The Patch

February 16, 2007

Friday 16th February

Filed under: Music & Film — Free Edinburgh Podcast @ 10:22 pm

Good Lord, it’s been quiet on The Patch this week.  Fear not however, for I have over 2500 words concerning the intriguing alternative culture that is Straight Edge for you to gaze upon this Friday.  Enjoy! 

Life on the Edge

Smart girls who wear long enough shirts and skirts and have movie fests on weekends instead of getting wasted.”

That’s one view on people’s experiences of the alternative culture known as ‘Straight Edge’ or ‘sXe’. But inspired by a love of Minor Threat and the prospect of living in one its modern spiritual homes (Syracuse in New York) next year, I thought to delve deeper into this lifestyle and find out what it really was about.

In its simplest form, Straight Edge is defined by one of the bands at its heart, Minor Threat, in their song ‘Out of Step (with the world)‘.

“Don’t smoke

Don’t drink

Don’t f*ck

At least I can f*cking think”

For it is these key principles that form the back bone of Straight Edge belief. Treating the body with the respect they feel it deserves and abstaining from the various pollutants and temptations that befall every young person out there. Though variations of this differ from person to person, the philosophies that seem to stick are those concerning a restraint from drugs, smoking and alcohol, with a disparaging view on promiscuous sex also encouraged.

Indeed, from talking to those in the Straight Edge community, there are inconsistencies in specific thoughts concerning what Straight Edge, yet all have share the same central theme. Mikkei, a musician from Thousand Oaks in California, believes the philosophy to be all about “respect; for myself and for others,” with this carried out in the form of “abstaining from all drugs, promiscuous sex, and eating meat.” The latter, though not a vital part of the ideology, would seem to be an obvious step from other Straight Edge characteristics, as acknowledged by Mikkei – “I know A LOT of people would strike me down for including the eating meat part, but hey, I feel it’s a logical extension of the ideology.”

But if it’s the beliefs such as this that define Straight Edge, why am I writing this as a music article? Well, for many Straight Edge requires an involvement in the hardcore punk scene. Matt Stuber, a student, and Straight Edger, from Minnesota, holds the view that being part of this movement “requires that you are involved in the punk/hardcore community in some way, since that’s what/where straight-edge is/came from.” This involvement in the punk scene is essential for some, such as Mikkei’s friend RP, who sees his beliefs as “connected to punk rock music. Otherwise my old neighbor next door would be straight edge.”

This take on Straight Edge would appear to be a logical one, with its conception happening amongst the hardcore punk bands of the late 70s and early 80s. After years of punk bands screaming about anarchy and their anger with society, artists in the US switched their attention to more personal issues, focusing on youth lifestyles and problems. Minor Threat were the main players behind the scene, and according to most views, were the ones who coined the term ‘Straight Edge’. Whilst making a promotional poster for the band, the bass player is believed to have compared their take on life with the straight edge of the ruler who was using. Even if this is just a story to how the title formed, Minor Threat then went on to write a song entitled ‘Straight Edge’, detailing their philosophies, and thus, a title was given to those involved in the punk scene, in their own subculture away from drug and alcohol abuse.

The music side of Straight Edge also spawned one of the symbols that some followers see as a sense of identity – the ‘X’. When Straight Edge band, The Teen Idles, were touring in the early 80s, they were found to be underage and so were not allowed to play in some clubs. They overcame this by suggesting to have an ‘X’ marked on their hand so bar staff knew not to serve them, a practice that grew more common, and became used to allow teenagers to see gigs at venues that served alcohol. Of course, with such principles behind the symbol, it’s easy to see why this would be adopted by the Straight Edge community, and many followers choose to have this mark tattooed onto them, showing just how dedicated some Edgers can be.

One of the big appeals of the music side of Straight Edge is its ability to spread its philosophy and allow those against a drug and alcohol culture to have something to relate to in terms of lyrics. Terra Eash, a student from Baker, Michigan, loves “listening to bands like Casey Jones, xLooking Forwardx, and The Warriors,” going on to say that ‘being able to relate to the lyrics of straight edge bands gives me confidence in my beliefs and also connects me with others who share the same interests.”

Followers of Straight Edge don’t just confine themselves to Straight Edge music however, with such acts as Propaghandi, Bad Religion, Less Than Jake, Beastie Boys and Alkaline Trio mentioned by those I spoke too. However, lyrics and values in music still hold importance with Matt Stuber’s acknowledgment that “even if the bands aren’t sXe, the punk/hardcore community carries strong personal ethics that value family, unity, and wise decisions.” And while Terra Eash wishes that “some of their lyrics didn’t involve drinking alcohol or similar activities,” she wouldn’t “necessarily respect them less as an artist.” Though her refusal to listen to artists that glorify “drug use or promiscuous sex,” show the strength of her values.

Straight Edge holds far more prevalence in its birth place of the US than anywhere else on the globe, but even there it’s somewhat of an unknown, understood nature, certainly outside of the hardcore punk scene. When I inquired as to how some Edgers came across this belief, I received such responses as this from Terra Eash:

“I first heard about straight edge my junior year of high school. My friend had a patch on his hoodie that said “xXx” and I asked what it meant. He didn’t know and only put it on there because it looked cool, but later looked it up and told me it meant “a group of people who don’t drink or do drugs.” Sounded like a pretty cool thing to me, but I didn’t end up claiming the title until my freshman year of college.”

Mikkei too learned about this subset through high school, though both RP and Matt’s involvement was a natural progression from the punk scene they were already involved in, with a drug free lifestyle one that appealed to them. And all feel that this change of philosophy was a beneficial one.

Matt describes his life before he found Straight Edge as one of self destruction: “I drank pretty heavily starting when I was 12-13, mostly with my father on our boat down on the river (party central). My friends and I often skipped school to drink beer while everyone’s parents were at work. I used to steal about a shot from every liquor bottle in the house and mix it all together to fill a pop bottle, just to get drunk. I moved in with my father when I was 14 and began feeling the emotional pain that substance abuse causes. I just began to resent him and drank myself stupid every weekend.”

Turning to Straight Edge was his way of getting out of this rut, and finding a more positive outlook on life: “Becoming more involved in the hardcore scene, I began recognizing the solidarity and positive attitudes that sXe kids had and how much better I wanted to turn out than my father. I claimed edge finally at a graduation party when I was sober (because I was driving) and I witnessed my best friend walking around without any pants on and falling over. I didn’t want anything to do with that shit anymore.”

Similarly, Mikkei’s life before Straight Edge was a negative one where he “had no self-confidence” and “was desperate for acceptance and readily gave into peer pressure.” After trying drugs as a means of acceptance, Mikkei turned his back on this lifestyle:

“The thing that finally got to me (aside from the obvious consequences for the body and mind) was when I saw people I cared about ruining their lives with drugs. It really got to me and I saw their behavior as self-destructive and counter-productive. Then I realized the hypocrisy of my lifestyle and adopted straight-edge. This of course caused all my friends to turn their backs on me, but that was little compared to the clarity and satisfaction that clean living gave me.”

With Straight Edge still somewhat of a niche culture however, it can be hard for followers to find others who share their views. Both RP and Mikkei have few friends who follow their example, with Mikkei explaining his experiences of others he’s known who’ve shared his belief – “I have one close friend who is straight-edge, I am thankful for that every day of my life. Many of my friends who were straight-edge or drug-free have recently given up on it.”

As with most alternative cultures, online communities are rife amongst the Straight Edge scene. Here, people who may not necessarily know of anyone local who they can relate to, can find like-minded thinkers to discuss their lifestyle with, often revolving around the music scene and the live circuit. Terra Eash even found her current boyfriend on the MySpace Straight Edge group, with similar views an obvious attraction in terms of romance for Edgers.

Whereas Eash does “have friends who drink and smoke” she doesn’t feel as if she “could ever date or marry someone who did those things.” A logical conclusion perhaps for someone with strong beliefs. A conclusion shown even more strongly by Mikkei’s experiences with love:

“I actually left my fiancé over her drinking. Unfortunately, I just can’t stand to see people that I love hurt themselves that way. I’ve tried to hide my feelings before, but that really negatively affected me. So, I can’t be in a relationship with someone who uses drugs.”

It’s important not to see Straight Edge as a religious belief. This is a way of life and in no way associates itself with Christianity or any other form of belief. There are of course Straight Edgers who also follow a religion, but many are athiest or agnostic, with Matt Stuber seeing the former as a very logical partner for his philosophy:

“Being Atheist reinforces my sXe ethics because atheism is about being able to make conscious decisions that will not harm others, without the need for an organized church and a god. Being edge is an ethical choice that in no way, in no circumstance, have any negative effect on anyone or anything. I guess being edge influences atheism too because sXe ethics are about being independent of mind-numbing influences, and retaining the ability to make conscious decisions (like a god). I guess they go hand in hand.”

And though Terra Eash is a non-denominational Christian, she acknowledges that her religion “really doesn’t tie into my straight edge philosophies”. There are Christians in the punk rock scene, and though they may share many of the same view as Straight Edge, such as abstinence, the two do not go hand in hand, with self-identification as a Straight Edger an importance process. There has even been criticism of Christianity amongst the Straight Edge music scene, with such songs titles as “Real Edgemen Hate Jesus” by XfilesX, and “Straight Edge Punks Not Christian Fucks” by Crucial Attack.

This begins the show a more aggressive nature to the scene, taking further by such subsets of the belief as ‘hardline’ a group of an altogether far more violent nature that were involved in physical assaults in the 80s and 90s. In cities such as Salt Lake City and Reno, Straight Edge has been termed a gang by the police force for their violent activities, though from my discussions with followers, this has all been overblown.

Terra Eash sees Straight Edge as something beneficial, with the negative thoughts concerning it as stemming from more dedicated subsets, with the actual Straight Edge beliefs nothing to do with any violence that may follow – “All of the straight edge people I know personally are positive and anti-violence, but I have lived in Salt Lake City, where the “gang” violence is said to be the worst. In my opinion, this stems mostly from the vegan sXe people who commit violent acts for the sake of animal rights and it gets tied in with straight edge.”

RP too has a similar take on the idea that Straight Edge is a violent, aggressive culture:

“I think it is important at this point to note that straight edge is a ultimately a dietary habit, much like vegetarianism. When a vegetarian robs a bank with other vegetarians they are not considered a vegetarian gang but a gang whose members are vegetarian. Sadly, this is not how straight edge is viewed. People are scared of things they don’t know and label this ideology (out of ignorance) into something associated with gangs. I know over 100 straight edge kids all over California. None are in a gang. I have been “straight edge” and active within the hardcore community for over a decade and have never met anyone in a straight edge gang.”

Straight Edge over the years has had its ups and downs. Its hey day was in the 80s, where bands like Minor Threat, SSDecontrol and DYS created passionate music that related a belief they felt strongly about, inspiring a huge amount of people who enjoyed the music to do something they felt was positive with their lives and wrote lyrics thousands of youths on the fringes of society could relate to. From then, things have quietened down, with bands and gigs now low key affairs, and the stories of gang and violent culture may have put many off, but at it’s heart, Straight Edge can certainly be seen as a positive, enlightening ideal, and each Edger I spoke certainly seemed to feel this take on life was a beneficial one.

As a final thought, I asked each if they were proud to be Straight Edge. Terra and Matt both seemed certain of their answer, with Terra claiming to be “very proud to be straight edge because I feel it’s a powerful decision that is extremely healthy and logical. I’m proud to be part of a subculture that is willing to stand up to the pressures of society and make a positive change.” Matt too was just as matter of fact – “Of course I am proud to be sXe, that’s why I have sXe tattoos. Like I said before, being sXe shows strength, wisdom, and purity. Who wouldn’t be proud?”

Mikkei was slightly more coy with his answer – “I don’t know if I would say proud. I am extremely satisfied in my decision. I am constantly attempting to re-evaluate my beliefs, and straight-edge has made it through every time.”

However, I’ll leave the final words to RP “ No. Ask an artist if he is proud of himself for being an artist he will reply “no, this is just what I do.” I cannot take pride in being who I am when there are so many opportunities in this life to excel beyond that to take pride in.”


Record of the Week

Rattlesnakes by Lloyd Cole and The Commotions has endeared itself enough to me over the past few days to be worthy of a mention.  So listen to it.  Seriously.  It’s ace.







  1. i knew we could count on you to fill the void! yay!

    Comment by Amie — February 16, 2007 @ 11:18 pm | Reply

  2. Rattlesnakes is effing fantastic, so it is.

    Comment by freshlysqueezedcynic — February 19, 2007 @ 1:37 pm | Reply

  3. So I was doing a Google search of myself and found this! The article was superb, but I’m kind of sad I wasn’t notified when it was completed.

    Comment by Terra — March 11, 2007 @ 4:01 pm | Reply

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