Straight Edge

sober living for the revolution

Straight edge is a subculture of hardcore punk whose adherents refrain from using alcohol, tobacco, and other recreational drugs. It was a direct reaction to the sexual revolution, hedonism, and excess associated with punk rock. For some, this extends to not engaging in promiscuous sex, following a vegetarian or vegan diet, and not using caffeine or prescription drugs.

The term was coined by the 1980s hardcore punk band Minor Threat in their song ‘Straight Edge.’ Since then, a wide variety of beliefs and ideas have been incorporated into straight edge including vegetarianism, animal rights, communism, and Hare Krishna beliefs. In many parts of the United States, straight edge is treated as a gang by law enforcement officials.

The letter X is the most known symbol of straight edge, and is sometimes worn as a marking on the back of both hands, though it can be displayed on other body parts as well. Some followers of straight edge have also incorporated the symbol into clothing and pins. According to a series of interviews by journalist Michael Azerrad, the straight edge X can be traced to the Teen Idles’ brief U.S. West Coast tour in 1980. The band was scheduled to play at San Francisco’s Mabuhay Gardens, but when they arrived, club management discovered that they were under the legal drinking age and therefore would be denied entry to the club. As a compromise, management marked each of the Idles’ hands with a large black X as a warning to the club’s staff not to serve alcohol to the band. Upon returning to Washington, D.C., the band suggested this same system to local clubs as a means to allow teenagers in to see musical performances without being served alcohol.

A variation involving a trio of Xs, XXX, is often used in show flyers and tattoos. This can be used to show that an adherent is extremely straight edge. Also, it can be ironic based on the fact that three X’s are a cartoon way to signify alcohol or poison. The term is sometimes abbreviated by including an X with the abbreviation of the term ‘straight edge’ to give sXe. By analogy, hardcore punk is sometimes abbreviated to hXc. The X symbol can be used as a way to signify a band or person is straight edge, by adding an x to the front and back, for example, the band xDEATHSTARx.

Straight edge grew out of the hardcore punk in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and was partly characterized by shouted rather than sung vocals. Straight edge individuals of this early era often associated with the original punk ideals such as individualism, disdain for work and school, and live-for-the-moment attitudes. As one of the few prominent 1970s hard rock icons to explicitly eschew alcohol and drug use, singer/guitarist Ted Nugent was also a key influence on the straight edge ideology.

Bent edge was formed as a countermovement to straight edge by members of the Washington, D.C. hardcore scene who were fed up with the rigidness and intolerance in the new and upcoming straight edge scene. This idea of a countermovement quickly spread throughout the country. On Minor Threat’s first tour in 1982, people would approach the band telling them that they were bent or curved edge, but the countermovement was short lived and faded away by the end of the 1980s.

During the youth crew era, which started in the mid 1980s, the influence of music on the straight edge scene seemed to be at an all-time high. The new branches of straight edge that came about during this era seemed to originate from ideas presented in songs. Many youth crew bands had a strong heavy metal influence. Starting in the mid 1980s, the band Youth of Today became associated with the straight edge movement, and their song ‘Youth Crew’ expressed a desire to unite the scene into a movement. Vegetarianism became an important theme in straight edge during this era. This catalyzed a trend towards animal rights and veganism within the straight edge movement that would reach its peak in the 1990s.

By the early 1990s, militant straight edge was a well-known presence in the scene, characterized by less tolerance for non-straight-edge people, more outward pride in being straight edge, more outspokenness, and the willingness to resort to violence in order to promote clean living. In addition, the militant straight edge individual was characterized by being more conservative and less tolerant of homosexuality and abortion. During the 1990s, the straight edge scene split into factions: hardline and Krishna Consciousness.

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