Out of Step: Straight Edge and a Sense of Community in D.C. Hardcore

I Don’t smoke,
I Don’t drink,
I Don’t fuck,
At least I can fucking think
~Minor Threat-Out of Step

Out of the hardcore scene in Washington D.C. sprang the Straight Edge mentality. A philosophy adopted by most of the members of the scene, Straight Edge is about self discipline and preservation through actively abstaining from smoking, drinking, doing drugs and having casual sex.This was quite the contrary to other punk scenes, like the ones in London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, which revolved around hedonism.

This is one of the reason why many in the D.C. scene rejected these things. Other punk scenes, especially in California, were horrific; filled with cocaine and alcohol induced violence at shows, often starting drug induced fights, which sometimes lead to deaths. California bands such as the Circle Jerks, Black Flag and Dead Kennedy’s music and mentalities fueled mosh pits, which originated in Orange Country, and would often lead to injuries of the crowd. Why even try to emulate such a negative vibe? Why have a scene that is inclined to self destruct? That’s just wasteful.

Although the crowds were a bit rowdy, the D.C. scene never went on to violence, especially during concerts. Fugazi, a post-hardcore band made up of  Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, Joe Lally of Dag Nasty, and Guy Picciotto and Brendan Canty of Rites of Spring, opposed to moshing and other violent dancing at moshes because they didn’t want members of the audience to get hurt. They would often stop performances to call out any members of the audience to stop dancing, or would make them come onstage to apologize.

Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson, members of the Teen Idles, Minor Threat and the creators of the straight edge life style, hoped that Straight Edge would forge a sense of community among punks in the D.C. area. In many interviews, several musicians and original fans of the scene talk about how small it was. With D.C. being a relatively small, very conservative city (especially during the Reagan administration), having such young, liberal-minded people congregating is outstanding. In order for the scene to not self-destruct like their reckless predecessors, they all came to accept a Straight Edge lifestyle.

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This created camaraderie and created a sense of belonging to something that was worthwhile, unlike the directionless nihilism that affected the scenes that predated them. In an interview with young Ian MacKaye, he says,” You have been given, you know, everything you want. An accepted social scene, you know, the whole alcohol thing. An accepted music scene. It’s all there for you, and people don’t want it, and they say ‘Fuck it’ they don’t want that. They want to be part of something.”Straight Edge (and, obviously, the music as well) brought the disgruntled youth of D.C. together, making them channel their anger and angst towards self-improvement, not self-destruction. All of them working towards a similar goal created community in the scene, which has made it one of the most prolific punk scenes yet.

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~Josh Shepherd


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