In the third guest blog post presenting the results of Investiga XXI, DIOGO DUARTE, introduces his study of the emergence of the Straight Edge, a drug-free punk subculture, in Portugal which was made through the web pages preserved by Arquivo.pt. Being an international and informal suburban culture, Straight Edge had in the internet one of the factors of its expansion in the second half of the nineties. This text presents a first approach to build the history of the Straight Edge culture.
Since its eruption in the second half of the 1970s, punk was characterized by a multiplicity of derived experiences and expressions that defied the simplistic and sensationalist picture often portrayed of a self-destructive movement (due to the drug and alcohol excesses of some of its members). One of those expressions with a significant growth and impact was Straight Edge.
Sober punk: “I’ve got better things to do”
Born in the beginning of the 1980’s in Washington D.C., U.S.A., by the voice of one of the most emblematic bands of punk-hardcore history, Minor Threat, Straight Edge was one of the answers to that self-destructive spiral. Besides the refusal to consume addictive substances, vegetarianism and animal rights became strongly associated with Straight Edge lifestyle since its beginning.
Minor Threat lyrics quickly found echo in a number of individuals that identified themselves with punk rebelliousness and the raw energy of its loud and fast music but that were not feeling attracted to some of its common behaviors. In a short notice, Straight Edge was reclaimed as an identity by a growing number of bands and individuals all over the United States.
The explosion of Straight Edge in Portugal
In Portugal, this punk subculture started to explode in the beginning of the 1990s, with X-Acto, the first Straight Edge band, appearing in 1991. Through this decade, Straight Edge never stopped to grow, with more and more bands and individuals reclaiming its principles to guide their lives.
In the second half of the 1990s, Internet became of the of main platforms of communication within the Straight Edge community. Making it easier to spread its ideas and events among a larger audience, the internet created a new space of sociability complementary to the concerts and other meeting spaces.
The growth of the Straight Edge culture reflected some of the social and political dynamics of the Portuguese society that emerged during the 1990s, but it also contributed to accelerate those changes, particularly through its interventional and strongly politicized characteristics.
Anti-consumption, anti-capitalism, anti-racism, feminism, ecology and, especially, veganism and animal rights were some of the causes more actively promoted by the Straight Edge followers.
As a predominantly suburban culture, informal and absent of any institutional structure, based in the punk Do It Yourself ethics, Straight Edge remained underground, without any media or public visibility. Information circulated through concerts, through independent distributors and, with the Internet, online through online forums, websites or blogs.
The importance of web archives to the study of popular subcultures
With the slowing down of the movement during the early 2000’s, much of the information available online that documented the existence of this culture disappeared – in some cases irretrievably – without having been preserved in traditional archives or without leaving a trace in institutional media.
Thus, the possibilities of studying the Straight Edge culture and its impact on the Portuguese society were severely reduced. Arquivo.pt recovered and archived many of those pages and re-opened the possibility of studying then.
The websites preserved by Arquivo.pt were the basis of this research. Through them, we observed Straight Edge’s eruption, expansion, consolidation and decline in Portugal and analyzed the changes that occurred in its internal dynamics, in its main concerns and the splits that traversed it (firstly, in its relation to punk culture in general, and then inside the Straight Edge scene itself).
This study provided a glimpse into the potential that web archives offer for the study of almost any contemporary culture, providing a new source of information for social groups and events that are usually underrepresented in traditional archives.
Without web archives, the study of the eruption of the Straight Edge culture in Portugal would have been impossible, just a few years after it happened.
In the Internet age, the same applies to a lot of different phenomena, even to those widely studied. Undeniably, research using web archives implies new methodological and epistemological challenges, but the main challenge is also an opportunity to find new perspectives and new study objects.