The Underwater Sounds: Legendary Misfits of Sounds

Publication: JUMP
Published: January 15, 2015 (Winter 2015 Issue)

The Underwater Sounds: Legendary Misfits of Sounds

As Sean Youngman drives along Grays Ferry Avenue toward Southwest Philadelphia, he notices a disheveled youth standing by the roadside, asking for change. He stops his car and roots around the back seat that is occupied by laundry baskets filled with freshly pressed albums and promotional posters. “I knew I had them in here,” he mumbles as he tosses items around. Youngman locates a box of granola bars, quickly rolls down the window and waves the beggar over. He hands the vagabond a bar with a smile, stating, “I like to keep them around and hand them out to people on the streets. I think it’s good karma.”

It seems that karma has really paid off for Youngman and his fellow musicians in The Underwater Sounds, a West Philly band on the brink of launching into exciting endeavors. The Sounds’ newest release, Visions of Love & Light, Part 1 – recorded at Fishtown’s East Room Recording – has just been pressed in time for a tour.

Youngman approaches the dead-end of Paschall Avenue and hops out of the car. His fellow band members – vocalist Sonni Schwartzbach, bassist Kenny Shumski and guitarist Billy Campion – come out to meet him.

Inside Campion’s home – an industrial building he converted into a living/practice space – the bandmates set down boxes of albums and posters, grab a few bottles of Goose Island beer and collapse on the couches in the practice area. The walls are covered with psychedelic tapestries, and the corners of the room are crowded with band merchandise, amplifiers and instruments. This is a rare opportunity for everyone to relax before launching into another busy stretch. But they’re accustomed to it, ever since forming in 2010.

“It was just me, Sonni and Sean at first, writing and playing [Sonni’s] tunes,” says Shumski. “But eventually, more members came aboard and everything kind of shifted in a different direction. We started exploring collaboration as a group.”

Campion’s addition brought a touch of jam to the unit. But that’s just one element of the package.

“Space roots, world-bop, psychedelic groove…” Schwartzbach lists as she tries to categorize the band.

“I like to say reggae soul,” chimes in Campion.

“Reggae is a cool box to be in but I don’t necessarily think we fit inside a box,” counters Schwartzbach. “We’re not going to be stuck in one scene. We’re misfits.”

Labeling aside, the band coalesced into a distinct sound over the years, with each member providing an element of his or her own.

“Sean and I come from more harder-rock backgrounds, Sonni always played in reggae bands and ska bands and Billy played all sorts of stuff,” says Shumski. “It’s not like we’re consciously trying to create a unique sound. It’s just happening.”

That is the mentality which makes The Sounds so accessible, even to those who normally won’t bother listening to reggae or jam music. Their live shows are legendary, with live art, stilt-walkers, hula-hoopers and fire-spinners complementing the trippy tunes.

“We have a lot of friends with really unique abilities that they’ll contribute to our shows,” says Youngman.

After years of handling live acts and two records on their own, the band has recently signed on to locally-based Rising Pulse Productions – home of Philly funk outfit Swift Technique – allowing them to concentrate strictly on the music.

Although The Sounds have invested plenty of time traveling, they still call Philadelphia – specifically West Philly – home.

“The music scene is accessible,” Schwartzbach remarks. “There’s a community here that’s not typical of East Coast cities to have this homey feel.”

“And nobody complains about the music!” notes Campion in regard to practices.

“It’s cool that we can park the band bus out here, too,” says Youngman with a laugh.

All told, the band’s core ethos is simply summed up in one line.

“It’s a party and we want everyone to have a fucking good time,” says Schwartzbach. “No matter who they are.”

And that’s a party you don’t want to miss.

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Nicetown-Tioga: Turning a New Page

Publication: Philadelphia Neighborhoods (Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab at Temple University)
Published: March 12, 2009

Nicetown-Tioga: Turning a New Page
By Brian Myszkowski (with contributions by Laura Yacoe and Lauren Pappas)

The bookstores of the Tioga and Nicetown community are much more than stacks of literature and textbooks. They serve as a forum for the community and an educational outlet for the people of the neighborhood.

When customers walk up to the poster-clad staircase of Black and Nobel Bookstore, the employees and owner Hakim Hopkins immediately welcome them with smiles and hearty handshakes. It seems as if Hopkins knows just about every customer on a personal basis.

Beats from a local rapper boom from the speakers and bounce off the book-lined walls as customers read urban literature and browse the collection of music. “We draw ‘em in by simply playing the music,” said Hopkins, “It may be something like just hearing one beat, if you get somebody to do that, the next thing you know they’re walking up the steps.”

But customers find much more than hip-hop beats and reggae tones. The constant excitement of the 1409 W. Erie Ave. business has grown into a Philadelphia hot spot. The bookstore regularly hosts signings and celebrity appearances to keep the customers coming. On most Fridays, the store offers free food to the customers.

The majority of customers are regulars, and they feel a strong connection to the store and its employees. “These people are like
family to me,” said Chantelle Clark, a frequent visitor. The constant crowds promise a successful future for the business.

Considering the humble beginnings of Black and Nobel, the origin of the store serves as inspiration for other budding businesses – businesses that could play a similar role in improving the neighborhood. The spacious second-floor bookstore first opened as a vendor’s table on the street six years ago, thanks to the help of the “New Choices, New Options” program that Hopkins attended at Temple University. It has since flourished in a growing company, including a wholesale distribution department, as well as a program to ship books
to prisons.

Bookstores are a rarity in the neighborhood, but the ones that exist are well aware of their importance and positive impact on the community. Al-Furqan Bookstore and Bazaar is another bookstore that has used its reputation to promote literacy combined with religion. Located at 4816 N. Broad St., Al-Furqan primarily focuses on Islamic and African-American literature as well as clothing, home decorations, and organic soaps and oils. Customers are warmly greeted with the traditional Muslim greeting assalamu alaikum and the smell of oils and colorful khimars draped on the walls.

“We provide a positive image in this environment,” said owner, Khalil Ghani. Ghani and his wife, Haji Khalil Ghani, opened in 1995 as a bookstore and have expanded into a clothing boutique since then.

Ghani attributes his success of his business to the upkeep of his store. By keeping the store in good shape, he believes, there will be a positive impact on the rest of the neighborhood. By improving the visual aspect of the community, there is an improvement in the quality of life for the residents. “I was the only one for awhile to go outside and sweep up the trash, but it’s important to keep doing that,” said Ghani.

Al-Furqan and Black and Nobel provide employment opportunities for people in the neighborhood – a welcoming prospect during these tough economic times.

Both bookstores regularly receive shipments of new books and other products, and Ghani hires on a need-basis to restock. “When you involve the people, they feel a greater association to the environment. They’ll look out for you, protect you,” said Ghani.

Both businesses have reached out to local youth to create a learning environment with their collections of children’s novels and music. Local elementary schools visit Al-Furqan for field trips. “Buses come in – just to shop – busloads of kids just to shop,” said Ghani.

The bookstores bring the community together and improve the safety and education of the neighborhood residents. Literature is in constant competition with the crime and drug problems. A few years ago, this particular area was rife with danger, including violence attributed to gang activity and drugs.

“Six years ago, people were openly selling drugs on the street, and you see a whole lot less of that now,” said Hopkins. Instead, more and more people are coming to these bookstores — positive environments that encourage education and unity, what Hopkins calls “a balance in life.”

Each store may appeal to a particular customer base, but both use their positive reputation as a way to reach out the community. Whether one is looking for a new urban fiction novel at Black and Nobel or a classic Muslim text at Al Furqan, a customer is bound to notice the beneficial impact of such establishments. By encouraging literacy, community and employment, both establishments are helping to improve the quality of life in the Allegheny, Tioga and Nicetown neighborhoods.

While one could attribute this movement to forward-thinking individuals like the Ghanis and Hopkins, it appears that the progress is a product of a joint effort.

“I can’t take all the credit, it’s thanks to the people,” said a modest Hopkins. With the Ghanis and Hopkins leading the way, the community has a lot to look forward to.

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PW’s Picks For The Week: “Toyland Closing Reception” and “Cubeecraft”

Publication: Philadelphia Weekly
Published: November 5, 2008

PW’s Picks For The Week

Toyland Closing Reception
Fri., Nov. 7, 6-9pm. Free. Nexus Foundation for Today’s Art, 1400 N. American St. 215.684.1946.
The first time someone tries to photograph you with a Holga, you’ll be expecting a blast of water in your eye. That’s how silly it looks. But the Holga, along with a variety of other toy cameras, can create visually stunning photos through imperfection. Light leaks, color shifts and heavy vignettes that would take hours of tedium to replicate in Photoshop turn these everyday images into artwork. A collection of toy camera photographers–including Philly native Chris Macan–show off their beautifully flawed masterpieces at Toyland’s closing reception. Subjects and techniques include everything from Macan’s brilliantly colorful portraits to Rita Bernstein’s eerily nostalgic explorations of family life. Once you see the beauty of analog toy camera photography, you might not want go back to digital. It’ll seem awfully lame by comparison. (Brian Myszkowski)

What’s the most fun you can legally have with a knife? It’s Cubeecraft, a free online hobby site where you can download and construct your own paper figurines. Start with the simple Meatwad or Kirby toys and work your way up to a more complex craft like MC Chris. All you need is a hobby knife, a printer and a profound case of boredom. (B.M.)

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Choke – Movie Review

Publication: Broad & Cecil (the news blog of The Temple News)
Published: September 28, 2008

“Choke” Movie Review

You know the stories – the guy in the emergency room with the hamster/light bulb/champagne bottle stuck in his rectum, the lady with the peanut butter and a hungry dog… But have you ever heard the one about the sex obsessed guy who may be the illegitimate offspring of Christ?

Sam Rockwell stars as med school dropout and sex addict Victor Mancini in actor Clark Gregg’s directorial debut Choke. Victor spends his days working at a colonial theme park, acting as a “historical interpreter” while he hits on the milk maids and wastes time with his chronically masturbating, scene stealing buddy Denny (the hilarious Brad William Henke).

Due to the expense of keeping his mother Ida (Anjelica Huston) in a pricy psychiatric hospital, Victor makes additional income by choking at restaurants, allowing himself to be saved by unwitting diners. As Victor explains it, these people feel indebted to him, sending cards and cash to help the poor bastard out.

Through flashbacks, we learn of Ida’s unorthodox method of child rearing, which consists of kidnapping young Victor from foster families in order to teach him such life-saving lessons as the hidden meanings of announcements at department stores.

When Ida’s condition takes a turn for the worse, she lets it slip that there’s a secret concerning Victor’s origin. Victor employs help from his mother’s new doctor – and his new sexual conquest – Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald) to find the truth about his origin. And that’s where the story goes off the deep end, incorporating the theft of a sacred artifact from the Vatican and a secret insemination program.

Rockwell’s portrayal of the dry witted dirt-bag is spot-on – despite his despicable nature, you still like the son of a bitch. Of course, he’s no stranger to the character type – see Confessions of a Dangerous Mind for proof.

Being that the source material for Choke is a story by cult novelist Chuck Palahniuk, viewers are bound to be obsessively critical. Fear not – the film follows the original story fairly well, although it’s naturally been boiled down to fit an hour and a half of screen time. While the story plays well overall within the confines of a relatively short run-time, the ending comes off as a bit rushed.

Several points are skimmed over passively to save time, leaving us with some unanswered questions and seemingly random jumps in plot.

Whereas David Fincher applied a highly stylish look to Palahniuk’s Fight Club, Clark Gregg had to make due on a paltry indie budget for Choke. While most directors would view this as a massive hurdle, Gregg plays it to his advantage, creating a sense of realism with average – if not seriously damaged – people in uncanny situations. The drab sets (the psychiatric hospital, community centers and Mancini’s run-down home) and down-to-earth characters make it work, grounding us in reality while the story travels well outside the realm.

Choke recently took the Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize, so it seems that Gregg beat the mountain of odds stack against him. It’s a fun, dark comedy that retains the ridiculous voice of Palahniuk throughout, resulting in a bizarre – but occasionally (and oddly) endearing – film that’s ripe with intriguingly hilarious twists and turns.

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5 Things You Should Know About Perkasie at The Fire Last Night

Publication: Phawker
Published: November 15, 2007

All Of This Happened While You Were Sleeping

perkasiesepia_2HOOT NANNY: Perkasie At The Fire, Last Night


1. Country/folk outfit Perkasie might seem more at home performing in an old Texas saloon with a worn-out bar piano, but they manage to get folks at The Fire tapping their feet to a collection of catchy Southern-style tunes. Subject matter ranges from grillin’ and drinkin’ some beers to more subdued whistle-along ballads about small-town life. With alternative acts like Bright Eyes and Murder by Death making mid-career transitions into country territory, it’s refreshing to see a band like Perkasie born straight into the genre.

2. Toward the end of the set, the band makes sure to squeeze in their fan favorite, “Ginger Sobs,” complete with a dedication sent out to all the red-heads in attendance — there aren’t many, but it’s the thought that counts.
3. Lead vocalists Kate Foust and Alex Wash harmonize and trade off lyrics with an enjoyable mix of Southern energy and soulful blues on tracks like “Honey Bee” and “The Fighting Thirteenth.” Wash manages to tickle the ivories at the same time, and for a song or two makes efficient use of the mandolin for a high energy hoedown – in Philadelphia, of all places.

4. Ben Roth’s down-home acoustic twang sounds over the smooth bass lines of Danny Sadler, while Dom Billett keeps the percussion rolling along nicely (the man also drums for the Southern/metal/hardcore band Judi Rose, of which Roth is also a part). And, of course, we can’t forget Matt Kelly, who accents the performance with an additional bass drum for that extra rhythmic punch.

5. And what does the band think of itself? “If Perkasie was a woman, I’d take her out, ’cause she’s the kind of girl you can take out to dinner and then have wild sex with. You know you’re gonna have a good time,” says Foust. Do they have your attention now?


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sXe and Violence

Publication: Self-published on my old blog NEWNOISEAFICIONADO
Published: November 9, 2007

sXe and Violence

It’s just past twelve o’clock on a Wednesday night. A group of a dozen students are crowded into a single room apartment on the twelfth floor of The Edge, an apartment complex located on Temple University’s main campus. The music shifts between mid-90’s alternative such as Third Eye Blind to 80’s rock acts like Tom Petty as the students play card games on the floor and drink Yuengling and Blue Moon. Sitting on the floor in a corner, happily chatting with a fellow party-goer, is Joe Trani, a twenty year old Temple student majoring in Broadcast Telecommunications and Mass Media.

When the hostess of the get-together offers Joe a beer, he politely declines before glancing down at his shirt which reads ‘Straight Edge.’ A smile creeps across his face, and he laughs heartily before continuing his conversation. Trani is the only person at the party who isn’t drinking, and there’s a reason behind it.

He is part of a movement called Straight Edge, whose members abstain from most mind-altering substances and promiscuous sex. Trani has been part of the Straight-Edge subculture for the past seven years. “I got into it when I got into early hardcore like Minor Threat,” he says. “I wasn’t really fully into it at the time, but I never really did drugs or drink or have sex. It took a while before I realized I liked the lifestyle.”

Straight Edge originated from the early 80’s hardcore music scene, which was fast, aggressive, and socially active. East coast cities such as New York and Washington, D.C. had strong hardcore music scenes, and plenty of influential bands as well. Hardcore enthusiasts of the area noted that the punk rock ideology of ‘No Future’ seemed to ensure a downward spiral for the scene, and they decided to make a positive change. Thus, a mostly male youth-oriented movement devoid of alcohol, drugs, and promiscuous sex was born.

It wasn’t until Ian MacKaye, singer and songwriter of hardcore band Minor Threat, penned the song ‘Straight Edge’ for their 1981 record ‘Out of Step’ that the movement had a title. The song, which features a chorus of the repeated line, ‘I’ve got the straight edge’ was meant to indicate that MacKaye had an advantage over those who partook in drugs, alcohol, and other risky behaviors.

Through the years, Straight Edge has distanced itself from the hardcore scene, becoming a more independent movement. “You certainly don’t have to be hardcore to be edge,” says Trani.

The performance space of The Globe Café, a hole-in-the-wall venue located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is alive with the distortion laden insanity of old-school influenced hardcore act ‘Omerta.’ Patrons of the club line the cream-colored edge of a room no larger than an average garage, leaving an open space in the middle of the floor.

Upon the chugging brutality of a breakdown, the void erupts into chaos. Kids in camouflage shorts and hardcore band tee-shirts take to the floor and perform an intricate series of spin kicks and cartwheels known as ‘hardcore dancing.’ George Belaires, decked out in a fitted ball-cap and white hooded sweatshirt with a pattern of illustrated diamonds, plays a sweat-soaked set of tunes which preach the benefits of a clean lifestyle. By the end of Omerta’s set, the band is drenched, gasping for breath, and fighting the impulse to collapse on the well-worn brown laminate floor.

“Some of my lyrics in my other bands have Edge references, but none of them preach it like Omerta. [It’s] a way to keep your body pure and a way to live your life positively,” Belaires states. “It’s the better way to live.”

Belaires is a seventeen-year-old senior from Northampton Area High School, as well as the guitarist of the Straight Edge influenced hardcore band Omerta. He also plays in three other bands that include Straight Edge members.

Straight Edgers often represent their movement with the symbol ‘X’ or ‘XXX.’ The ‘X’ comes from a club practice in the 80’s, when under-age kids who attended shows were marked with an ‘X’ on their hand to signify they were too young to drink. The ‘XXX’ stems from another Minor Threat song called ‘Out of Step,’ which featured the line ‘[I] don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t fuck, At least I can fucking think.

Jeanne Southard, former owner of The Globe Café – which has hosted its fair share of Straight Edge oriented shows over the past two years – agrees with Trani on the subject of hardcore and Edge. “I do see an inherent connection [between hardcore and Straight Edge], but this isn’t to say you have to be ‘into’ hardcore to be Straight Edge, or vice-versa.”

The little room has mostly cleared out, with a few people running back and forth to transport guitar cases and amps to cars. Belaires doesn’t have much time to rest, as one of his other bands, Neveragainforyou, will be performing soon. Unable to stand the rain-forest grade heat of the club, he sheds his sweatshirt to reveal a black sleeveless tee.

It’s only a short matter of time before the rest of Neveragainforyou are arranging their equipment and performing sound checks. Drum-rolls and cymbal crashes play over the warm tone of bass notes. Belaires strums a few chords from his wood-finished Flying-V guitar. The distortion ridden sound emanates from his cabinet which reads ‘SXE NAFY’ in silver tape. The lights dim, and the band members shift from foot to foot and randomly pluck strings or test drums as they wait for the cue.

Pulling a microphone stand up, Belaires says, “Hey, we’re Neveragainforyou,” before breaking into a melding of hardcore and technical metal that has some of the audience dancing, with others escaping to the bar area to avoid the dancers. Belaires’s low growl incorporates well placed shrieks peppered with a few Straight Edge references as the music deafens the crowd.

While Straight Edge does seem to promote a positive lifestyle, many people are finding fault with the philosophy. In March of 2005, a fifteen-year-old Salt Lake City boy was murdered in an assault which was attributed to a group of Straight Edge teenagers. Salt Lake, Reno, and several other cities throughout the nation have declared Straight Edge a gang due to this, and a few other isolated violent attacks.

Geraldo Rivera breached the subject on his Fox News program ‘At Large,’ interviewing the father of the Salt Lake victim, as well as Karl Buechner, the former vocalist of the popular Straight Edge band Earth Crisis. Rivera painted a picture of a gang which was ready and willing to use violence to enforce their views, all the while managing to avoid the positive notions of the ideology.

Most Straight Edgers note that violence isn’t part of the movement. “In no way am I a violent person,” says Belaires. “Never got in a fight, never hurt anyone on purpose.”

“The negative perception comes from the Hardline kids who start fights,” says Trani.

Whereas the Straight Edge lifestyle embraced different interpretations that were devoid of solid rules and laws (outside of the basic tenement of no drugs, alcohol, or promiscuous sex), Hardline had a strict manifesto that was to be followed carefully. Since its inception during the early 90’s in California, Hardline has distanced itself from the traditional Straight Edge movement, often ridiculing the lax attitude of Straight Edge.

“Like any other group, the more radical element of Straight Edge known as Hardline have occasionally promoted violence. However, most of this is overrated and taken out of context,” says Southard.

Unfortunately, most media chose to group the Hardline attitude with Straight Edge, creating a misappropriation that has damaged the reputation of the movement.

When the subject comes up, Trani sighs, closes his eyes, and runs a hand through his long, dark hair before responding, “Everyone’s going to take the positive and make it negative. [It’s] a few ruining it for the many. If they’re only putting on a negative connotation, that’s all that people are going to know.”

Gorilla Biscuits – an 80’s New York based Straight Edge band that ironically took their name from a street term for Quaalude – play on the stereo as Trani sits on his bed in his dorm room that barely has enough space to contain a set of two desks and beds, searching through lyrics on band websites. His black lacquered desk holds piles of textbooks, notebooks, and movies, as well as CDs by Gorilla Biscuits and Minor Threat. The television plays a muted episode of ‘Legends of the Hidden Temple’ while the sound of drunken shouting from outside Joe’s fourth floor window signifies that the bars have closed.

“Here,” he says as he turns his laptop to me, “Read the xAFBx lyrics.” xAFBx (formerly Armed For Battle), a Straight Edge hardcore/metal band that walks the line between Straight Edge and Hardline, opt to be as direct as possible. The track ‘xTrust and Believex’ viciously states:

“Since you sold out, You proved your fucking weakness, Just a train wreck to the end, Sell out, From the beginning, Fuck your regrets, This one life I live I won’t throw away, all you ever wanted was a life of misery, Straight Edge, Goes deeper than my grave, Straight Edge, There’s no other fucking way!”

Trani shakes his head while rolling his eyes. “I don’t really agree with being ‘in-your-face’ and violent, but they’re exercising their right to say what they want. [But] I don’t like any of the real Hardline or ‘Hate-Edge’ bands.”

The Salt Lake City Police Department has a page on their website called ‘The Salt Lake Area Gang Project’, which intends to ‘identify, control, and prevent criminal gang activity in the Salt Lake County area.’ The site provides a stereotypical description of what a Straight Edger may look like – a young Caucasian male with closely cut hair, tattoos, baggy clothing featuring the letter ‘X,’ and body piercings. The site goes on to state that ‘many of them [Straight Edgers] are pro-violence, and Straight Edge members have been responsible for a high number of assaults, stabbings, and beatings in the Salt Lake metro area.’

Belaires is familiar with the popular view of Straight Edge kids. When the question of Straight Edge as a gang comes up, he says, “I’ve heard things. It’s dumb… Some people think all Edge kids are tough assholes.”

It’s a well known view, as Trani relates – “The only perception that people know of Edge kids is the big, macho tough-guy Edgers, but that’s not all there is.”

Southard also disagrees with the gang concept. “I don’t see the majority of Straight Edgers as a gang. They do have a sense of belonging to a group which shares values, interests, and ideas. This group offers a sense of belonging that most young people are looking for. I have witnessed ‘gang mentality’ among some Straight Edge youth – wearing clothing that supports a [crew] name, always traveling to shows as a group, exclusivity to other Straight Edgers who are not in their group. However, this is the exception and I wouldn’t label it as dangerous.”

Hardcore punks covered in Straight Edge tattoos and Indecision tee-shirts shuffle down the tiny steep concrete stairwell that smells of rotting garbage, entering the dimly lit First Unitarian Church basement. A row of cheap plastic tables filled with CDs, shirts and posters for the opening bands line the back of the room. The room, which seems more likely to hold a game of senior citizen bingo than a hardcore show, is slowly filling in around 6:00 PM on a cool, cloudy Saturday in Philadelphia. The sound boards, covered in knobs and dials, sit on another table just to the left of the entrance. Tonight is the final Philadelphia show for the underground Straight Edge legends known as Kill Your Idols.

Trani sits on the floor against a faux wood wall in a pair of black Dickies shorts and a gray Backup Plan tee-shirt. He lazily turns his head toward fellow Temple Straight Edger Steve Cicarelli and asks, “So do you think [Kill Your Idols singer] Andy [West] really broke Edge?” Breaking edge equates to abandoning the Straight Edge values. Joe playfully pulls his lower lip down, exposing a faded tattoo which reads “SXE.” He got the ink on April 20, a “holiday” that largely celebrates smoking marijuana.

Cicarelli fiddles with a button on his black shirt as he responds, “I don’t know. I’ve heard about it.” The band takes the stage and the hefty show-goer lifts his frame from the floor, dusting his cut-off jeans and adjusting his black thick-rimmed glasses.

Kill Your Idols takes the stage. The whole band, West in particular, looks worn out from twelve years on the scene, covered in sweat, old hardcore tee-shirts ‘XXX’ tattoos. They fly through a set of twenty-four songs in less than forty-five minutes, the ravenous crowd jumping and shouting along with every word. When the final song – a track called “Can’t Take it Away” – comes on, Trani, Cicarelli and a crowd of fans stampede to the front of the room, piling on top of each other to reach the stage. West thrusts the microphone out over the chorus of enthused screams of “Can’t take it away from me, can’t take my pride!”

Straight Edge seems to be reaching a new level of acceptance in the hardcore communities. When it comes to the idea of the Straight Edge lifestyle within his local scene (the Lehigh Valley), Belaires is optimistic. “Most of the time, kids in the hardcore scene support and appreciate the fact of us (Omerta) being Edge.”

In fact, it’s spreading outside of the boys’ club that it used to be as well. Websites like xSisterhoodx seek to teach young women in the punk rock and hardcore music communities about the Straight Edge lifestyle in a welcoming manner, building a sense of community for them.

Straight Edge bands remain prevalent in the local and national music scene. In fact, some of the more popular hardcore bands today – Blacklisted, With Honor, Bane, xLooking Forwardx, Casey Jones, and Throwdown – openly promote the Straight Edge way of life.

“Most Straight Edge kids just live a normal life,” says Trani. “It’s just one part of their personality. They don’t let it dictate their entire existence.”

Taking a break from a class project, Joe sits on his classmate’s floor and absentmindedly strums a guitar as he speaks. He’s wearing a Minor Threat tee-shirt that features the artwork from the ‘Out of Step’ album – a single black sheep jumping away from a pack of white sheep.

Joe stops strumming the black Stratocaster and sets it down before continuing. “Edge has always been about, and should remain, a personal choice,” he says. His voice rises from a mere mumble to a strengthened tone of conviction. “When it comes down to it, being Edge and living life is about you and no one else. Being Edge is just one way to live a positive life. When you start pushing your beliefs and ideals on others, that’s not Straight Edge… that’s fascism.”

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