7-2 | Table of Con­tents | DOI 10.17742/IMAGE.VOS.7-2.6 | ReiaPDF

Abstract | When Minor Threat sang “I’ve got straight edge” back in the 1980s they could not imag­ine the pro­por­tions the straight edge mes­sage would achieve in a few years. In São Paulo, the straight edge sub­cul­ture was con­sol­i­dat­ed in the 1990s around a col­lec­tive and its fes­ti­val Ver­du­ra­da, which is still active. The dynam­ics to estab­lish the bound­aries of the straight edge iden­ti­ty are com­plex, usu­al­ly deal­ing with sev­er­al visu­al aspects. This work aims to shed light onto the visu­al­i­ty of the straight edge sub­cul­ture and the Ver­du­ra­da, dis­cussing the place(s) that straight edgers occu­py in the 21st century.
Résumé | Lorsque le groupe Minor Threat chan­té « I’ve got straight edge » dans les années 1980, il ne pou­vait pas imag­in­er les pro­por­tions que le mes­sage straight edge pour­rait attein­dre. À São Paulo, le straight edge sous-cul­ture a été con­solidée dans les années 1990 autour du fes­ti­val Ver­du­ra­da et son col­lec­tif homonyme, qui est tou­jours act­if. La dynamique d'établir les lim­ites de l'identité straight edge est com­plexe, générale­ment con­sti­tué par plusieurs aspects visuels. Ce tra­vail vise à analyser la visu­al­ité de la sous-cul­ture straight edge et la Ver­du­ra­da, en dis­cu­tant la place qui les straight edgers occu­pent dans le 21e siècle.

Jhes­si­ca Reia | Cen­ter for Tech­nol­o­gy and Soci­ety, FGV Law School

Reflections on Straight Edge, Visuality, and Identity Boundaries

In 1981 a band called Minor Threat released the song “Straight Edge.”[1] The band’s vocal­ist, Ian MacK­aye, made it clear that the group had cho­sen the path of sobri­ety, not­ing that they had bet­ter things to do than con­sume drugs, smoke, or drink alco­hol. In his words, the band had “got the straight edge.” Straight edge then became a move­ment, even though MacK­aye denies his role as its founder (Kuhn 34). Authors who have writ­ten about the straight edge subculture—such as Robert Wood (2006), Beth Lahick­ey (2007), Ross Haen­fler (2004; 2009), and Gabriel Kuhn (2010)—argue that it emerged in oppo­si­tion to the “live fast, die young” nihilism of punk and the abuse of alco­hol and drugs inside the scene. Devot­ing itself to the enjoy­ment of musi­cal per­for­mances and keep­ing a dis­tance from the use of alco­hol and oth­er sub­stances, the straight edge move­ment adopt­ed the “X” as a pow­er­ful sig­ni­fi­er of sobri­ety and absti­nence, to be inscribed on bod­ies and made to be seen (Fos­ter ix).

A few years lat­er, the val­ues and visu­al ele­ments of straight edge arrived in the glob­al south, and entered Brazil. Not until the 1990s, how­ev­er, would straight edge be con­sol­i­dat­ed as a sub­cul­ture in that coun­try, through the Ver­du­ra­da col­lec­tive and its homony­mous fes­ti­vals. At the same time, straight edge both opposed and was inter­twined with the Brazil­ian hard­core punk scene. The sub­cul­ture also devel­oped deep con­nec­tions to the city of São Paulo and to the issues, oppor­tu­ni­ties, dynam­ics, ter­ri­to­ries, and social life of that city.

It is impor­tant to high­light the deci­sion to use the terms “scene” and “sub­cul­ture” in this essay. It made sense to talk about a punk scene in São Paulo in the 1970s, but as hard­core bands and labels emerged and over­lapped with the estab­lished phys­i­cal and sym­bol­ic ter­ri­to­ries of punk, it became more use­ful to speak of a “hard­core punk scene” in the city, espe­cial­ly in the 1990s.  Today, the expres­sion “hard­core punk” has been adopt­ed by bands, labels, and oth­er par­tic­i­pants involved in the scene, and the term now encom­pass­es sev­er­al musi­cal sub­gen­res, inter­ests, polit­i­cal approach­es, events, and forms of visu­al­i­ty. In my years of field­work study­ing this hard­core punk scene, I focused specif­i­cal­ly on the straight edge sub­cul­ture or move­ment with­in it. In this research, it became clear that, while those who iden­ti­fied them­selves (and oth­ers) as part of the straight edge sub­cul­ture did so in rela­tion to ideas of sobri­ety (which they defined quite rigid­ly), mem­ber­ship in the over­ar­ch­ing hard­core punk scene involved a much more flu­id range of expect­ed behav­iours. In a gen­er­al sense, we might see straight edge as a sub­cul­ture oper­at­ing with­in a larg­er hard­core punk scene, with the lat­ter char­ac­ter­ized by over­lap­ping net­works of bands, audi­ence, venues, ter­ri­to­ries, and labels, and by the cir­cu­la­tion of peo­ple and goods.

The con­sti­tu­tion of the bound­aries that demar­cate the straight edge iden­ti­ty with­in the hard­core punk scene is not obvi­ous from the out­side, and are nego­ti­at­ed through con­flicts between peo­ple over how to be straight edge or to be seen as straight edge by their peers. In his research into the bound­aries of straight edge iden­ti­ty, Robert Wood (“The Straight­edge Youth Sub-Cul­ture”) shows how “straight­edgers share com­mon­al­i­ties in sub-cul­tur­al iden­ti­ty, but that sub-cul­tur­al iden­ti­ty also is a high­ly flu­id, con­tin­gent, and con­tra­dic­to­ry phe­nom­e­non that is con­struct­ed and expe­ri­enced idio­syn­crat­i­cal­ly by the very same mem­bers” (33-34). In oth­er words, if we look at the sub­cul­ture from the out­side, it can appear to be sta­ble and homoge­nous. From the inside, how­ev­er, straight edge is seen as high­ly diverse and its bound­aries are rel­a­tive­ly flu­id, sub­ject to change, dis­rup­tion, and frag­men­ta­tion over time (50). One rea­son for this diver­si­ty is that the bound­aries of straight edge have been shaped by val­ues beyond those of sobri­ety and absti­nence. These include such lifestyle options as veg­e­tar­i­an­ism and veg­an­ism, or the dis­cours­es and prac­tices that define puri­ty in rela­tion to polit­i­cal prac­tice or sex­u­al promis­cu­ity. The val­ues of straight edge vary wide­ly from one sub­cul­tur­al group­ing to anoth­er and with­in these group­ings them­selves. Thus, in Brazil, the val­ues of veg­e­tar­i­an­ism and veg­an­ism are of high impor­tance for the Ver­du­ra­da col­lec­tive, while the accept­abil­i­ty of caf­feine or cer­tain med­i­cines is disputed.

With­in this com­plex­i­ty, the visu­al aspects of the straight edge sub­cul­ture assume a sig­nif­i­cant role. As Gillian Rose and Divya Tolia-Kel­ly sug­gest, with respect to the analy­sis of human prac­tices, an atten­tion to asso­ci­a­tions between the visu­al and mate­r­i­al pro­vides a means for inves­ti­gat­ing how things are made vis­i­ble, which things are vis­i­ble, and for whom this visu­al­i­ty is impor­tant (4). In this sense, analysing visu­al and mate­r­i­al ele­ments can:

[m]ake things vis­i­ble in spe­cif­ic ways, or not, and this approach thus draws atten­tion to the con­sti­tu­tion of human sub­jec­tiv­i­ties and the visu­al objects their prac­tices cre­ate. This is some­what dif­fer­ent from enquiries based on look­ing, see­ing, analysing and writ­ing text; instead, it con­sid­ers the (geo)politics of embod­ied, mate­r­i­al encounter and engage­ment. (Rose and Tolia-Kel­ly 3)

As Dick Heb­di­ge sug­gests in his work “Hid­ing in the Light,” the bod­ies of youth can be used as an exer­cise of pow­er, since they deal with the pol­i­tics of signs:

Youth cul­ture” as sign-sys­tem cen­tres on the body—on appear­ance, pos­ture, dress. If teenagers pos­sess lit­tle else, they at least own their own bod­ies. If pow­er can be exer­cised nowhere else, it can be at least be exer­cised here. The body can be dec­o­rat­ed, and enhanced like a cher­ished object. (Heb­di­ge 31)

The body and its adorn­ment make straight edgers and their val­ues vis­i­ble. The visu­al aspects of straight edge sub­cul­tures have been ana­lyzed in a num­ber of works which go beyond the X that usu­al­ly rep­re­sents con­nec­tion to the sub­cul­ture. These include Michael Atkinson’s (“The Civ­i­liz­ing of Resis­tance: Straight­edge Tat­too­ing”) dis­cus­sion of straight edge tat­too­ing, Ross Haenfler’s (Straight Edge: Clean Liv­ing Youth, Hard­core Punk, and Social Change) study of styles of dress with­in the sub­cul­ture, and Jesse Hel­ton and William Stau­den­meier, Jr.’s exam­i­na­tion (“Re-imag­in­ing Being ‘Straight’ in Straight Edge”) of “straight-edge sym­bols.” My study also address­es Joao Bittencourt’s (Sóbrios, firmes e con­vic­tos: Uma etno­car­tografia dos straight­edges em São Paulo) analy­sis of the album cov­ers of straight edge record­ings and posters pro­duced by and for the Ver­du­ra­da’s col­lec­tive.

Al Larsen (“Fast, Cheap and Out of Con­trol: The Graph­ic Sym­bol in Hard­core Punk”) presents an inter­est­ing analy­sis of the visu­al cul­ture of the first wave of Amer­i­can hard­core punk, which includ­ed ele­ments from straight edge sub­cul­ture. Accord­ing to Larsen, the use of sim­ple graph­ic sym­bols (such as the X) as band logos and to “sig­nal a local or ide­o­log­i­cal affil­i­a­tion with­in the sub­cul­ture” were impor­tant dur­ing this first wave, since they could be quick­ly and eas­i­ly repro­duced. They embod­ied “hard­core sub­cul­ture val­ues of par­tic­i­pa­tion and col­lec­tiv­i­ty while con­tribut­ing to the spread of the sub­cul­ture out­side of com­mer­cial chan­nels” (Larsen 91). Indeed, most of straight edge’s graph­ic sym­bols are still in use by youth com­mit­ted to sober liv­ing in the subculture.

This work is part of a three-year research project on the straight edge sub­cul­ture in São Paulo. The field­work was con­duct­ed from 2011 to 2013 using mixed meth­ods: par­tic­i­pant obser­va­tion, pho­to-based visu­al doc­u­men­ta­tion, in-depth qual­i­ta­tive semi-struc­tured inter­views,[2] the dis­tri­b­u­tion of ques­tion­naires to a non-rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of audi­ences, and the analy­sis of dig­i­tal mate­ri­als (such as forums, social net­works, and web­sites tied to the sub­cul­ture). The goal here is to present some of the results of this research and, through an analy­sis of the visu­al aspects of the straight edge sub­cul­ture in São Paulo, to shed light on such issues as the bound­aries between iden­ti­ties, the socia­bil­i­ty of sub­cul­tures, the place of straight edge with­in the city, and the sta­tus of its vis­i­bil­i­ty. In this way, I hope to come to an under­stand­ing of the place(s) occu­pied by straight edge val­ues and prac­tices in Brazil more than three decades after their first appear­ance in the Unit­ed States.

I’ve Got Straight Edge: Music, Identity, and Sobriety

The con­ven­tion­al nar­ra­tive holds that straight edge sub­cul­ture emerged out of the punk scene in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. In the 1980s, ele­ments of this scene began to dis­tance them­selves from the punk ethos around them, oppos­ing its nihilism and “live fast, die young” ethos. The sig­nif­i­cant abuse of drugs and alco­hol inside the punk scene and with­in main­stream youth cul­ture more gen­er­al­ly is often iden­ti­fied as one rea­son for the dis­sat­is­fac­tion of large num­bers of teenagers, who looked for ways to “fit in” to a musi­cal under­ground with­out adopt­ing the drug and alco­hol use of their peers (Wood 100-103).

Minor Threat’s “Straight Edge” is today viewed as a key ele­ment in push­ing this move­ment towards the sta­tus of a rel­a­tive­ly sta­ble sub­cul­ture. Wood sug­gests that, even before Ian MacK­aye put those feel­ings into words, dis­con­tent with the use of alco­hol, tobac­co, and drugs could be found with­in punk cul­ture (Straight­edge Youth: Com­plex­i­ty and Con­tra­dic­tions of a Sub­cul­ture 99). Draw­ing on an inter­view with MacK­aye (a mem­ber of Fugazi as well as the co-founder and own­er of Dischord Records), Wood claims that “the very idea of straight­edge emerged at least par­tial­ly in reac­tion to his [MacKaye’s] per­cep­tions and expe­ri­ences of drink­ing and drug use among his high school peers. Fur­ther­more, his ear­li­est elab­o­ra­tions of straight­edge were attempts to val­i­date and legit­imize the deviant prac­tices (at least among late 1970s cul­ture) of not drink­ing and using drugs” (101). Built along these lines were Minor Threat and the oth­er straight edge bands who fol­lowed sim­i­lar paths, singing about sobri­ety, pos­i­tive choic­es, com­mit­ment (“true ‘til death”), and free­dom. Dur­ing this peri­od, the bound­aries of straight edge iden­ti­ty became clear­er, crys­tal­lized with­in lists of “do’s and don’ts,” unac­cept­able behav­iors, lines that should not be crossed, and the val­ues nec­es­sary to sup­port sober living.

Gen­er­al­ly, then, straight edge iden­ti­ty is usu­al­ly estab­lished around prin­ci­ples of sobri­ety and absti­nence, often enforced in mil­i­tant fash­ion. These prin­ci­ples often express them­selves with­in seem­ing­ly con­ser­v­a­tive dis­cours­es against sex­u­al promis­cu­ity. At the same time, oth­er val­ues are progressive—such as the sup­port of veg­e­tar­i­an­ism, veg­an­ism, and ani­mal rights, and an engage­ment with social change. Haen­fler notes that the straight edge move­ment emerged “dur­ing a time of increas­ing con­ser­vatism and reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism, an esca­lat­ing drug war, and Nan­cy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ cam­paign” (416). While straight edge was not sim­ply a response to this con­text, it shaped the move­ment in a vari­ety of ways (Wood 107).

Wood observes that, at least in the Unit­ed States, the sub­cul­ture is pre­dom­i­nant­ly mas­cu­line, youth­ful (with few peo­ple over 30 years of age), mid­dle-class, Cau­casian, and deeply root­ed in urban spaces (6-7). The male dom­i­na­tion of straight edge spaces is a recur­rent issue, and ques­tions of gen­der iden­ti­ty and sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion have fig­ured with­in sev­er­al stud­ies (see Kuhn; Lahick­ey; and Haen­fler). Haen­fler sug­gests that straight edge men do not nec­es­sar­i­ly exclude women from the sub­cul­ture, “but nei­ther do they inten­tion­al­ly include them. The result is ‘female exscrip­tion,’” where­by women are sim­ply absent or invis­i­ble with­in straight edge cul­ture (Straight Edge: Clean Liv­ing Youth, Hard­core Punk, and Social Change 124)—these dynam­ics could be observed in São Paulo, too.

Music, nev­er­the­less, is the cen­tral point of con­nec­tion for straight edge sub­cul­tures, regard­less of their loca­tion, since it is around music that the sub­cul­ture has built itself and come to occu­py cer­tain ter­ri­to­ries with­in cities (both sym­bol­ic and phys­i­cal). Through music a spe­cif­ic straight edge sub­cul­ture enters into dia­logues with oth­ers, whether in the same coun­try or else­where in the world:

Gigs enable straight­edgers to vis­it with one anoth­er, to form new net­work ties, to hear straight­edge music, to slam dance or mosh, and to pur­chase mer­chan­dise, such as com­pact discs, records, and T-shirts […]. As well as music gigs and com­mer­cial­ly avail­able music record­ings, cru­cial “cul­ture trans­mit­ters” such as fanzines/magazines and straight­edge Inter­net Web sites help to unite nation­al and inter­na­tion­al straight­edge cul­ture. (Wood, Straight­edge Youth: Com­plex­i­ty and Con­tra­dic­tions of a Sub­cul­ture 9)

Giv­en the myr­i­ad of issues cir­cu­lat­ing with­in straight edge cul­ture, the val­ues and choic­es of its mem­bers may not be dis­played or under­stood clear­ly. One of the main sym­bols of straight edge is the X, formed by sin­gle crossed lines or objects. Straight edgers usu­al­ly draw the X on the back of their hands with mark­ers or pens before gigs; oth­ers tat­too it on their bod­ies or use it on T-shirts, hood­ies, jack­ets, and oth­er acces­sories. (Wood 113-114). Wood sug­gests that the X is used to trace the subculture’s sym­bol­i­cal bound­aries: “The X like­ly is a means by which straight­edge youth iden­ti­fy one anoth­er as well as how they demar­cate them­selves from per­ceived out­siders. More­over, accord­ing to the music, the X is a means of self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion inso­far as it sym­bol­izes one's com­mit­ment and ded­i­ca­tion to straight­edge phi­los­o­phy and lifestyles” (Wood 114).

Debates con­tin­ue over the ori­gins of the X and nature of its con­nec­tion to the straight edge sub­cul­ture. MacK­aye argues that it first appeared in Wash­ing­ton D.C. in the 1980s as a mark inscribed on the hands of under­age peo­ple so they would be allowed to enter licensed music venues:

In D.C. there was a law that says no minors were allowed in a bar. […] So we were try­ing to fig­ure out how we could con­vince them to let us into these damn gigs since we had the legal basis for it […]. So we went down and met with the club and said, 'Look, let us in, we will not drink, and we will put these Xs on our hands to clear­ly demark the peo­ple who are under age'. We told them […] We were not involved with get­ting high; we were just work­ing and cre­at­ing some­thing. And we felt like music was not some­thing that we should be for­bid­den to absorb, or to see, or to be around just because of our age. […] They said 'Let's give it a shot'. And we lived up to our end of the bar­gain, which was that none of us drank… That was where the X came from, it was a total prag­mat­ic thing… The X was real­ly not so much to sig­ni­fy straight­edge as it was to sig­ni­fy youth.” (Wood 115-116)

With time, the sym­bol end­ed up being adopte on a vol­un­tary basis by those who wished to pro­claim their absti­nence from alco­hol, even if they were of an age that made its con­sump­tion legal. This prac­tice became pop­u­lar after the Teen Idles album Minor Dis­tur­bance was released in 1980, its cov­er fea­tur­ing a “punk with crossed fists, each bear­ing a large X” (Haen­fler 8). Wood sees the X as the pre­em­i­nent vis­i­ble mark­er of straight edge, even if not all straight edgers use it to affirm their lifestyle choic­es (124-125).

At the same time, the vis­i­bil­i­ty of the X is used to dif­fer­en­ti­ate one­self from main­stream cul­ture and from oth­ers with­in the sub­cul­ture who have not made the same life choic­es. From its ori­gins as a mark­er of tox­ic sub­stances, the “X” has been re-appro­pri­at­ed and re-sig­ni­fied by straight edgers:

This notion of vis­i­ble sig­ni­fy­ing mark­ers used to cast a sub­cul­ture apart and pro­vide a sense of onto­log­i­cal dif­fer­ence for those with­in the sub­cul­ture from the main­stream pop­u­lace is cer­tain­ly iden­ti­fi­able in the iron­ic and his­tor­i­cal­ly weighty SxE emblem: XXX. The “X” and more specif­i­cal­ly, the triple “X” has cer­tain con­nec­tions to drug and abuse cul­ture. “XXX” on a jug or bot­tle indi­cates poi­son; on a syringe, blood pol­lu­tant; on the eyes, death. SxE cul­ture co-opt­ed and invert­ed the sign’s referent—poison, in SxE, equals anti­dote; con­t­a­m­i­nant = clean living/drug free. (Smith 638)

Some of the roots of the triple X may be found in the Minor Threat’s lyrics “don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t fuck,” or even in rela­tion to the rat­ing of films as porno­graph­ic, as Hel­ton and Stau­den­meier, Jr. have sug­gest­ed (455-6).  In Larsen’s account, the X was, in its ear­ly stages at least, worn by peo­ple with­out being commercialized:

The X was supreme­ly suit­ed to par­tic­i­pa­to­ry creation—marked by hand, on the back of each hand, with a few swipes of a heavy duty felt-tip mark­er. Although “X”-themed mer­chan­dise even­tu­al­ly appeared, the orig­i­nal prac­tice was a mark that could not be pur­chased and did not adver­tise any spe­cif­ic band. (Larsen 100)

Mer­chan­dise is nev­er­the­less an impor­tant part of straight edge sub­cul­ture. The var­i­ous objects of the scene—which incar­nat­ed the val­ues of par­tic­i­pa­tion and col­lec­tiv­i­ty and were usu­al­ly cre­at­ed in  DIY (“Do It Your­self”) fash­ion by bands and labels—helped trans­form the mean­ing of the X, mak­ing it an effec­tive car­ri­er of mes­sages across the subculture:

T-shirt, slo­gans, song lyrics, tat­toos, and oth­er sym­bols con­stant­ly remind­ed sXers of their mis­sion and ded­i­ca­tion: “It’s OK Not to Drink,” “True till Death,” and “One Life Drug Free” were among the more pop­u­lar mes­sages. […] Youth wore Xs on their back­packs, shirts, and neck­laces; they tat­tooed them on their bod­ies and drew them on their school fold­ers, skate­boards, cars, and oth­er pos­ses­sions. The X unit­ed youth around the world, com­mu­ni­cat­ing a com­mon set of val­ues and expe­ri­ences. (Haen­fler 415)

This com­plex clus­ter of con­texts, val­ues and visu­al tokens spread across the globe in the 1980s, reach­ing coun­tries as far away as Brazil or the Nether­lands (see Hanou and Fri­jins). Straight edge and its mate­r­i­al cul­ture trav­elled through the infor­mal exchange net­works of punk, fos­ter­ing the emer­gence of scenes and sub­cul­tures through­out the world over a lengthy peri­od of time.

Verdurada: Straight Edge Goes South

Straight edge arrived in Brazil at the begin­ning of the 1980s. The first rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the famous X on the back of hands alleged­ly appeared in São Paulo on the cov­er of the com­pi­la­tion album Gri­to Sub­ur­bano (“Sub­ur­ban Scream”), record­ed by local bands in 1982. São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil and known for its many scenes, sub­cul­tures, and alter­na­tive spaces, such as the Gale­ria do Rock (“Rock Gallery”), which was the site of both con­vivial and con­flict­ual rela­tion­ships between young peo­ple of all tastes and styles from head bangers to punks. A punk scene emerged in São Paulo in the 1970s as infor­mal, decen­tral­ized net­works through which records, tapes, fanzines, and bands cir­cu­lat­ed (Dunn 202-203). While there is dis­agree­ment as to where punk first estab­lished itself in Brazil (with São Paulo or Brasil­ia as the main can­di­dates), its impor­tance in the sub­urbs of São Paulo should not be under­es­ti­mat­ed. Brazil­ian punk scenes absorbed local polit­i­cal strug­gles and were shaped by a con­text of dis­con­tent among teenagers root­ed in social mar­gin­al­i­ty, eco­nom­ic vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, and polit­i­cal con­flicts with the repres­sive dic­ta­tor­ship of the period.

Gri­to Sub­ur­bano (1982), the first com­pi­la­tion of Brazil­ian punk, fea­tured low-qual­i­ty record­ings of bands such as Olho Seco, Cólera, and Inocentes.[3] The same year saw the orga­ni­za­tion of the first punk fes­ti­val in São Paulo, O Começo do Fim do Mun­do (“The Begin­ning of the End of the World”). The behav­iour, musi­cal per­for­mances, and imagery of the punk scene elicit­ed an intense response from main­stream soci­ety; tra­di­tion­al media rushed to por­tray punks as mar­gin­al, ban­dits, drug addicts, and peo­ple with no future (Oliveira 19).

Straight edge emerged as the São Paulo punk scene changed over time, incor­po­rat­ing oth­er gen­res and sub­gen­res (such as hard­core) and influ­enc­ing oth­er cul­tur­al devel­op­ments in the city. As Bit­ten­court claims, and cor­rob­o­rat­ed by my inter­views, the con­sol­i­da­tion of straight edge real­ly did not occur until the 1990s (37). Indeed, the inter­net was respon­si­ble for much of the glob­al dif­fu­sion of the straight edge sub­cul­ture in the late 1990s (Williams 176). In the begin­ning, the straight edge sub­cul­ture of São Paulo was asso­ci­at­ed with two groups: Juli-Juven­tude Lib­er­taria (Lib­er­tar­i­an Youth) and SELF (Straight Edge Life Fam­i­ly), the lat­ter a dis­si­dent group that broke off from Juli (Bit­ten­court 38). After the krish­na­core band Shel­ter played in São Paulo in 1996 the straight edge sub­cul­ture expand­ed (38-39). As A.M. (34-years old) told me in an inter­view, he was “impressed with the num­ber of strangers who had the X marked on the back of their hands at the Shel­ter concert.”

The Ver­du­ra­da fes­ti­vals began in hous­es, attend­ed by a few friends, around 1993-94; by 1996, as the straight edge sub­cul­ture grew, shows were opened up to the pub­lic. Since then, the fes­ti­vals have been orga­nized by a col­lec­tive of about 13 peo­ple who has main­tained the Ver­du­ra­da name.  Ver­du­ra­da claims to be the largest DIY event in Brazil. This com­mit­ment to DIY prin­ci­ples is one of the most impor­tant ele­ments of straight edge sub­cul­ture; it extends beyond the bands, fes­ti­val, and labels into the per­son­al lives and spaces of the peo­ple involved. These prin­ci­ples are vis­i­ble in the mate­r­i­al objects which char­ac­ter­ize the sub­cul­ture (such as t-shirts [Fig. 9] and fanzines). When asked about their rela­tion to DIY, sev­er­al told me that this sub­cul­ture taught them to do things by them­selves, with­out wait­ing for gov­ern­ment or pri­vate enter­prise: “This is some­thing that punk and the hard­core gave me: if you are dis­sat­is­fied with the way things are done, do them your­self” (C., 18 years old).

The col­lec­tive respon­si­ble for plan­ning and car­ry­ing out the Ver­du­ra­da fes­ti­val is made up of peo­ple of dif­fer­ent ages, gen­ders, and back­grounds. All, how­ev­er, must iden­ti­fy them­selves as straight edgers and vegetarians/vegans to be accept­ed as mem­bers. Indi­vid­ual gigs and the over­all fes­ti­val are planned by the mem­bers of the col­lec­tive, who begin by find­ing a venue with an avail­able date, then sell tick­ets, pro­mote the event (online and in the streets), arrange for bands to play, deal with the nec­es­sary logis­tics, buy water and Mupy (soy-based indus­tri­al­ized veg­an juice), decide who can table at the event, and trans­port the nec­es­sary equip­ment to the venue, among many oth­er activ­i­ties. Because each fes­ti­val includes a debate, the top­ic must be decid­ed and the rel­e­vant movement/specialist/association invit­ed to dis­cuss it. On the day of the event, some­one needs to stay at the door con­trol­ling the entrance and tick­et reser­va­tions, sell­ing more tick­ets when nec­es­sary. Inside the venue, oth­er peo­ple are in charge of sell­ing the non-alco­holic bev­er­ages and food, help­ing to con­trol the per­for­mance times for the bands and solv­ing any prob­lems that might appear.

For a long time, the Ver­du­ra­da gigs took place at Galpão Jabaquara (the “Jabaquara Ware­house”), locat­ed in the south­ern region of São Paulo. This “fixed” space with­in the city became close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the image of the Ver­du­ra­da and its events, con­cerns, and peo­ple. After the ware­house was closed, the fes­ti­val had to look for anoth­er venue in order to con­tin­ue its pro­mo­tion, a dif­fi­cult task in São Paulo. Because of their com­mit­ment to DIY prin­ci­ples, low bud­gets, high noise lev­els, acces­si­bil­i­ty stan­dards, and high atten­dance, the fes­ti­val orga­niz­ers need­ed very par­tic­u­lar kinds of venues. These had to be of sig­nif­i­cant size, close to pub­lic trans­porta­tion (and prefer­ably in the city cen­tre), but far enough away from res­i­den­tial areas that they would not be sub­ject to com­plaints about the aggres­sive noise ema­nat­ing from venues.

Find­ing such spaces in the city was a con­stant chal­lenge. Over the past few years it has become hard­er for the col­lec­tive to find a suit­able venue in which to host the Ver­du­ra­da gigs. Orga­niz­ers have told me dur­ing inter­views that one of the main rea­sons for this dif­fi­cul­ty is the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion process tak­ing place in São Paulo, par­tic­u­lar­ly in its cen­tral neigh­bour­hoods. When I began my field­work the col­lec­tive was using the Ego Club, locat­ed near Praça Roo­sevelt (which had under­gone a long process of ren­o­va­tion), but that venue even­tu­al­ly closed. Ver­du­ra­da has turned to oth­er spaces that are small­er, some­what pre­car­i­ous, and not ide­al for hard­core punk gigs: recent­ly they have used the base­ment of the Uni­ver­si­ty of São Paulo Law School. In addi­tion to changes in the urban envi­ron­ment, oth­er factors—such as the lev­els of com­mit­ment and avail­able free time of col­lec­tive mem­bers or the fre­quen­cy with which peo­ple leave or move out of the scene—affect the con­ti­nu­ity of the straight edge sub­cul­ture. One result of these fac­tors is that the fre­quen­cy of Ver­du­ra­da fes­ti­vals has decreased and their occur­rence has become unpre­dictable. Real estate spec­u­la­tion, gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, and urban mar­gin­al­iza­tion have become recur­rent top­ics of debate inside the col­lec­tive and with­in the Ver­du­ra­da audi­ence. Their place with­in the city has become a high-pro­file con­cern of the sub­cul­ture itself.

Looking for the Visual Aspects

A search for the visu­al­i­ty of São Paulo’s hard­core punk scene, and of the straight edge sub­cul­ture in par­tic­u­lar, may lead to sev­er­al spaces through­out the city or to none. In visu­al terms, it is not easy to grasp how these forms of cul­tur­al expres­sion are root­ed in the city, and it is even more of a chal­lenge to see the music—the main fea­ture of the straight edge subculture—clearly mate­ri­al­ized and made vis­i­ble in urban spaces. In his arti­cle “Above and Below Ground,” Straw dis­cuss­es the vis­i­bil­i­ty of Montreal’s Mile End music scene, which was very active in the late 1990s and 2000s. As Straw sug­gests, jour­nal­ists who went to Mile End found the visu­al traces of the scene dif­fi­cult to capture:

Music con­sumed in dark rooms, in lofts or bars, is not par­tic­u­lar­ly pho­to­genic. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly the case for music which is not par­tic­u­lar­ly the­atri­cal, and which is often marked by a cul­ti­vat­ed casu­al­ness. In any case, dark­ened rooms con­vey lit­tle of the geog­ra­phy of a scene. As a result, most of the images of Mile End which cir­cu­late are images from which music is absent. Music was the cul­tur­al activ­i­ty which found­ed the idea of Mile End as a scene, but the visu­al sig­ni­fiers of that scene com­mu­ni­cate lit­tle of music. (Straw 404)

A sim­i­lar issue arose while analysing the straight edge sub­cul­ture of São Paulo: the visu­al aspects of the sub­cul­ture can eas­i­ly go unno­ticed around the city, espe­cial­ly when we are not deal­ing with the music fes­ti­vals them­selves. The visu­al­i­ty of Ver­du­ra­da can be per­ceived in two dif­fer­ent sorts of con­texts. The most obvi­ous of these are those con­texts in which gigs take place, in spe­cif­ic places at sched­uled times as a result of the labour of sev­er­al peo­ple. The oth­er con­text is con­sti­tut­ed by the sub­tle visu­al pres­ence of straight edge in the every­day life of São Paulo—in streets, restau­rants, cafés, stores, and oth­er pub­lic spaces, as well as the Ver­du­ra­da posters glued around the city and band stick­ers on restau­rants’ walls. These two con­texts over­lap in cer­tain ways, but it is impor­tant to high­light the dif­fer­ent ways in which they elic­it atten­tion or go noticed by outsiders.

Straight Edge in the City

As has been not­ed, São Paulo con­tains long-estab­lished venues con­nect­ed to spe­cif­ic scenes. Gale­ria do Rock, for instance, used to be a space for dis­rup­tive prac­tices and con­flicts between head bangers and punks. Today, it con­tains a vari­ety of tat­too shops, record stores, cloth­ing stores, hair­dressers, and oth­er ameni­ties, serv­ing tastes that range from reg­gae and hip-hop through hard­core, punk, and goth­ic, on sev­er­al floors linked by spi­ral stair­cas­es. How­ev­er, the space is no longer for youth only: it has become a tourist des­ti­na­tion in which it is not unusu­al to see entire fam­i­lies strolling along its cor­ri­dors and shop­ping. On one of the floors there is a small store called Veg­an Pride, which sells cru­el­ty-free and straight edge prod­ucts. It has long been easy to find straight edgers hang­ing around here, buy­ing food, hygiene prod­ucts, or t-shirts with mes­sages such as “Straight Edge Brasil” and “Enjoy Straight Edge, You can’t beat the feel­ing” (a ref­er­ence to the 1987 Coke slo­gan, with the same typography).

Walk­ing a few blocks from Gale­ria do Rock, one comes to Gale­ria Nova Barão, with its record stores, mod­est restau­rants, shoe stores, and oth­er com­mer­cial spaces. Among these, on the sec­ond floor, is the punk rock record store The Record (owned by peo­ple who have been con­nect­ed with the hard­core punk scene for years) and the Veg­gie Life Store, a space ded­i­cat­ed to veg­an, DIY, and straight edge prod­ucts (and owned by peo­ple direct­ly con­nect­ed to the straight edge sub­cul­ture). These spaces are dis­creet­ly locat­ed inside the gallery, nes­tled among tra­di­tion­al stores, but they make vis­i­ble the signs of straight edge cul­ture, on the cov­ers of records, T-shirts, tote bags, pins, veg­an prod­ucts, and the adorned bod­ies of the reg­u­lar vis­i­tors themselves.

Not far from there, still in the down­town region, lies one of the most famous places of encounter for straight edgers in São Paulo, the ice cream shop Soroko (at Augus­ta street) (Souza 23).  Soroko offers veg­an ice cream options, as well as açaí (an açaí palm dessert), amidst vin­tage tables, colour­ful garbage bins in the form of clowns, and old posters. Any­one pass­ing by can notice, at cer­tain hours of the day, a large num­ber of tat­tooed peo­ple in hard­core or streetwear out­fits, but the visu­al aspects of the place and its vis­i­tors are not obvi­ous­ly con­nect­ed to the subculture.

Going up Augus­ta street towards Paulista Avenue, one finds anoth­er impor­tant space of encounter and vis­i­bil­i­ty for straight edgers, the Mate Por Favor. This is a small snack restau­rant inside an open-air gallery with a few tables, chairs, and stools, serv­ing veg­an, veg­e­tar­i­an, and meat options as well as mate, açaí, and cof­fee. The name is a ref­er­ence to the punk book “Please Kill Me”, writ­ten by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, and to the mate, (the yer­ba mate tea bev­er­age served there). The own­er has been part of the hard­core punk scene for years and allows peo­ple to hang posters on the wall for hard­core punk gigs, includ­ing those orga­nized by Ver­du­ra­da. This place is well known among straight edgers; one could always meet them there on Sun­day after­noons, to talk or look at the visu­al mate­ri­als on the walls, the notices of under­ground music fes­ti­vals, and mes­sages with straight edge con­tent writ­ten by its reg­u­lar vis­i­tors. If one paid close atten­tion to the young peo­ple hang­ing around, one could observe, in their choic­es of food and drink, the signs of their veg­an­ism or sobriety.

Oth­er restau­rants and venues owned by friends (or friends of friends) from the scene or sub­cul­ture fig­ure with­in any “map­ping” of straight edge visu­al ref­er­ences across the city. These include the Veg­a­cy restau­rant (also on Augus­ta street, on the Jardins side of Paulista Avenue) and the Prime Dog (Ver­gueiro street). The lat­ter start­ed as a hot dog and ham­burg­er stand, but it grew as the demand for veg­e­tar­i­an and veg­an options increased; it became one of the most famous fast food restau­rants serv­ing veg­an options in the city, beloved by many of the straight edgers. As is the case with the Mate Por Favor, Prime Dog’s walls are filled with veg­an and straight edge mes­sages, band stick­ers, fes­ti­val posters and oth­er ref­er­ences to the sub­cul­ture. On Sat­ur­day nights Prime Dog was a good place to meet col­leagues from the sub­cul­ture and engage in casu­al conversations.

The act of strolling along the side­walks of the city brings oppor­tu­ni­ties to encounter the visu­al aspects of the straight edge sub­cul­ture, such as the Ver­du­ra­da posters. In the begin­ning, the Ver­du­ra­da col­lec­tive used to hang or glue the posters on walls and street­light posts close to the main avenues in order to attract peo­ple to their gigs. Bit­ten­court observes that the style and con­tent of these posters changed over time, as a result of shift­ing exter­nal influ­ences on their under­ly­ing aes­thet­ics (156-158). As he sug­gests, prox­im­i­ty to the anti-glob­al­iza­tion move­ment played a key role in trans­form­ing the Ver­du­ra­da col­lec­tive and its fes­ti­vals, shap­ing the debates (or direct-action work­shops) host­ed by the fes­ti­val and the visu­al mate­ri­als used in its pro­mo­tion. Before this engage­ment with the anti-glob­al­iza­tion move­ment in the ear­ly 2000s, the posters used to dis­play images of con­certs. This would change rad­i­cal­ly, as images relat­ed to the debates of the day became more com­mon (158) (Figs. 1 and 2). With the advent of the Inter­net, it has become eas­i­er to pro­mote the events online through vir­tu­al posters, list­servs, and Face­book pages, etc.—and they still glue the posters on walls and street lights across the city.

Fig­ures 1 and 2. Ver­du­ra­da poster from June 1998 (left) show­ing an image relat­ed to the debate about gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in Sao Paulo. Anoth­er from April 2012 (right): the sign held by the octo­pus reads “Vende-se” (“For sale”), affixed to a his­tor­i­cal building.

Even in spaces heav­i­ly fre­quent­ed by straight edgers, it is dif­fi­cult to “see the music,” to make it vis­i­ble beyond the posters on the walls, the band T-shirts and stick­ers, and the tat­toos exhib­it­ed across bod­ies. You can go to the same places, be among these peo­ple, and not notice their com­mit­ments to sobri­ety or a veg­an life choice and to the under­ground music scenes of the city. The bound­aries of the straight edge sub­cul­ture are rigid, but oth­er ele­ments shap­ing their iden­ti­ties may be idio­syn­crat­ic, hid­den, het­ero­ge­neous, or sub­tle. Some mem­bers of the cul­ture have told me they do not even have tat­toos or do not dress as “hard­core” as the oth­ers, but that they have been there active­ly orga­niz­ing gigs inside the col­lec­tive for more than a decade.

Many peo­ple who par­tic­i­pate in Ver­du­ra­da, inside or out­side the col­lec­tive, by play­ing in bands, mak­ing fanzines and orga­niz­ing music fes­ti­vals, claim to have a “par­al­lel life,”—that is, a job, fam­i­ly sit­u­a­tion, or oth­er inter­ests that shape their iden­ti­ties and every­day lives. With­in these par­al­lel lives, peo­ple devise mech­a­nisms with which to cam­ou­flage their sta­tus as straight edge. Nonethe­less, dur­ing the musi­cal per­for­mances at Ver­du­ra­da, their exis­tence changes for a cou­ple of hours, in moments of col­lec­tive explo­sion and ecsta­sy that are almost cathar­tic (Bit­ten­court 120), and in which the visu­al dimen­sions of the sub­cul­ture assume high lev­els of expressiveness.

The Visuality of Verdurada

Dur­ing the Ver­du­ra­da fes­ti­vals, the visu­al­i­ty of the sub­cul­ture puls­es even in the small­est details. As not­ed ear­li­er, one of the key visu­al tokens of the straight edge sub­cul­ture, the mark of dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed iden­ti­ty, is the X on the back of the hands. Most peo­ple draw this before or dur­ing the fes­ti­val, using a pen or a mark­er. I met a few fes­ti­val-goers with the X per­ma­nent­ly tat­tooed on their bod­ies. A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of peo­ple in the audi­ence mark their hands as a way of pro­claim­ing a com­mit­ment to sobri­ety with­in their lives and inside that space.

Fig­ure 3. Vocal­ist of the band “Still X Strong” X-ing up before the pre­sen­ta­tion and wear­ing a t-shirt with the phrase “Love hard­core, hate homo­pho­bia” under his shirt.

Fig­ures 4 and 5. Vocal­ists with the X on their hands dur­ing the bands’ performances.

Tat­toos with veg­an and straight edge mean­ings, sym­bols, and mes­sages can also be spot­ted on the visible/uncovered parts of bod­ies through­out the fes­ti­val. Atkin­son sees these tat­toos as a form of resis­tance, a con­trolled and ratio­nal­ized form of dis­sent that is also cor­po­re­al (215). Bit­ten­court also observed these ges­tures in São Paulo’s straight edge sub­cul­ture, with young peo­ple tat­too­ing the X on their hands even though they knew this might lim­it their chances of get­ting a job (107). As Heb­di­ge points out, cer­tain forms of body mod­i­fi­ca­tion, such as face tat­toos, allow bearers:

to burn most of your bridges. In the cur­rent eco­nom­ic cli­mate, when employ­ers can afford to pick and choose, such ges­tures are a pub­lic dis­avow­al of the will to queue for work, throw­ing your self away before They do it for you. (Heb­di­ge 32)

While tat­toos are becom­ing more social­ly accept­able, hav­ing some vis­i­ble parts of the body tat­tooed, such as the hands, neck, or face, are still taboo in Brazil.

Beyond the cor­po­re­al visu­al­i­ty of the sub­cul­ture, the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of a diverse range of objects is anoth­er impor­tant prac­tice worth notic­ing. As not­ed ear­li­er, peo­ple and col­lec­tives tabling at the event offered a wide vari­ety of prod­ucts such as fanzines, clothes, records, and acces­sories at what they called a “pop­u­lar price.” Since the appli­ca­tion of straight edge sym­bols, main­ly the X, is vis­i­ble in print­ed ephemera, cloth­ing, tat­too­ing, band stick­ers, and cov­er albums, it is easy to com­mer­cial­ize straight edge prod­ucts. Among the wares, I saw objects such as a watch with an X, wal­let chains with the words “straight edge”, t-shirts with mes­sages (Fig. 6), and fanzines.

Fig­ures 6 and 7. Tables with books, records, and t-shirts for sale (left). The t-shirts have straight edge phras­es such as “Stay pos­i­tive,” “VGN SXE” (Veg­an Straight Edge), “Livre de Dro­gas” (Drugs Free), and an “X.” The oth­er table exhibits fem­i­nist fanzines and the “Fight Club” book (right).

Regard­less of the line-up, the sea­son, or even the venue, Ver­du­ra­da offers peo­ple oppor­tu­ni­ties to buy arti­cles from the bands per­form­ing that day, thus help­ing to “keep the scene alive”: “There are many blogs and sites spread­ing news about bands and sites from which to down­load albums. How­ev­er, the scene does not sur­vive through its visu­al­i­sa­tion on YouTube, down­loads, and Face­book chats, but, rather, by peo­ple com­ing to shows, buy­ing band mate­r­i­al and mak­ing real friends” (L.A, 21 years old). After attend­ing sev­er­al Ver­du­ra­das one can observe the t-shirts of Brazil­ian or inter­na­tion­al bands who have already played there worn by the audi­ence or band mem­bers. The visu­al rel­e­vance of t-shirts to those seek­ing to read the sub­cul­ture is par­tic­u­lar­ly strong, inso­far as these are used to clear­ly state musi­cal pref­er­ences, polit­i­cal posi­tions, dietary restric­tions, DIY prin­ci­ples, sobri­ety options (as with the t-shirts in Fig. 6 above and Figs. 8 and 9), and sup­port to les­bian-fem­i­nist bands who have nev­er played at a Ver­du­ra­da (but are part of the broad­er hard­core punk scene).   

Fig­ure 8. A man in the mosh pit wear­ing a hood­ie with the words “Straight Edge Elite.”

Fig­ure 9. A mem­ber from the band Larus­so wear­ing a t-shirt with a “Faça você mes­mo” (“do-it-your­self”) mes­sage on stage, min­utes before the pre­sen­ta­tion started.

Few bands have open­ly declared them­selves to be straight edge, but sev­er­al have been formed by peo­ple com­mit­ted to a sober liv­ing. One of the main bands asso­ci­at­ed with Ver­du­ra­da is the Still X Strong, a self-described “veg­an straight edge band.” They keep the X in their name, as well as the ref­er­ence to the strength of their choice; mem­bers of the band always play with the X on the back of their hands. Their first album cov­ers also depict­ed the X and/or ref­er­ences to their com­mit­ment to absti­nence (such as Str8 edge and the X; see Figs. 10, 11, 12). The most recent releas­es from the band are aes­thet­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent, with no spe­cif­ic graph­ic sym­bol relat­ed to straight edge—not even the bands’ name, with its “X”—as it can be seen below (Fig. 13). The lyrics of their songs often refer to veg­an­ism and straight edge life choic­es, but the changes on the cov­ers sug­gest a frac­tured visu­al iden­ti­ty, high­light­ing the fact that straight edge iconog­ra­phy is not always vis­i­ble or obvi­ous, but some­times hid­den (from the sur­face at least).

Fig­ures 10, 11, 12 and 13. Still X Strong album cov­ers, from the left: Demo (2007), Split (2008), Cor­ner­stone (2011), and Girl (2012).

If we focus on spaces them­selves, we see how the con­fig­u­ra­tion of cer­tain details offers more ele­ments with which to read the event. None of the Ver­du­ra­da fes­ti­vals I fol­lowed had a per­son respon­si­ble for secu­ri­ty (such as a secu­ri­ty guard) at the entrance or inside the venue. Dur­ing field­work I rarely heard sto­ries of fights and vio­lence at Ver­du­ra­da; the rel­a­tive­ly safe­ty of these gigs evi­denced, for exam­ple, by the kids hang­ing out in the audi­ence with their tat­tooed par­ents, tru­ly absorbed by the aggres­sive sounds com­ing from the gui­tars, bass­es, and drums on stage. Accord­ing to A.M, Ver­du­ra­da is a space suit­able for a wide range of audi­ences, includ­ing chil­dren, since it is alcohol/drugs free.

Fig­ures 14 and 15. Chil­dren in the audience.

Dur­ing most of my field­work the venue being booked most fre­quent­ly for Ver­du­ra­da’s gigs was the Ego Club (Nestor Pes­tana street). Some­times, in the entrance, they hang papers with mes­sages of sobri­ety and respect or inside jokes. The inte­ri­or has red walls and lights, mir­rors, a small stage, and a space usu­al­ly ded­i­cat­ed to the bar, with fridges pro­mot­ing beer brands famous in Brazil. Dur­ing the Ver­du­ra­da, this space was used to sell water and Mupy, we well as some (unhealthy) veg­an food such as ham­burg­ers, cox­in­has (a veg­an ver­sion of a tra­di­tion­al Brazil­ian snack usu­al­ly made with chick­en), esfi­has, kibes, cup­cakes, etc (Fig. 16). The list of food options uses “local for­mu­la­tions” (Larsen 101) of the straight edge X, such as the “X” in “coX­in­ha” to allude to straight edge. The menu also lists “Kassab,” refer­ring to São Paulo’s may­or at the time, Gilber­to Kassab.

Fig­ure 16. The bar at a Ver­du­ra­da event, filled with water, Mupy, and veg­an food.

Fig­ure 17. Burg­ers dis­played at the bar, with an unused beer fridge in the back.

The space offers a small stage for the bands, min­i­miz­ing or col­laps­ing the dis­tance between per­form­ers and audi­ence. In front of the stage there is the mosh pit, with its fast and some­times aggres­sive danc­ing dur­ing per­for­mances. The mosh pit occu­pies a sig­nif­i­cant (ephemer­al) space and it is more com­mon to see men danc­ing than women. Behind and beside the mosh pit are spots for those who are not par­tic­i­pat­ing in the danc­ing, stage div­ing, or head walking.

Fig­ure 18. One of the few women I spot­ted in the mosh pit.

When a debate takes place between per­for­mances, every­one inter­est­ed in par­tic­i­pat­ing sits down (some­times in cir­cles) to watch, lis­ten, and ask ques­tions. The quick shifts between ener­getic danc­ing and the qui­et, seat­ed lis­ten­ing that char­ac­ter­izes the debate are impres­sive. While the entire audi­ence is not always inter­est­ed in dis­cus­sion, the floor is always full of people.

Fig­ure 19. Audi­ence dur­ing the debate.

After the last band, a veg­an din­ner is served to the audi­ence (it is includ­ed in the price of the tick­et); the night ends with the pos­si­bil­i­ty of socia­bil­i­ty among those in the line for food that grad­u­al­ly forms out­side of the venue. Each per­son who wants to be part of the din­ner can get in line and receive a dis­pos­able plate, usu­al­ly filled with rice and veg­eta­bles. Since it is out­side, in front of the venue, the din­ing is not nec­es­sar­i­ly com­fort­able (one has to eat lean­ing on walls or sit­ting on the side­walks), but sev­er­al peo­ple see in this moment an oppor­tu­ni­ty for social­iz­ing and talk­ing with their friends before head­ing some­where else or going back home.

Final remarks

To the sur­prise of many peo­ple the straight edge sub­cul­ture is still active in Brazil, after more than 20 years of unin­ter­rupt­ed exis­tence. The sub­cul­ture has orga­nized the Ver­du­ra­da fes­ti­vals since 1996 and, despite many changes (in the city, as well as inside the sub­cul­ture), the core val­ues and prin­ci­ples of straight edge iden­ti­ty con­tin­ue to revolve around a com­mit­ment to sobri­ety and absti­nence. The impor­tance of this sub­cul­ture resides, in part, in its sta­bil­i­ty, its con­nec­tions to the hard­core punk scene, its pro­mo­tion of debate and engage­ment with polit­i­cal issues, and its DIY musi­cal pro­duc­tion. An ongo­ing ques­tion is how much the con­sti­tu­tion of the iden­ti­ty bound­aries for straight edge are obvi­ous from the out­side, par­tic­u­lar­ly since they are dif­fi­cult to read even for peo­ple inside the subculture—the choice of sobri­ety is not always obvi­ous and vis­i­ble. The mak­ing of iden­ti­ty bound­aries is a many-sided process, replete with con­flicts over how to be seen (and rec­og­nized) as straight edge by one’s peers. Some visu­al ele­ments, such as the Xs marked on the back of the hands, are ephemer­al, tran­si­to­ry, and appear most­ly dur­ing the fes­ti­vals, con­nect­ed deeply to the subculture’s musi­cal expres­siv­i­ty. Oth­er visu­al ele­ments, such as tat­toos, serve as more per­ma­nent state­ments. All of the objects in orbit around straight edge iden­ti­ty (t-shirts, zines, records, acces­sories) play an impor­tant role for those will­ing to show, to out­siders and oth­er straight edgers alike, the com­mit­ment they have made to sober liv­ing. As a result of this com­plex­i­ty, and through the impor­tance of its visu­al ele­ments, this sub­cul­ture and its mem­bers invite reflec­tion on the rela­tions between visu­al­i­ty (in its ephemer­al and per­ma­nent forms) and mate­ri­al­i­ty. This visu­al­i­ty forms part of the expe­ri­ences and prac­tices that shape the iden­ti­tar­i­an bound­aries of straight edge. The traces of the sub­cul­ture with­in the city may be ephemer­al (as is the case for posters and tran­si­to­ry venues) or invis­i­ble (inso­far as some stores and restau­rants cater to all kinds of audi­ences).  In this respect, the visu­al­i­ty and mate­ri­al­i­ty of the straight edge sub­cul­ture invite a read­ing of the world that extends beyond its fixed and per­ma­nent ele­ments. Indeed, the vis­i­bil­i­ty of scenes may be ephemer­al, sub­tle, and flu­id, shaped by the scenes’ appro­pri­a­tion of the sur­round­ing city and its objects and by the van­tage point from which they are seen. 

Works cited

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Bit­ten­court, Joao B M. Sóbrios, firmes e con­vic­tos: Uma etno­car­tografia dos straight­edges em São Paulo. São Paulo: Annablume, 2015.

Dunn, Kevin C. “Nev­er Mind the Bol­locks: the Punk Rock Pol­i­tics of Glob­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tion.” Review of Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies 34 (2008): 193-210.

Fos­ter, Hal, ed. Vision and Visu­al­i­ty. Seat­tle: Bay Press, 1988.

Hanou, M. Fri­jins, J. P. The Past the Present 1982-2007: A His­to­ry of 25 Years of Euro­pean Straight Edge. Haarlem/Amsterdam: Refuse Records, 2009.

Haen­fler, Ross. Straight Edge: Clean Liv­ing Youth, Hard­core Punk, and Social Change. New Jer­sey: Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2009.

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Heb­di­ge, Dick. Hid­ing in the Light: On Images and Things. New York and Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 1988.

Hel­ton, Jesse J. and Stau­den­meier Jr, William J. “Re-imag­in­ing Being ‘Straight’ in Straight Edge.” Con­tem­po­rary Drug Prob­lems 29 (Sum­mer 2002): 445-473.

Kuhn, Gabriel. Sober Liv­ing for the Rev­o­lu­tion: Hard­core Punk, Straight Edge, and Rad­i­cal Pol­i­tics. Oak­land: PM Press, 2010.

Lahick­ey, Beth. All Ages: Reflec­tions on Straight Edge. Hunt­ing­ton Beach, Cal­i­for­nia: Rev­e­la­tion Books, 2007.

Larsen, Al. “Fast, Cheap and Out of Con­trol: The Graph­ic Sym­bol in Hard­core Punk.” Punk & Post-Punk 2. 1 (2013): 91-106.

Oliveira, Valdir S. O anar­quis­mo no movi­men­to punk: Cidade de Sao Paulo, 1980-1990. Master’s Dis­ser­ta­tion. PUC-SP, 2007.

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Souza, Bruna Man­tese. “Straight Edges e suas Relações na Cidade.” Jovens na Metó­pole: Etno­grafias de cir­cuitos de laz­er, encon­tro e socia­bil­i­dade. Souza, Bruna Man­tese; Mag­nani, José G. C. (Org.). Sao Paulo: Ter­ceiro Nome, 2007.

Straw, Will. “Above and Below Ground.” Keep it Sim­ple, Make it Fast!: An Approach to Under­ground Music Scenes. Guer­ra, Paula and Mor­eira, Tania (eds). Por­to: Uni­ver­si­dade do Por­to, 2015.

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Image notes

Fig­ures 1 and 2. Source: Ver­du­ra­da’s Flickr account.

Fig­ures 3 to 9 and 14 to 19. Author’s per­son­al archive.

Fig­ures 10 to 13. Still X Strong, Band­camp page (https://​stil​lxstrong​.band​camp​.com/)


This research was sup­port­ed by Fun­dação Car­los Cha­gas Fil­ho de Amparo à Pesquisa do Esta­do do Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ).


[1] The song “Straight Edge” is a track from Minor Threat's 7" EP (1981), lat­er reis­sued as part of the col­lec­tion Minor Threat (1984) and also the Com­plete Discog­ra­phy (1989).

[2] The in-depth inter­views were con­duct­ed in São Paulo and by Skype/Telephone along my field­work. I pre­fer to use their ini­tials and the ages shown here rep­re­sent the alleged age at the time of the interview.

[3] See: <http://​super​.abril​.com​.br/​c​u​l​t​u​r​a​/​f​u​n​k​-​g​a​r​o​t​o​s​-​d​o​-​s​u​b​u​r​bio>, accessed on 11 Jan­u­ary 2016.

This arti­cle is licensed under a  Cre­ative Com­mons 3.0 License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.