth r’n’b-influenced alt-folk tunes by night? Yeah, alright, Wernham Hogg’s finest is not exactly Ian MacKaye.
2. HE TACKLES SOCIAL ISSUES HEAD-ON
Ever since The Clash included a cover of reggae anthem Police And Thieves on their debut album, punk has cast a light on social inequality and done its best to ideally fix things but at the very least be angry about them. Racism, police brutality, transphobia – all have been tackled with angry, righteous ire. Whether Brent’s Equality Street, with the lyrics “Oh dayo, dayo, dayo, me say dayo /Biddly biddly biddly biddly biddly biddly bong yo” belongs in the pantheon of social unrest anthems is a matter for history.
3. HE’S INTO DIY CULTURE
It’s no coincidence that the rise of punk and the availability of affordable-by-a-local-newsagent photocopiers happened at the same time – the whole visual aesthetic of punk was shaped by zine culture, where for the first time, people could make and distribute their passion projects relatively easily. As well as the cut-and-pasted, biro-scribbled look, this also led to tape trading, helping small bands be heard. What’s punker than making your own magazine? Making your own paper. David Brent works for a paper merchant. Gnarly.
4. HE TAKES YOU INTO HIS WORLD
There’s a strange combination of universally relatable themes and incredibly specific geography that seems unique to pop-punk in particular. There’s a whole generation of British people that can name dozens of small California towns from listening to songs about pretty girls and heartbreak. Life On The Road, the theme tune to the new film about David Brent’s touring life, will possibly lead to a whole generation of Californian kids singing about small towns across the British Isles: “It’s strictly business, I’m killing it in Widnes, then to Gloucester, I get a Costa, hard shoulder, coffee holder…’
5. HE’S INTO MASHING UP
Ironically for a genre where people argue passionately about what is and isn’t punk, by its very nature punk is malleable, making use of available trends, instruments and technologies as it sees fit. From 2-Tone’s inclusion of reggae elements to the regrettable sample-heavy days of crunkcore (NB. the samples weren’t even one per cent of why crunkcore was regrettable) there’s always been an element of mashing up culture. That said, until David Brent, nobody had thought to “sort of fuse Flashdance with some MC Hammer shit”.
6. HE KILLS IT IN THE UNEXPECTED COVER VERSIONS GAME
In the last decade and a half or so, the post-Napster years, the punk cover of a non-punk song has become something of a staple. Yet punk is all about breaking the rules – just as minus one times minus one equals a positive, a non-punk cover of a non-punk cover of a non-punk song, like David Brent’s cover of Simply Red’s cover of Harry Melvin & The Blue Notes’ If You Don’t Know Me By Now, a version that has the outrageous punk-rock audacity to add nothing whatsoever to the original, is clearly punk as fuck.
7. HE RUNS HIS OWN LABEL
Juxtaposition Records, the label If You Don’t Know Me By Now was ostensibly released on, became a real thing at the end of last year, owned by Ricky Gervais and releasing the Life On The Road soundtrack as its first record. Lead singer, paper salesman and label head? Punk.
8. HE OUTDOES THE CLASSICS
Barbed Wire Love by Stiff Little Fingers is a heartfelt song about love in No Man’s Land, holding hands across barbed wire. It’s a tragic, beautiful, darkly comic tale, but it could definitely be more extreme. Let’s replace holding hands with full penetrative sexual intercourse, for a start. Now, No Man’s Land might sound like an extreme environment, but it’s not like you’re going to get caught at it there – there’s nobody around, it’s in the name. Full penetrative sexual intercourse on a public road, however? That’s free love on the Free Love Freeway, a David Brent-penned ode to tarmac sex that makes Stiff Little Fingers look like a bunch of crying prudes.
9. HE SAYS HE’S A PUNK, BASICALLY
“People see me, and they see the suit, and they go, ‘You’re not fooling anyone’. They know I’m rock and roll through and through. But you know that old thing, live fast, die young? Not my way. Live fast, sure, live too bloody fast sometimes, but die young? Die old. That’s the way. Not orthodox, I don’t live by “the rules” you know. And if there’s one other person who’s influenced me in that way I think, someone who is a maverick, someone who does that to the system, then, it’s Ian Botham. Because Beefy will happily say, ‘That’s what I think of your selection policy, yes I’ve hit the odd copper, yes I’ve enjoyed the old dooby, but will you piss off and leave me alone, I’m walking to John O’Groats for [charity].’”
10. HE TAKES TURNING DOWN MAJOR LABELS THAT BIT FURTHER
A key part of the Ramones’ immediately iconic look was their leather jackets, Perfecto motorcycle jackets made by legendary New York label Schott. They’re about five hundred quid, though. Is spending a month’s rent on a jacket really punk rock, or is in fact purchasing luxury goods from The Man? Far more punk rock is acquiring a cheap, probably pleather (and therefore vegan, which is pretty punk) Sergio Giorgini one from a market stall. One in the eye for big business, there.
David Brent: Life On The Road hits UK cinemas on August 19. For more information, see the film’s official website, yeah?