Straight edge punks

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By Cindy Mielke

They don’t use illicit drugs, smoke, drink or have promiscuous sex. No, they’re not fundamental Christians or Amish. They’re punks who have taken on the straight edge. Straight edge (sXe) is a lifestyle adopted by some youth in the hardcore/punk music scene. Simon Harvey, 27, has been straight edge for 12 years. “The message is that there is an alternative, that you don’t HAVE to drink, smoke or do drugs,” Harvey says. “To me it’s not about pushing an idea on people that they have to conform. It’s just making it obvious that there is the alternative. The idea of straight edge is to closely examine your life and identify what factors influence your thoughts and behaviour. You assess what impact they have on your life and get rid of the factors that have a negative impact. You don’t join straight edge, you take on the straight edge. You get involved in the scene and start thinking for yourself.

Harvey grew up in the punk scene with a lot of “drunk-punk” friends who abused alcohol and a variety of drugs but he didn’t fit this mould. He drank but soon realized it wasn’t for him. As for drugs, “I think I can let other people make my mistakes for me,” he says.

New generations of sXe youth have adopted different sets of values, or to some, “rules.” While the original definition of straight edge only included the rejection of mind altering substances, modern interpretations include veganism, total drug-free living (no caffeine, aspirin, etc.) and gaining an awareness and involvement of environmental and political issues.

As a vegan, 24-year-old Ewan Exall is one of the new breed of sXe. He’s active in the scene as a show promoter. His closest friends are also sXe and vegan. At 19, Exall realized his drinking was a path of destruction. He feared he would become an abuser if he continued.

Exall found his niche in the hardcore/sXe scene and is optimistic about it, “It gives kids something they are able to identify with.” The problem he has is with “bandwagon” sXers. He feels he and his friends have kept the scene alive while others come and go. They get pissed off with “people who sell out and don’t stick to it,” says Chris Cologan, a good friend of Exall’s.

Harvey is also pissed off with new sXe scene. Although he still lives the straight edge life, he doesn’t attend the latest shows and dissociates himself with the current scene. “Hardcore is dead. The fire has gone out. The passion is not there,” Harvey says. “It has become overrun with commercialism and violence.” He believes there is no such thing as true straight edge. “That’s exactly the kind of rhetoric that is missing the point. Straight edge is not a big deal. Straight edge is a slang term used for not drinking, doing drugs or smoking for punk rock reasons.”

Although sXe is  part of the punk scene, it doesn’t have a dress code. But it does have a symbol; three underlined X’s. Many sXers have this tattooed on their body, showing their dedication for life.

The symbol came from punk shows where bouncers marked minors’ hands with an X to prevent them from buying booze. As the sXe philosophy grew popular, punkers who were over 18 but didn’t drink for ideological reasons began marking themselves with the X to show solidarity.

Music plays an important role in straight edge. The Teen Idles, an early ‘80s Washington, Dc hardcore band, can be called the first sXe band. However, it wasn’t until the formation of Minor Threat that the movement got its name. Ian Mackaye is perhaps the godfather of sXe. As the lead singer of Minor Threat, he was the first to coin the term.

Minor Threat and SS Decontrol, were large influences for many. They spawned a growing scene. By the late ‘80s, sXe hardcore reached a peak, especially in the heart of New York City. “As a kid it was cool for me to see that there were PUNKS that felt the same way,” says Harvey.

To Mackaye, straight edge was about anti-obsession — to remove self destructive obsession from your life. His band wrote the songs “Straight Edge” and “Out of Step.” The lyrics encompassed the intolerances the band had. He is often quoted as saying, “Straight edge is not a movement or a set of rules. It’s a pro-alertness, pro-positive thinking ideal.”

“I don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t fuck, at least I can fucking think.” — Out of Step (with the world) by Minor Threat.

Many people are confused with the lyric “don’t fuck.” People have taken it literally, when that was not the intent. In fact, Mackaye had a girlfriend when he wrote the line. It simply meant don’t fuck around. Or in more polite words, no promiscuous sex. It follows the ideals of only doing what is good for you and your body. One-night-stands spread disease and cause unwanted pregnancies and abortions, not to mention the emotional baggage they carry. That’s why many sXe kids will wait until they reach a certain level of maturity. They want to be able to deal with a relationship and commitment.

Although sXe is past its popularity peak, it still offers a positive lifestyle choice for fans of punk and hardcore music. New bands, such as Earth Crisis, Snapcase, Trial and Strife, have emerged to bear the sXe standard. The underlying message remains the same.

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