Straight Edge movement grows up, goes global


Few people are cool enough to have heard of the Straight Edge movement before the song of the same name by Minor Threat. More than three decades later, fans of the music might wonder, is the movement still around? Like a number of popular culture trappings from the US in the 1980s, Straight Edge is still around, it just isn’t represented in US neighborhoods the way it used to be.

“Straight Edge”: the Teen Idles and Minor Threat

So much of rock ‘n’ roll is steeped in great stories or harrowing stories, but rarely boring stories. The origin story of Straight Edge is no different. According to, the underage members of the Teen Idles would wear x’s on their hands as a pledge to club owners that they wouldn’t drink. Teen Idles morphed and became Minor Threat. By 1981, Minor Threat, a major player in the Washington D.C. punk and hardcore scene, had a hit of sorts with the song “Straight Edge.” The song eschews the idea that people need to get high to cope with problems. In fewer than 50 seconds, “Straight Edge” lacerates popular ideas about partying and getting messed up.

To be fair, Minor Threat also had a song called “Minor Threat,” but it doesn’t seem as well- known among people who don’t own the album. At any rate, there are still purists who insist that the Straight Edge movement existed before the song, and there might have been a contingent of youth and young adults who preferred to stay sober before the song and the movement. To try to find out how things really developed gets into “chicken and egg” type of questioning. So “Straight Edge” existed, and possibly still does. Has it disappeared completely?

Straight Edge factions

Like any American movement, there were factions of Straight Edge. Some factions, in addition to not imbibing, also avoided meat. Thus, veganism and vegetarian ideas worked their way into the (informal?) ideology of post-punk. Obviously, these ways of eating were not required for participating in Straight Edge.

There were yet other factions that embraced racism, that collided with subgroups that did not. For some, these violent clashes tainted the idea of Straight Edge. Even in the 21st century, some online forums still think that violence and Straight Edge go together. Not necessarily.

A definition (of sorts) of Straight Edge and where is it now?

Straight Edge is clean living. No drugs, no drinking, and sometimes no promiscuity. Certainly, the members of the first generation of Straight Edge are in their late 40’s and early 50’s. But the music they grew up on affected the generations that followed, and Straight Edge endured.

However, like some American youth movements, or fads, Straight Edge didn’t die out – – it moved to Europe. Like 1980s heavy metal and mullets, Straight Edge is enjoying a life in Europe complete with a face-melting soundtrack.

One of the best examples of current Straight Edge is German band WolfxDown. Their song, “Incite and Conspire” (2016) is not to be missed. While the instrumentation consumes all the oxygen in the room, and the pace makes it almost impossible to keep up, the lyrics call for justice, and without it, there shouldn’t be any peace. The speed and thunder of guitars and drums almost make listeners not care about the lyrics. But the song is supposed to be Straight Edge, so the lyrics matter. As a result, the song succeeds as an example of Straight Edge.

From a micro song in 1981 to  a movement that made it cool to be sober, Straight Edge endures.


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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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