The “Straight Edge” subculture really began to spread in the early 1980’s in response to the self-destruction, self-hatred and moral vices that are commonly associated with music, in particular the punk rock genre. Drugs and alcohol are tools of oppression that can be found all too often in these kinds of scenes and this movement was cultivated as a form of resistance against these oppressive tools. The 5-piece Washington DC band, Minor Threat, was very influential in this movement as can be seen in their song, Straight Edge, recorded in 1981. This influential song (which is shown below) gave name to the movement that had been growing since the late 1970’s. Later, bands such as Teen Idles, SOA, Unity and Uniform Choice continued these efforts spreading the movement on both the East and West coasts. Followers of this subculture oppose the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” lifestyle that is so often found in rock genres.
Members of the Straight Edge subculture can be identified by the letter ‘X’ that is usually written in dark ink on the back of their hands. This symbol which emerged around the same time as the movement, came from the X’s that underage individuals have marked on their hands before entry at concerts so that bartenders do not serve them alcohol. This is significant because of the core values of the group, namely clean living, lifetime commitment, caring relationships, self actualization, spreading the message and involvement in progressive causes (Subculture list, 2013). Members of this subculture refrain from all drugs and alcohol with some even going so far as vegetarianism or veganism as well as abstinence. Another marker of a follower of the Straight Edge subculture that has become increasingly popular as the movement has grown are tattoos depicting the group symbols and values. For example it is not uncommon to see DRUG FREE tattooed across the knuckles or large black ‘X’s tattooed on the backs of hands. These symbols are used to identify fellow Straight Edge followers and can also be found on T-shirts, backpacks and flyers.
The Straight Edge subculture can be seen as a form of resistance against the dominant representations/readings that are often associated with the punk rock scene. They are taking traditional punk rock characteristics such as short, high-tempo songs and recontextualizing them to represent a subculture that goes against the status quo and does not participate in self-destructive activities. Straight Edge followers do not recognize group leaders, do not collect dues and hold no formal meetings but are bound together by a collective identity and fundamental principles.