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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