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Inside Straight Edge

Written by Kathleen Green
[media-credit id=127 align="alignleft" width="590"]Teenagers dancing[/media-credit]
Straight Edge teenagers ‘mosh’ at a hardcore music event.

Have you got the Edge?

I’m a person just like you
But I’ve got better things to do
Than sit around and fuck my head
Hang out with the living dead
Snort white shit up my nose
Pass out at the shows
I don’t even think about speed
That’s something I just don’t need
I’ve got the straight edge

An American band called Minor Threat wrote this song in 1980. The track “Straight Edge” goes for 36 seconds, but its impression has lasted over three decades.

The name of the song would become a movement that has intoxicated young people all over the world as they claim; they too, have the Straight Edge.

In short, Straight Edge is a subculture that bases itself around hardcore music. People who are Edge do not consume alcohol; they don’t smoke, do drugs or have promiscuous sex.

They took a mark that was originally used by bartenders to identify teens as being too young to drink, and transformed it into a symbol of their lifestyle. The ‘X’ worn on their hands has become a trademark, as they set themselves apart from the norm, and show that they are loud and proud.

“What they were trying to say was ‘fuck you’ to every single norm. The norm is for teens to be passive, drunk and horny. So they say we’re gonna be violent, sober and celibate. Everything society tells us not to be, we’re gonna be that” says Dr Nick Carah from the University of Queensland.

The expert in popular culture has studied the Straight Edge movement and says it took a long time for it to hit Brisbane, and it came along by accident. The early 2000s saw a gain in momentum for hard core music at venues along Mary Street, and it was inevitable that the straight edge message would follow suit. Dr Carah says the venue owners only started noticing the movement as they began to ask themselves “why are we selling so much ginger beer?”

These days, Albion plays host to the Straight Edge scene. Every weekend the PCYC is awash with Straight Edge enthusiasts, mainly made up of teenagers and twenty some-things, there to enjoy the music that founded their life style.

“For me it was a promise that I wouldn’t do what other people did,” says Michael Bennett-Smith, 17.

“Were I go to school is a heavy, heavy drinking culture. It’s a private boy’s school; everyone plays rugby and drinks beer. And that always disgusted me… I really hated it,” his friend, Harley Scott, 16, adds.

For them, Straight Edge is not a temporary life style choice, and the notion of “selling out” (breaking the code of abstinence), is apparently one of the biggest insult you can give a Straight Edge person.

This draws attention to the violent undertones within the Brisbane Straight Edge subculture, in particular, their attitudes towards people who “sell out”. Kelly James, 19, is all too familiar with the violence within the community, but says “there is nothing you can do about it”.

She highlights the extreme opinions some people take to “selling out”, describing them as the more “militant” members of the Straight Edge community. “If you had an Edge tattoo and you sold out, they would take a cheese grater to it, or like sandpaper or whatever.”

She tells a story of a Straight Edge band member who broke the code, and the reaction this caused:

“People came to the show and saw his [the band member’s] car and ripped his car apart, set it all on fire. And when he came out there were five guys bashing the fuck out of him and he was in a coma … And then he just pissed off down to Melbourne, came back a year later and the minute he got to the airport, there were people waiting at the airport for him”.

Mr Scott says this is not a testament to the Straight Edge community, and these violent tendencies have nothing to do with being Edge; “If people are going to get into a fight, whether they’re in straight edge … if they’re gonna fight, this is what they’re gonna do. It’s not what they believe in; it’s just that they’re looking for a fight.”

His friend Bradley Young, 16, speaks against the misconceptions people have on Straight Edge communities because of the violent stories that people hear;

“People think that people that come to this scene are just going to end up poor and dead … a lot of people are actually smart that come here. They are normal people, not just people that come to fight.

Allan Reid, founder of What Remains Records, thinks Straight Edge is a great lifestyle and” sets an excellent example for younger kids that drinking, smoking, doing drugs and sleeping around aren’t activities that you need to do”.

Mr. Reid is a long time Edge member and is a keen supporter of the lifestyle.

“There’s another (lifestyle) option in the form of abstinence and it isn’t something that should be seen as unacceptable,” says Mr. Reid.

Whether people view it in a positive or negative light, the Edge community does not appear to be going anywhere; as their motto infers, “edge til dead”. Who would have thought a band that lasted 6 months would influence and change the way of life for so many young people over 30 years later.

Story by Brigid Amato & Nicholas Battersby

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