Inside Straight Edge

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.

[media-credit id=127 align=”alignleft” width=”590″]A photo of Kelly James[/media-credit]

Kelly James at a hardcore music event in Mt Gravatt.

Straight to the point: Kelly James

It’s nearing quarter past six and the slight breeze that whistles on this fine Friday evening is overshadowed by the pervasive if not demonic vocals that echo amid the bustling traffic on the Brisbane south side. We wait in a vacant parking lot adjacent to the local Police Citizen’s Youth Club for a vehicle that’s carrying perhaps – and, we don’t know this yet – one of the most interesting characters we’ve ever come across.

She arrives; the Corolla bearing a green ‘P’ on its windscreen blazes as the sunset fades. The first thing you notice when you set eyes on the five-foot-four Kelly Louise James is her eclectic array of body art that blankets her chest and arms. At 19, her ebony eye-liner compliments her equally dark lashes of hair, finished with a somewhat auburn glaze. She is, quite surprisingly, the quintessential Barbie doll, with her porcelain skin and high cheekbones and that austere pout of her lips.

“Hey! Sorry we’re late. Fucking traffic, aye,” Ms James says. She immediately acknowledges her company and we exchange names in an attempt to decrease the obvious tension. Her companions too, are tattoo clad but rather towering. “Okay, let’s go.”

The closer we get to our destination, the further we’re getting away from society. We’re entering the hardcore scene – it’s a scene city slickers and college kids instantly judge: one that’s considered inferior, aggressive, different. The congregation of teens and twenty-somethings are already gathered inside. The boys look alike with their backward caps and Vans slip-ons; the girls in summer dresses which contrast to their collection of medieval-like ear piercings. There’s a fragrance of perspiration and teen spirit.

“So, are they all in Straight Edge?” I can barely hear myself.

“Nah, but there’s a lot of Edge here. A Fuck load,” Ms James replies.

You’d think that, on this calm commencement of the weekend, suburbia’s tainted children are gulping whiffs of this and snorting lines of that. You’d think they’d be undertaking the normal debauchery of puberty and post, experimenting with the night and then exhibiting morning regret. But not here.

Welcome to the Straight Edge movement – an international subculture that refrains from the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. The strict adherence to the dogma of abstinence is so fierce that should you find yourself a sinner, expect physical maltreatment from amongst your brethren. Although not compulsory, many members ink an X on the back of their neck or hands to demonstrate admittance and loyalty; others are as pure as the Virgin Mary, and Kelly James, in that sense, is one of them.

“When I first turned Edge, I was really cocky and arrogant,” she recalls, animated hand gestures in tow. “My parents take the piss at me sometimes … I was like, ‘You’re fucking drinking poison!”

It’s the ultimate form of rebellion that even Holden Caulfield in JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye couldn’t comprehend. If teen rebellion railed against the mainstream, then Straight Edge rebelled against that rebellion and that society. Now, just two years out of St Aiden’s Anglican Girls School, how did Ms James become one of the well-revered amongst her abstinence acquaintances and anti-peer-pressure posse?

“I was on drugs, really, really young. I was doing heavy drugs by the age of 13, got to 14, went to rehab, and then found out what hardcore was, found out what Straight Edge was. Thought ‘fuck yeah!’ that’s for me!”

Ms James turns around; those distorted guitars are coming from a band called Romans, whose exaggerated screams actually infer stunning poetic imagery. Boys, not girls in the instance, are expressing their anger (or joy, maybe) in what they call “mosh fighting” – a dance that incorporates jumping, air-punching and elbowing others. How can this be described as an expression of new conservatism in Australian youth culture?

“It’s just a respect thing. That’s another big thing in Edge, respect. Like all of those guys there, they’ve earned where they are, it sounds shit, but they’ve all earned where they are, so that’s why no one will stop them from smacking a bastard in the face.”

These people are “sell outs”.  They’re the sinners who fail the abstinence code and go against Edge convention; a crime committed in themselves and to their peers.

“One of the girls I know – well, I don’t talk to anymore for good reason – she claimed Edge because she thought it was cool at the time, and then about six months later she decided to sell out, and started sending me photos of her smoking, so again, that’s a no go, it’s very, very disrespectful,” Ms James affirms.

“So I see her in the city one day and she was really rude to me, and waved and smirked at me so I just picked her up and …”  she opens the palm of her left hand and punches it with her right, “one, two, three, shattered eye sockets, broken nose…”

Oddly enough, there’s something strikingly eloquent in Ms James’ execution of her violent past. This is a girl whose Facebook biography cites “I have no time for users, abusers or people with no respect”.

She says if you claim to be Edge and you have a drink, or dob in your mate, you’re a “sell out”.

“Such is the offense of selling out that it could ruin your reputation to the point of excommunication. Story has it that there was a “dude” in an Edge band who had a big X on his neck, only to require surgery to remove the logo after selling out. “He couldn’t afford the anesthetic so he just did it without.”

Scanning the hall, you can’t help but notice the bottles of water that line the counter at a dollar each and the mounting heap of crushed Red Bull cans in the bins. The list continues as our subject counts them off her delicate fingers. For a salesgirl whose income derives from a moderately-priced soap boutique, her hands are pretty smooth.

“If you cheat on a girl, that’s selling out. Anything that goes against the morals of Straight Edge, that’s selling out. It’s the ultimate insult. If someone calls you a sellout, it’s …” again, she opens the palm of her left hand and punches it with her right, “Yeah.”

If Edgers subscribe to a life free of poisons, then the question of the subculture’s violent nature comes to the fore. We didn’t know it then, but at the heart of belonging to Edge was its hardcore music, right up there with the creed. “The music, it’s very emotive, a lot of people here are Edge or the opposite of Edge, lot’s of clashing, everyone’s very opinionated as well. A lot of strong personalities.”

Like every girl, Ms James has had her fair share of boy troubles and teenage tantrums. As a result, she blatantly refers to men as with another form of endearment. “A lot of guys would take advantage of me,  you know,  hit guys … and then found that Edge gives you a lot of self respect if you do it for the right reasons.”

She later adds, seriously, “I don’t really care about men at the moment at all.”

The discussion lingers into the relationship with her parents, whom Ms James describes as “supportive”, but with caution. With a mother who smokes two packs a day and a casually-drinking father, Ms James is nonchalant about her parent’s choices. She shrugs her shoulders, “I went through a phase where I snapped all her smokes and it ended badly.”

Despite some dark memories Ms James remains optimistic in her promising future. “Where do I see myself? Tattooing.” An artist? “Yeah, shit yeah!”

At this point we take our leave. But I can’t help but ask her how she survives the culture of counter-rebellion. “Watch your mouth, respect your elders, stand up for yourself. I don’t give a fuck who smokes or does drugs, that’s their choice, but the minute they push that onto me and disrespect my beliefs, then I’ll tell them.”

Story by Kristoffer Reynoso