Animal Protection > AR Interviews

What is Straight Edge?

Sid Vicious would be rolling around in Nirvana if he knew that there are modern-day punks out there that don't drink, don't smoke, don't engage in promiscuous sex and a lot of them are vegan as well.

This worldwide phenomenon has a name and it's called STRAIGHT EDGE.

We recently spoke to some of Sydney's Straight Edgers to find out what's going on!

(Pictured right outside Oink, The Animal Liberation Shop, is Straight Edger, April.)


Q. How did Straight Edge all begin?

A. The name Straight Edge came from a band in 1981 called "Minor Threat".

"I'm a person just like you
But I've got better things to do
Than sit around and funk my head
Hang out with me the living dead
Snort white shit up my nose
Pass out at the shows
I don't even think about speed
That's something I just don't need".

Straight Edge began in about 1980-81 with a man in Washington DC called Ian McKay. Straight Edge stems out of the punk thing. At the time there were a lot of punks doing drugs and getting wasted, drinking to excess etc. Basically following the general trends about what was trendy in the punk scene for the time. So as a rebellion against as what punk really was, Ian McKay decided he was going to be different and was not going to conform.

He stopped taking drugs and he started standing up for himself. He kept a clear mind and he wanted to do something useful with the punk scene. What he did was start a new form of music called "hardcore" and that's how it all started....

Q. So is this guy still around?

A. Yeah. Actually he now owns a record company called Discord Records which is still an independent label. He still performs, also, in a band called Fugazi.

Q. How were you attracted to Straight Edge?

A. I've always loved punk music and from that I found out about Hardcore music. Having seen a lot of my friends getting involved with drugs and alcohol and having lots of problems with that, I consciously decided not to get trapped into that lifestyle. You see, a lot of Hardcore music sings about being yourself. About not drinking and keeping clarity of mind. Through that I found out about Ian McKay's second band "Minor Threat".

Q. Are Straight Edgers automatically vegan?

A. No. Straight Edge generally means "poison free". Keeping your mind and body poison free but it wasn't really until the late eighties in the NY Hardcore scene that the vegan and vegetarian side was introduced. At this time there were lots of militants in the punk scene and a lot more people took it very seriously indeed the "poison-free" side of it, I mean. What they said was "Don't poison your body with milk, Don't poison your body with Eggs, Don't poison your body with Meat". At this time also they became a lot more involved with political issues, namely the Environment and Animal Rights.

Q. Were they Proactive?

A. Yeah the punk scene is generally very active. Lots of punks are vegetarian and hardcore vegans.

Q. What about the Sydney scene?

A. Compared to NY or Boston the Sydney scene is really small. I'd say about 300 people in total although not all of them are vegans and vegetarians. People of all ages to. The problem is sometimes people get into the ethics of Straight Edge when they are 15 or 16 years old. Once they hit 18 they kind of drift away from it away from their original ideals. Then again, some people also stick with the vegan side even if they leave behind the Straight Edge ethic.

Q. How do you recognise a Straight Edger from a punk?

A. Straight Edgers like tattoos. Something with a double X on it or just a tat saying "Poison Free". You can always tell a Straight Edger at a gig because they have a double X on their hand. This originated way back in Ian McKay's day in D.C. If there was an All-Agers gig, people over 21 could drink but people under 21 couldn't. To stop the under 21s from drinking the bouncers on the door would put an 'X' on their hands. So as a sign of solidarity the Straight Edgers would put 'X's on their hands also.

Q. How hard is it to be a vegan and a Straight Edger?

A. I think it's a fairly easy step if you know other Straight Edgers who are vegan. You get a lot of support from your friends that way, we swap recipes. There are also a lot of Fan Zine mags which are popular among the Hardcore and Punk scene. A lot of the Zine's stemmed out of the early 80s and is one of the main ways of communication, other than music, that deliver the ideals of punk and Hardcore.

There are a few good local Fan Zine's in Sydney and Wollongong. One that's very good with the Straight Edge and vegan taste is written by a boy called Dan from Wollongong called "No Longer Blind". There's also one by Spider who's vegan called "Mindless Commodity". There are also several bands in Sydney that sing about issues like animal rights. One of them is called 'Sewer Cider" and another good one is "Iron Sausage". Iron Sausage has a CD out with a booklet inside full of vegan recipes cakes and stuff like that.

Q. So at the annual Punk's picnic there's a good mixture of punks and Straight Edgers there?

A. That's right. Punk in general is about being yourself. Then there's the offshoots of that Hardcore. Then there's what is called EMO. It comes from the word "Emotional" and it was also started by Ian McKay later on in his life. He started this type of music (Emotional Hardcore) as he was frustrated that his earlier band "Minor Threat" was singing about change but the punk scene hadn't made as many changes that he had envisioned. He felt people weren't really being individuals, that they weren't being themselves. They were just following the crowd in the Straight Edge movement.

Every few years there's a big wave of Straight Edge people, then after a while they kind of dwindle again and then it comes back in a new form hopefully that means transformation.