Image: Sharni Smith
Widely present in the hardcore punk scene, straight edge is a lifestyle choice based around the abstinence from drinking, smoking or drug taking. But being straight edge is hinged on more than just sobriety - it’s often a lifelong allegiance to these ideals. One of the most taboo acts of the straight edge scene is to “break edge”, where the sin is not in drinking a beer but giving up on the straight edge ideal and with it, often the straight edge community.
Young kids will often subscribe to an ideal if it’s considered cool and offers acceptance. But these same ideals don’t seem as cool to someone who's approaching their mid 20s. As more people give up on straight edge, it raises the idea that maybe becoming straight edge is more about finding an identity, rather than supporting ideals.
It’s more about fitting in with a crew than an X tattoo.
To try and find out why people become straight edge and why they break edge, we spoke to Tom, Tim and Jordan about whether straight edge is a stance against substance abuse, or just a way to find a group of friends.
Tom, 33, has been straight edge for 16 years.
Noisey: What’s your history with straight edge?
Tom: When I was 17, I was introduced to a lot straight edge bands like Earth Crisis, Morning Again and One King Down. I didn’t really like drinking so the lyrics were something I could really relate to.
Are most of people you know from those days still straight edge?
Most of my oldest friends are still straight edge. To be honest with you though, the majority of people I've ever known who were ever straight edge have broken.
Why is that?
People grow up and get into different things. Hanging out with people who aren’t involved with straight edge means you need to find things in common. Sometimes that means you grow out of your ideals and the community you were a part of.
Was that sense of community the reason you decided to claim edge at 17?
Deciding to become straight edge has a lot to do with fitting into a community but it’s not the main reason. People go edge as a stance against mind-altering substances that are so popular in our society.
Is there anything harmful that comes with being straight edge?
Some people do have a childish, arrogant approach to it. If you’ve become straight edge for its values, then it’s not destructive. If you feel that you have to drink or take drugs every day of your life, then that’s more childish. Straight edge to me is a more mature way to live your life.
What’s your life like being straight edge? Do you party now and then?
I’m 33 so partying is in the past for me, but I was a DJ for five years. Now I just catch up with friends or see bands. A lot of my friends drink now, but they don’t care that I don’t and I don’t care that they do.
Image: Sharni Smith
Tim, 27, broke straight edge after 12 years.
Noisey: What is your experience with straight edge?
Tim: I was doing a lot of bad stuff when I was younger. I was angry all the time. When I found out about straight edge, it seemed like a perfect thing for me at the time.
What did your straight edge friends think when you broke?
There wasn’t much negative backlash. Some people that I barely know had negative opinions about it but my friends supported me entirely.
How are you now compared to when you were straight edge?
I’m definitely a lot happier. I’m socialising a lot more and spending time with people I never would have when I was a straight edge shut in. I’m completely free and open to any opportunity that might come to me, drug related or not.
So being straight edge closed you off?
Personally, I think it can be super destructive. I had serious social anxiety and I would go to really dark places. I doubt I’m the only one who’s straight edge who’s experienced that as well.
How important is the community aspect?
It’s important to a certain extent, but some people do claim as it’s correct choice for themselves at the time. If you’re the same person at 14 when you claim as you are when you’re 30, that’s not right though. You’re getting left behind.
Are you still involved in the same scene you were when you were straight edge?
My music taste hasn’t changed much, I listen to a little more techno now. I still listen to straight edge bands and go to hardcore shows and enjoy just as much when I was edge.
Image: Dakota Gordon
Jordan, 23 was straight edge for five years.
Noisey: Why did you become straight edge?
Jordan: I was a young, impressionable kid and every cool, older person I looked up to was straight edge. I never put a lot of thought into the decision to 'claim', it just seemed like a logical move at the time.
Was that idea of emulating people you inspired the reason you claimed edge?
The act of claiming edge is definitely about being involved in a community and aligning yourself with likeminded people. When I was edge, I wanted to be a part of something. I didn't have many friends at the time so it was validating to be part of something really cool.
Did you find that belonging in straight edge?
Fortunately not. I mean, I wore straight edge t-shirts and stuff, but was never an active part of the community.
Did you receive any backlash from breaking edge?
Absolutely! I was from a small town hardcore community where the vast majority were straight edge. My band would get shit yelled at us on stage about being alcoholics after I broke. It’s what partly drove me away from the scene.
Did you feel any shame or embarrassment when you broke edge?
Yeah, definitely. It was such a huge part of my life that I'd been overly vocal about for such a long time and those around still edge me made me feel like i should be ashamed.
Is straight edge a youthful phase?
I've never met anyone in their 30s who has decided to claim straight edge. They just adopt a sober lifestyle. I feel it has to do with maturity. As a kid you're looking for your place in the world as well as finding that group of people you can identify with. You don't need to do that as an adult.
What impact did straight edge have on you?
I thought I was a whole lot better, and more intelligent than the kids my age who were drinking and taking drugs, and was pretty outspoken and egotistical about it. I grew to realise that you're allowed to change your mind about what you like, or what you believe in.
Sam Nichols is a Melbourne writer. Follow him @cooler_dad