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Straight edge

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Straight edge

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Straight edge (sometimes abbreviated to sXe or SxE) is a lifestyle and (counter cultural) subculture, closely associated with punk, hardcore punk, and—more recently—heavy metal music. It advocates total, lifelong abstinence from tobacco, alcohol, and recreational drug use—especially psychoactive and stimulant drug use. Some straight edgers also abstain from promiscuous sexual behavior.

Originally inspired by the hardcore band Minor Threat, it has spread around the world, but is most popular in industrialized Western countries with a large middle-class—such as United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and much of Western Europe. Although straight edgers—or "edge kids"—do not necessarily identify with a particular worldview on social or political issues, many do subscribe to precepts associated with anarchism, vegetarianism–veganism, socialism, environmentalism, and the deep ecology movement. Some straight edgers are Christians or Hare Krishnas, as well as other religions.



In the book Our Band Could Be Your Life, Ian MacKaye reports that during the mid- and late 1970s, he and his friends often missed musical performances by their favorite groups because they were held in clubs in and around Washington, D.C. that served alcoholic drinks and banned anyone under 21 years of age from entering.

Rock musician, Ted Nugent, was an early inspiration for MacKaye and his close friend Henry Rollins. In an era when most popular rockers were known for their copious drug and alcohol use, Nugent made a point of proclaiming his teetotaller status.

MacKaye's group, The Teen Idles, made a brief west-coast tour in 1980. At San Francisco's Mabuhay Gardens, club owners were sympathetic to youngsters wanting to see musicians perform, and had begun writing a large 'X' on teenagers hands with a permanent marker as a warning to bartenders that such persons should not be served alcohol.

The album cover of The Teen Idles's EP Minor Disturbance features one of the iconic symbols of the straight edge movement: the Xed hands. The album cover of The Teen Idles's EP Minor Disturbance features one of the iconic symbols of the straight edge movement: the Xed hands.

Upon returning to Washington, D.C., MacKaye suggested this same notion to various area club owners as a means to allow teenagers into the clubs, while preventing them from being served alcohol. Several clubs began doing so, and the "X" drawn on one's hand eventually became a symbol of a stand against alcohol and drugs. The Teen Idles's "Minor Disturbance" EP—released on the highly influential DIY label Dischord Records in 1980—featured two X'd up hands on the cover. This EP also marked the beginning of what would become the straight edge scene within hardcore and punk.

There are differing views on the origins of the actual term "straight edge". The usual explanation is that it was coined by MacKaye's second hardcore punk band, Minor Threat, in the early-mid 1980s. The straight edge lifestyle that began soon afterwards is in fact largely defined by the lyrics to Minor Threat's songs, specifically "Out of Step" and "Straight Edge".

The term was first used in song form in the song by Minor Threat called "Straight Edge," which simply tied together many of the concepts that had been floating around in the Washington, D.C. music scene for a while. Just as many underground movements have done, the straight edge scene has diversified. There are some who preach complete "militant" purity, while there are others who—while still remaining straight—refuse to label themselves as having "the edge." Many straight edgers no longer wear the trademark black 'X' on the back of their hands.

The subsequent straight edge movement, however, was never advocated by singer Ian MacKaye—who thought of it as more the personal choices that he had made in his life. After some tension with the other members, Mackaye noted that some of Minor Threat's personnel drank (though rarely to excess).

The hardcore punk scene has been viewed by those unfamiliar with it as a mass consensus of angry kids—uniting with the purpose of creating fast and rebellious music in the hopes of reshaping a society that they perceive as bad. Although hardcore bands share some of the same themes, their lyrics, politics and attitudes can range from right to far left, from extremes to moderation, from hostility to hospitality.

While the first wave of the straight edge movement was centered around Washington, D.C. (Minor Threat, G.I.'s, and Faith) and Boston bands (SSD and DYS) from 1981–1983, there is a new wind of bands from around the country and the world calling themselves straight edge. (Seen in the names of not only the bands, such as Bold and Straight Ahead, but even in the names of the record labels, such as New Beginning, Positive Force, and Revelation.)


There are various reasons why people may choose to be straight edge, and there are various interpretations of the practice, and various applications of the precepts noted below.

Straight edge can generally be viewed as a counter culture, lifestyle, or simply as a long-term commitment to abstinence from recreational drug use.

Some use the lifestyle as a 'stepping stone' because they believe it will allow them to be more involved with their own mental and physical health. For some, straight edge involves refraining from casual sex. Rather than promoting strict abstinence, many straight edge persons believe in sex within caring relationships rather than one-night stands.

Many straight edgers are vegetarian or vegan—the two movements, however, should not necessarily be linked to straight edge.

The appeal of straight edge has broadened beyond the initial scope of punk culture and has appeal to youth of many cultures who eschew recreational drug use. Many people who are straight edge became attracted to it as a counter culture option to what they see as a widespread drug culture.

Straight edge is considered to be by many of its followers a choice. In this sense, no one is born Straight edge or has been Straight edge their entire lives. Labeling oneself Straight edge is a cognitive decision that someone makes for themselves and is generally not seen as a label that is obtained by default. No one is Straight edge simply because they don't drink, smoke, or do drugs.

Attitudes towards spirituality

Some straight edgers feel that having a clear mind is a better way to approach life and/or spirituality. They tend to be atheistic or agnostic, often believing in self-responsibility and rejecting the idea of a deity or any divine moral law. In many circles, the lifestyle has associations with spirituality—there were at one time significant Hare Krishna straight edge movements.

Recently, some in the straight edge movement have strived to separate itself from the ties with religion. With the respects they have to all races, religions, and any other specfic group, straight edgers—more recently—try to step away from spiritual binds. There are, however, a portion of straight edgers who align themselves with buddhist practices, such as Good Clean Fun.

Christians involved in the punk/hardcore subculture sometimes consider themselves straight edge; indeed, the rejection of illicit substances, alcohol consumption (particularly underage), and premarital sex, is commonly encouraged by many mainstream churches and their youth groups. It should not be, however, assumed that the self-identification as straight edge is a casual replacement of one label with another. Prominent self-identified Christian straight edgers include the bassist for Throwdown, at least one member of Comeback Kid, and at least one member of Stretch Arm Strong.

The 'X'

At punk rock shows, it became common practice to mark an X on the hands of under-aged concert goers to ensure that the bouncers would recognize a minor attempting to drink alcohol. Some people interpret this as a symbol of Ian MacKaye's "don't smoke, don't drink, don't fuck" ethos. Some interpret the three Xs as representing "Body", "Mind", and "Soul"—although three Xs have also been used as an abbreviation for hardcore punk in general.

Many adopters of the "straight edge" lifestyle voluntarily marked their hands in the same way to show their commitment to refusing alcohol. Also widespread is the tattooing of the X symbol on other parts of the body or wearing it on clothing, pins, et cetera. Three Xs (XXX) have their origin in artwork created by Minor Threat's drummer Jeff Nelson in which he replaced the three stars in the band's hometown Washington D.C. flag with Xs.

The X is considered both a mark of negation and a mark of identity. Attaching the X to one's name or band name is common practice for straight edgers. For example, 'John Smith' would become 'XjohnXsmithX', or 'xxxjohnxxx'. "Straight edge" is sometimes abbreviated sXe (S.E. plus an X) following much the same logic. Note that sXe is pronounced 'straight edge' or 'es-ee': not 'es-ex-ee' since the X is silent.

Backlash and criticisms

A subset of straight edge, often called hardline, has been involved in physical assaults in the U.S. Police in some communities—such as Salt Lake City and Reno—have classified straight edge as a gang due to violence associated with hardliners, and due to links some straight edgers have with the Animal Liberation Front.


1) Sam McPheeters, Dave Stein, Jason O'Toole, Brian Baker, THE STRAIGHT EDGE MOVEMENT (Buzz 1987)

External links

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Christian hardcore - Crust punk - D-beat - Funkcore - Grindcore - Mathcore - Melodic hardcore - Power violence - Ska punk - Skate punk - Thrashcore - Youth crew
Derivative forms: Emo - Math rock - Post-hardcore
Regional scenes: Australia
Hardcore topics: Hardcore dancing - Straight edge

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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