What is Straight Edge?

In the late 1970s and early 1980s a group of bands and kids began something that grew into a movement. It would become a movement that would outlive many of their involvement in the music and the scene. They didn't know what they were doing. They knew they didn't like what was going on around them, the self destruction, the self hatred, the pain and suffering caused by the punk mentality. The fuck you and fuck the world attitude didn't make sense to them. They took a symbol that was originally used to identify them as being too young to drink so that the bartenders would know not to serve them and they made it their own. So they started setting themselves apart by wearing X's on their hands and by singing angry songs proclaiming:

"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"

Minor Threat wrote this song in 1980 and a name was given to what would become a movement. The basic beliefs that drugs and alcohol were not needed and should be rejected. That one should live against the grain of popular society and live by rules and standards from themselves and not the ones dictated by society.

Influenced by Minor Threat and other Washington DC bands like the Teen Idles and SOA, the Boston bands SS Decontrol and DYS took the words to heart and expanded on them and expanding Straight Edge's presence within the growing hardcore music genre.

SS Decontrol, Forced Down Your Throat from the GET IT AWAY LP

What's there to do weekends here
Go to a party drink some beer
Everybody's drinking why shouldn't you
Be a part of the drinking crew

That's real cool you're a man
Forced down forced can
Forced down your throat
Forced down your throat

Conditions set conditioned to drink
Too much pressure just won't think
Look what's next smoking a J
Think for yourself break away


Do the hard stuff its real fast
Do it straight the buzz will last
Fuck off you I ain't no waste
Why drink that when I just can't stand the taste

The East Coast was not the only place where Straight Edge was starting to take hold. West Coast bands Unity, Uniform Choice and 7 Seconds were each adding their voice to the growing chorus.

Uniform Choice, Straight and Alert from the Screaming for Change LP

Who drinks the barley?
Who drinks the grain?
Who shoots that shit into their veins?
Is there really the need for the use of dope?
Does it solve ones problems
Can it help one cope?

All the above bands were active between 1981 and 1984. Things stalled at this point. It wasn't until 1985 that a band would come along and change straight edge forever and turn it into the movement that everyone involved today knows and loves. This band was Youth of Today. The record that would change it all was Can't Close my Eyes. During its existence youth of Today featured pretty much a who's who of New York Hardcore. Youth of Today shared members with bands that would define the youth crew and straight edge sound for years to come. Bands like Bold, Side By Side, Gorilla Biscuits, Judge, and Project X. These bands together would form the backbone that all modern straight edge bands benefit from. These are best represented by the lyrics of the song that named the era.

Youth of Today, Youth Crew from the Can't Close my Eyes 7"

Me you youth crew!
If the world was flat I'd grind the edge
To the positive youth my heart I pledge
X on my hand now take the oath
To positive youth to positive growth
To positive minds, to pure clean souls
These will be all my goals
Walk with me and my crew
There is so much shit we can do
And we won't stop until we're through

The Youth Crew era lasted through the late 80s and straight edge would never be the same. It was now a movement. It was more than just a set of personal beliefs. It was something more. It was more than words it was a force of change in the world.

The late 1980s and early 1990s found many straight edge bands becoming more and more political and more geographically dispersed. California saw bands like Inside Out, Insted, Chain of Strength, Outspoken, No for an Answer, Carry Nation, Chorus of disapproval and Unbroken. Seattle saw bands like Brotherhood and Undertow. The east coast had Turning Point, Mouthpiece, Flagmen, Crud, Battery, and Lifetime.

Brotherhood, No Tolerance (For Ignorance) from Fuck Racism, No Tolerance EP

So proud of your country, nationalistic pride
So proud of your race, prejudiced mind
If you so love your country why can't you see
It's made up of all people, no racial boundaries

We're dedicated to stop your ignorance
Band together to bring you to your knees
For your actions we have no tolerance
Your blind hate, prejudice, a disease

Beating up kids who don't share your views
Pull that shit with us and you'll lose
We may lose some battles
But we'll win this war
We may have sat complacent once, no more

The mid 1990s saw explosive growth due in large part to the pro animal rights, pro straight edge band Earth Crisis. The more metallic Bands of this era were One King Down, Brother’s Keeper and Strife. Many of these bands and people involved embraced a militant animal rights stance. It was at this time that Straight Edge gained notoriety, incorrectly, for advocating violence and a gang like mentality in places like Salt Lake City Utah. While misconceptions continue to this day, there is no truth or foundation in accusations like these. These stories were isolated and were blown out of proportion and ended many many years ago.

Firestorm by Earth Crisis was often misinterpreted and pointed to as an example of advocating violence in the name of straight edge. However as with most hardcore the song wasn't literal, but the mainstream press doesn't understand subtext.

Firestorm from the Firestorm EP/ The Oath that keeps me Free
Street by street.
Block by block.
Taking it all back.
The youth's immersed in poison
Turn the tide counterattack.
Violence against violence,
Let the roundups begin.
A firestorm to purify the bane that society drowns in.

During this same time period saw a Youth Crew revival spearheaded by Ten Yard Fight and included bands like In My Eyes, Hands Tied, Atari, Rancor, 97a, and Better than a Thousand.
Far less militant than the "vegan warriors" of the time, these bands were positive and brought crucial and edgemen back into the lexicon.

Courage to Care by In My Eyes from The Difference between

Growing up not slowing down
Time got your best just look around
But I've found something that keeps me aware
A whole scene of people with the courage to care
Your youth is behind you
As if you were dead
Those times were good man
My best lies ahead
When I deal with you now
All I get is upset
You keep pushing me away
Something you'll regret
I know only a few have the will to stay sincere
Seeing different faces every fucking year!

The first half of the 2000's have seen a lot of ups and downs in both the number of straight edge kids as well as the number of bands. There currently aren't an overwhelming number of straight edge bands as there once were, but the ones that are around are doing it with all their heart. The bands A.18 and Over My Dead Body were straight edge super groups made up largely by members from earlier bands and all involving men in their 30s a rarity in hardcore and especially straight edge. Some bands that were keeping things alive and spreading the message, The Promise, With Honor, Casey Jones, Champion, The Answer, and Blue Monday

The Mirror by With Honor from their Self Titled EP

I've let tomorrow be a good excuse for
Not changing today
Looking over our lists of to-do's routines have gotten in the way
Day in, day out it becomes the same
I'm tired of standing for nothing and sleepwalking our time away

Leaving our questions unanswered
Or never asking at all

Could we be something more?
Than we are right now?
Eyes closed, shut tight,
Apathy has us by the throat,
Loosen the ropes and let our dreams take flight!

So often we let our dreams fall away but not this time... let's go

I feel like I've never wanted something so bad as this
Stand up and be something more!

We’ll make a change
No time to waste

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