I've covered a wide range of topics during my time here at Noisey. I've proposed that we stop supporting abusive rappers. I've gone to New Orleans to learn about the music being made by some of the city's best underground artists. I've also reported on how a rapper from my hometown of Baltimore had been targeted by a crooked cop for all of his adult life. And as much as I pride myself on being knowledgeable on everything that's come out of Baltimore and its surrounding areas, I was, until recently, completely unaware of straight edge, a genre born an hour away in Washington, DC. Straight edge is a derivative of punk that advocates for a completely sober (sometimes vegan) lifestyle that was started in the DC area in the early 80s and grew into an increasingly rigid national movement that continues today.
For Noisey's Weed Week last year, I was tasked by the staff to listen to some of the most essential stoner metal albums ever made. I did not know what stoner metal was before then and have not listened to any since, but the experience was one that still sticks out in my memory. This year's Weed Week challenge is on the opposite end of the spectrum as I was challenged critique the most iconic albums in straight edge, the hardcore subgenre I just learned existed. The idea of a musical identity centred around an ardently sober lifestyle sounded a bit ridiculous to me but that's because I am neither sober or vegan. But I'll try anything once. What you will read below is my take on some of the most important straight edge music to come out since its inception in the 80s. But, in the spirit of Weed Week (and my own sanity), I defied the very foundation of the genre and indulged in some gas while I listened.
Minor Threat - Minor Threat EP (1984)
I’m going to come clean and admit that I was having a real struggle understanding what this man was saying. The music sounded good enough so I wasn’t going to let that stop me. My initial idea of what straight edge music would sound like was more along the lines of ambient music, but that wouldn’t make sense considering that you almost have to be on drugs to thoroughly enjoy that shit. This is much more hardcore. I guess if someone is trying to convince you to not do any drugs, the most effective way is to scream at you very loud about it.
I looked up the lyrics to the actual song called "Straight Edge," which apparently started this whole movement. The first four bars go:
I'm a person just like you
But I've got better things to do
Than sit around and fuck my head
Hang out with the living dead
What a lame. Calling me and my friends dead because we want to enjoy a few spliffs to make more fun out of watching DMV Hoodz and News Youtube updates or vibe out to the new Cardi album is not exactly how to talk me out of doing it. This is like when vegans call people murderers for enjoying a perfectly cooked turkey burger on a toasted brioche bun. I don't appreciate it.
Youth of Today - Break Down the Walls (1986)
Getting into this album's intro ("Make a Change") was particularly challenging because the lead guy screaming "It's time we make a change" sounds almost identical to when disgruntled white people on South Park used to yell "They took our jobs!" So because of that similarity, all I hear on this album is the writers of South Park making fun of people who make these kinds of albums. It is early in my listening experience, but my main issue with straight edge so far is that it sounds too much like other punk music for me to fully consider this sober, vegan lifestyle that they are promoting. It's the same reason gospel trap will always seem like somewhat of a parody to me. If you want me to stop doing something, don't use elements of that thing to convince me to not do the thing. Straight edge should have been like spoken word. Like, I need to hear you articulate why I should adopt square life. I just want a beer at the moment.
Judge - Bringin' It Down (1989)
Man. This is painful.
Earth Crisis - Firestorm (1993)
Something feels especially problematic about me really enjoying the "Firestorm" song until I pulled up the lyrics. Now all I see is scenes from Charlottesville. This is clearly when straight edge took a much more drastic turn. At first, it was Minor Threat being obnoxious about drugs turning people into zombies. Ten years later, you have these maniacs trying to kill everybody who isn't sober. What the hell. "Let the roundups begin" and "A firestorm to purify the bane that society drowns in" are two actual lines from that song. Why can't you just go be sober and mind your damn business?
SS Decontrol - The Kids Will Have Their Say (1982)
Even the title of this album is a breath of fresh air from the maniacs I just got done with. There are some songs on here that take a more digestible approach than the rest of what I've heard so far. "Fight Back" argues that being under the influence makes you more vulnerable to how they want to manipulate your mind and make you complacent. It's more clear in their music that sobriety is an act of resistance. I haven't received that message so easily with the other bands I've heard. I'm putting one in the air as I listen but I get where SS Decontrol is coming from.
7 Seconds - The Crew (1984)
This could be influenced by the weed, but I think I'm way too high to tolerate the frontman's voice. You most definitely have to be straight edge to enjoy this. This is straight edge as hell. It's blowing the hell out of my high.
Ten Yard Fight - Hardcore Pride (1995)
This is probably how people who don't listen to rap feel when they listen to Migos talk about drugs and jewellery every ten seconds, but I sure I'm fatigued by dudes screaming about their sober lifestyle. Ten Yard Fight is definitely the corniest of this bunch. For one, each track sounds like all the rock music I ever heard while playing Madden growing up, which means that there is nothing special about it. Also, how unimaginative is it to name half of the songs on your track list after football-related shit? You know what helps you in the creativity department when you're ideas aren't clicking? Drugs.
Project X - Straight Edge Revenge EP (1987)
This is for sure the shortest EP I've ever heard in my life. It being six minutes in total made it breeze by before I could even catch much. You know what I did catch, though? "I'm as straight as the line that you sniff up your nose." Lmaooooo. Ok buddy.
Uniform Choice - Screaming For Change (1986)
There’s something about this album that leads me to ask: How many of these straight edge bands were made up of people who once did drugs and quit? The tone taken in a good deal of Uniform Choice’s lyrics on this album make me think that they’ve never done drugs. Was that a natural progression for straight edge? That it started to impact kids before they even touched drugs? If so, I’d think these people are it. Saying “I feel sorry for you” over and over is more of a taunt than even an attempt at conversion.
Have Heart - The Things We Carry (2006)
I was slightly excited to hear this album because it was made in 2006 and I thought there’d be a more developed take on the genre but, nope. Musically, this isn’t much different than the straight edge stuff that came out in the 80s and 90s. What is most interesting about this album is that the lyrics read like a sermon. It’d make sense that something so restrictive would have elements of religion. Straight edge feels like a religion anyway. A lot of this album acknowledges the struggles of being sober and how drugs drag your spirit down. The message I gather from this whole thing is: temptation is bad and don’t let it get hold of you.
Lawrence Burney will probably never listen to straight edge again but follow him on Twitter anyway.
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.