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Youth & Society


Rave and Straightedge, the Virtual and the Real: Exploring Online and Offline Experiences in Canadian Youth Subcultures

Brian Wilson and Michael Atkinson Youth Society 2005; 36; 276 DOI: 10.1177/0044118X03260498

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/ MARCH Y2005


Wilson, Atkinson





RAVE AND STRAIGHTEDGE, THE VIRTUAL AND THE REAL Exploring Online and Offline Experiences in Canadian Youth Subcultures


University of British Columbia


McMaster University

Over the past 10 years, sociologists have attended to the impacts of the Internet on youth subcultural coalescence, display, identity, and resistance. In this article, the au- thors develop a critique of this body of work, describing how existing research places undue emphasis on young people’s experiences either online or offline and how a lack of consideration has been given to the ways that subcultural expressions are continu- ous across the apparent “virtual-real” divide. With the aim of addressing some of these concerns, the authors draw on ethnographic case studies of “Rave” and “Straightedge” to explore the impact of the two realities (i.e., online and offline reali- ties) on understandings of subcultural experience in these youth formations and artic- ulate how the theoretical split between the virtual and real in cyber-subcultural re- search does not accurately capture the lived experiences or identity negotiations of these youth.


Rave; Straightedge; youth; subculture; Internet; resistance; cyberculture

In recent years, various attempts have been made to empirically document and theoretically dissect “millennial youth subcultures.” Notable in this context of inquiry are discussions about the rise of the Internet and its impact on the globalization of youth cultures, and con-

AUTHORS’ NOTE: We acknowledge the support provided by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada graduate fellowships. We are also grateful to Kathryn Herr and the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful suggestions.

YOUTH & SOCIETY, Vol. 36 No. 3, March 2005 276-311 DOI: 10.1177/0044118X03260498 © 2005 Sage Publications


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siderations of the Internet’s influence on traditional forms of youth ex- pression, resistance, and identity development. Along these particular lines of investigation and others, researchers have begun to examine the characteristics of, and issues surrounding, the emergence of sub- cultures as “cybercommunities” or “cybersubcultures.” Hackers (Ross, 2000), hate groups (Hier, 2000), fan groups (Clerc, 2000), and cybersex participants (Branwyn, 2000) are some of the many groups profiled in this broad area of research. Despite innovations made in areas concerning youth cybercom- munities, a series of theoretical and substantive schisms tend to be replicated within this body of work, two of which are the focus of this article. The first is that conceptual understandings about subcultures and the Internet are typically offered without referencing (in any inte- grative manner) the literature on youth subcultures and the media. This is a problematic schism given that scholars on both sides of the Atlantic have focused considerable attention on the youth-subculture- media relationship via the study of media audiences, media contents, and media production practices. In a related way, more recent work on alternative “zine” cultures is seldom referenced or taken as a theoreti- cal guide for examining subcultural production through the Internet. The second is that existing research on Internet (youth) cultures tends to focus on either online or offline subcultural experiences, without uncloaking the links between these two subcultural worlds, or interro- gating the implications of these links for subcultural members (Sterne, 1999). In this article, we partially redress these theoretical and empirical issues through the critical inspection of (a) the intricacies of the rela- tionship between youth subcultures and the media, in light of the emergence of the Internet as a computer-mediated communication (CMC) platform and (b) the complexities of youth membership in offline subcultural communities that are influenced by online partici- pation. Substantive questions addressed through this analysis include what links can be made between the cybersubcultures literature and more mainstream work on youth subcultures and media; how has the Internet been integrated into the everyday subcultural lives of youth; to what extent has youth community formation been affected by the globalization of culture and the rise of the Internet; what overlaps/ connections exist between online and offline cultures and how are

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these overlaps relevant to current understandings of the nature of youth subcultural communities? To accomplish this, we discuss previ- ous work on subcultures and media and provide a bridge between this literature and recent theory/research on the Internet and cyber- cultures. This is followed by an analysis and comparison of two youth subcultural formations that are characterized by their range of media and technology-oriented perspectives, experiences and practices— “Rave” and “Straightedge,” respectively. We examine the impact of the two realities (i.e., online and offline realities) on understandings of subcultural experience in these youth formations and suggest that the theoretical split between the virtual and real in existing cybersub- cultural research does not accurately capture the lived experiences or identity negotiations of these youth.



Contemporary discussions of youth subcultures and the media typ- ically commence with reference to Cohen’s (1972) landmark book, Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of Mods and Rockers, Hall, Critcher, Jefferson, Clarke, and Roberts’ (1978), Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order, and/or Hebdige’s (1979) Subculture: The Meaning of Style. The general arguments put forth in these volumes were that subcultures tend to be portrayed in popular media as, on one hand, troubled or troubling (i.e., as alienated and disaffected, or as social problems/deviants), and on the other hand, chic and cool. This representational treatment of subcultures was considered to be part of a process whereby groups viewed as threatening/resistant to the status quo are initially censured and la- beled and later incorporated into mainstream culture (e.g., by convert- ing subcultural signs into mass-produced objects). This process, ac- cording to these authors, inevitably leads to the ideological neutralization of oppositional groups. Most pertinent to this article is the way that media are interpreted by youth subcultures themselves, and how media (in a variety of ways) plays an integral part in the formation and maintenance of these groups. Thornton’s (1995) work on “club cultures” in Britain ex-

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plored two issues central to this topic. The first dealt with how “youth’s subcultural ideologies position the media,” and the second, with how “the media are instrumental in the congregation of youth and the formation of subcultures” (p. 121). Regarding the first issue, Thornton discussed how subculture members perceive mass media/ culture as a threat to their status as an esoteric group (e.g., because of the media’s tendency to incorporate/popularize previously distinct subcultural styles). Regarding the second, Thornton emphasized how relationships with mass media are a necessary and inescapable part of subcultural development and ideology, and are crucial for confirming subcultural status:

The positioning of various media outlets—prime time television [mu- sic] chart shows versus late-might narrowcasts, BBC versus pirate ra- dio, the music press versus the tabloids, flyers versus fanzines—as well as the discourses about “hipness” and “selling out,” moral panic and banning are essential to the ways that young people receive these me- dia and, consequently, to the ways in which media shape subcultures. (pp. 121-122)

Perhaps the most notable of Thornton’s contributions is her discus- sion of the diversity and evolution of the subculture-media relation- ship, wherein she identifies the problems with theoretical interpreta- tions of mass media reactions to youth deviance, and the increasing importance of alternative media in subcultural struggle. The latter point is elaborated on by McRobbie and Thornton (1995), who argued that young subcultural “folk devils” are not only less marginalized than they once were but now find themselves “vociferously and articu- lately supported in the same mass media which castigates them,” and find their interests to be simultaneously “defended by their own niche and micro-media” (p. 559). Although McRobbie and Thornton usefully identify the potential for counterhegemony through alternative media, work on media and subcultures tends to focus on soft forms of resistance in media con- sumption, discussing the ways that viewers/readers become empow- ered through media by temporarily subverting the influences of con- sumer culture. Work in this tradition of audience research focuses on groups that share interests in music, sports programming, television

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shows, and romance novels (Ang, 1985; Jhally & Lewis, 1992; Radway, 1991; Wilson & Sparks, 1996, 1999). Studies that unveil the sometimes resistant readings that audiences/consumers made of these popular culture texts/items (e.g., the collective and individual use of texts/items in ways unintended by media producers) are sometimes linked to the subculture-media tradition—although some of these works are criticized for being overzealous in celebrating the ability of audiences to resist the influences of media texts (Gruneau, 1988; Muggleton, 2000). Although McRobbie and Thornton described a movement toward the use of alternative media as a form of resistance and community forming, Duncombe (1997) is one of the few authors to devote ex- tended analysis to this topic. In Notes from the Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture, Duncombe (1997) provides a series of clarifications to some of McRobbie and Thornton’s points, describing how “zinesters” and affiliated subcultures are prepolitical groups—groups that are made up of people who have not yet found, or have only begun to find, a specific language through which to express their aspirations about the world. Cresser, Gunn, and Balme’s (2001) research on female zinesters points to the political potential of CMC, and how the cultural aspirations of online resisters cannot be fully re- alized in cyberspace. In this way, zinesters (i.e., those who produce, publish, and distribute noncommercial, nonprofessional, small-circu- lation magazines) are akin to the niche and micromedia producers identified by McRobbie and Thornton. Duncombe does, however, ac- knowledge that the distribution of hard-copy zines is now being halted by the creation of Web-zines, which have a much larger and more diffuse audience. Although Duncombe’s work is seldom referred to as a departure point for studying subcultural struggle and alternative/Internet media production, there are several existing studies that broach these areas, including Leonard’s (1998) work on the Riot Grrrl Punk movement, and Jordan and Taylor’s (1998) study of hackers. Leonard’s (1998) re- search is especially notable in this context because it examines femi- nist youth movements with a focus on the hard-copy and online zine platforms that promote them. Although Leonard does not establish theoretical links between work on alternative media and studies of Internet cultures, her empirical investigation of the ways that female

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youth subcultural resistance is enacted through various media and in public and private spaces is noteworthy. Despite these advancements, existing studies say little about the Internet’s positioning in the offline lives of subculture members, or about the everyday experiences of those who are part of online subcultures (cf. Sterne, 1999). Other authors, such as Robins (1996), critique the tendency for commentators to glorify the virtual, out-of-body, multiple-identity possibilities of the Internet without adequately considering relation- ships between virtual and real-world experience. This simple reifica- tion of online reality is also rejected in Markham’s (1999) work on the interconnection between on- and offline selves, and Parks and Rob- erts’ (1998) research on the relationship building through computer MOOs (multiuser domain, i.e., chat rooms, online role-playing envi- ronments). In this context, Robins (1996) expressed his disapproval of work that emphasizes a dual reality, or writing that is overzealous in adopting poststructuralist and postmodernist interpretations of online culture:

Virtual reality and cyberspace are commonly imagined in terms of re-

action against, or opposition to, the real

world. . . .

In certain cases,

these are presented as some kind of utopian project. Virtual Reality is

imagined as a nowhere-somewhere alternative to the dangerous condi-

tions of contemporary social

reality. . . .

The mythology of cyberspace

is preferred over its sociology. I have argued that it is time to re-locate

virtual culture in the real world (the real world that virtual culturalists, seduced by their own metaphors, pronounce dead or dying). Through the development of new technologies, we are, indeed, more and more open to experiences of de-realisation and de-localisation. But we con- tinue to have physical and localised existences. We must consider our state of suspension between these conditions. (Robins, 1996, pp. 16,


Although Robins’ (1996) call for balance and for more integrated research are both rationales that underlie this article, we more directly suggest that research underpinned by microsociological emphases can guide understandings of the relationship between online and offline lived experience. For example, in Denzin’s (1995) and Pleace, Burrows, Loader, Muncer, and Nettleton’s (2000) respective exami- nations of Internet-facilitated communication processes between

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members of addiction/recovery groups, important links are made be- tween the conventions of Internet support communities and the oral traditions of face-to-face support meetings. Jordan (1999) also ex- plored the relationship between offline and online communication (with a particular focus on gender), discussing the potential for more egalitarian online discussions because of the liberating and limiting potential of exclusively text-based conversation. Turkle’s (1995) work on identity and the Internet includes several stories of individu- als whose experiments with online identity are part of developing their offline selves (e.g., playing the role of another family member). Issues to do with race/ethnicity, class, and gender have also been studied as part of understanding the relationship between offline and online ex- perience/identity (cf., Ebo, 1998; Harcourt, 1999). Burkhalter (1999), for example, showed how racial politics emerge in newsgroup discus- sions and described the linkages between racial identity online and grounded racial experiences offline. Equally, through a “netography” of displaced Croatians’ online communication, Stubbs (1999) inspected how diaspora and community restructuring are signified across Internet spaces. Miller and Slater’s (2000) ethnographic study of the Internet in Trinidad is one of the most rigorous pieces of research on the position- ing of the Internet in the everyday lives of people. The rationale they provide for their approach is at odds with much of the research that has been conducted to date, as they explain:

[The existing] focus on virtuality or separateness as the defining fea- ture of the Internet may well have less to do with the characteristics of the Internet and more to do with the needs of these various intellectual

projects. . . .

The present study obviously starts from the opposite as-

sumption, that we need to treat Internet media as continuous with and embedded in other social spaces, that they happen within mundane so- cial structures and relations that they may transform but they cannot es- cape into a self-enclosed cyberian apartness. Indeed, to the extent that some people may actually treat various Internet relations as “a world apart” from the rest of their lives, this is something that needs to be so- cially explained as a practical accomplishment rather than as the as-

sumed point of departure for investigation. How, why and when do they set “cyberspace” apart? Where and when do they not [italics in original] do this? In what ways do they make use of “virtuality” as a

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feature of new media? What do they (businesspeople, Carnival bands, schoolkids or government agencies) regard as real or virtual or conse- quential? (pp. 5-6)

Their research confirms the need to consider the way that the Internet is part of everyday life, and not necessarily abstracted from it. In sum, then, despite a surge of work in the area of Internet and cul- ture, few studies explicitly link online culture/community with offline culture/community. Especially relevant is that although authors such as Porter (1997), Smith and Kollack (1999), and Tapscott (1998) have produced path-breaking empirical interrogations of virtual communi- ties, only a handful of researchers have critically inspected the inter- section between on- and offline life within youth subcultures. In this article, we argue that to grasp how youth subcultural activity is experi- enced in everyday life and how young people negotiate their identities through various forms of subcultural resistance, it is important to con- sider how subcultural members negotiate the online-offline divide, and how for many youth, this might not be a divide at all.


It is from the aforementioned theoretical and substantive departure points that we interrogate the relationship between the virtual and real in two separate youth subcultures in Canada—Rave and Straightedge. This exploration is based on fieldwork conducted by both authors. Our discussion in this section emphasizes conceptual issues, using previously collected data as a departure point. The analysis of Rave derives from an ethnographic study of the culture as it existed in southern Ontario from 1995 to 1999 (Wilson, 1999, 2002b), from on- going contact with the southern Ontario scene through Internet and newsgroups, and especially from observations of two Ontario-based newsgroups and one global newsgroup (contributed to by Ravers in various locations around the world). Observations at a virtual Rave party and analyses of high profile Rave Web sites that were key refer- ence points for those who were part of the southern Ontario scene are also referred to here.

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In the second example of Straightedge, the discussion presented in this article stems from a participant-observation based study of Straightedge lifestyles in Canada (Atkinson, 2003a). The conceptual analysis of Straightedge as a distinct youth group has been partially culled from field observations, in-depth interviews, and lifestyle par- ticipation (i.e., the researcher’s personal practice of Straightedge with group members) with 32 Straightedge practitioners in three Canadian cities. More germane to this article is, however, that the second author conducted an extensive netography (Stubbs, 1999) of 117 Straight- edge Web sites, and regularly participated in or contributed to four Straightedge chat rooms/bulletin boards. The analysis of Straightedge offered here is predominantly derived from these latter data.


In 1988, Britain experienced what has come to be dubbed “the sec- ond summer of love,” a time and label now synonymous with the mass-mediated emergence of the all-night dance/drug culture known as Rave or Acid House. For some dance music historians and theo- rists, this second summer of love signified the beginning of the end (i.e., the end of Rave’s potential as a resistant force), for a culture whose origins could be traced back to the 1970s and 1980s dance mu- sic scenes in New York City, Chicago, Detroit and Ibiza, Spain—a holiday sun location where the original Rave dance parties occurred in the early 1980s and where working-class British vacationers were in- spired to start a scene at home (Collin, 1997; Redhead, 1997). Of course, the idea that 1988 was an endpoint is vast overstatement if Rave’s mass-mediated emergence is viewed as part of a subcultural evolutionary process, where a subculture does not dissipate, so much as it morphs. As authors such as Thornton (1995) described, Rave cul- ture evolved into a more incorporated club-based dance culture de- fined less by collective resistance to the mainstream, and more by the attempts of subculture members to attain esoteric status within their group. Others, such as Reynolds (1997), documented Rave’s evolu- tion into a fragmented (i.e., fragmented musically and philosophi - cally), cynical, drug-driven, and destructive scene—a hedonist sub- culture without a cause. Bennett (2000) and Malbon (1998), more

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positively, describe the “neo-tribal” habits of dance music consumers and connoisseurs, who move from scene to scene, embracing a variety of subcultural spaces and (electronic) sounds. As might be expected, debates about the historical importance of Rave are complex and have persisted among critics. Some commenta- tors argue that Rave is similar to other working-class cultural move- ments of the past, in the sense that Ravers are reacting to (by escaping from) the oppressive and mundane circumstances that frame their ev- eryday lives at weekend dance/drug party retreats (Wilson, 2002b). Others contend that Rave is unique because, unlike previous subcul- tures that were defined by overt and symbolic expressions of resis- tance by their members, Rave is an apolitical culture of avoidance and hedonism (McRobbie, 1993; Tanner, 1996). Still, others have labeled Rave the first postmodern subculture because of its escapist stance and de-emphasis on traditional markers such as gender and race (McGuigan, 1992). Of central relevance to this article is the small body of work that has focused on Rave’s intriguing relationship with media and technology. To a certain extent, this relationship is encompassed in the writings of McRobbie and Thornton (1995), and Thornton (1995) that described how subcultures such as Rave respond to their stigmatization in main- stream media within (prosubculture) niche and alternative media. As relevant, but less studied, is the somewhat interdependent relationship that Rave has with media-related technological advances. That is to say, unlike previous youth subcultures that rejected mainstream pro- gressions in communications and media, Ravers embrace technology as part of their philosophy (Wilson 2002b). In fact, a closer look at the early Rave cultures in New York City, Chicago, and Detroit, as well the early/influential German techno mu- sic band/duo Kraftwerk, reveals how technological (i.e., computer- generated) music came to reflect and articulate the social dislocation that many DJ-musicians and their audiences felt in postindustrial lo- calities (Collin, 1997). The blurring of Rave and the “cyberpunk” cul- ture and genre of writing in this context is striking. Kellner’s (1995) description of cyberpunk—an especially technology-sensitive culture that influenced early techno music—is instructive here:

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[As writers and consumers of science fiction stories, novels and mov- ies] cyberpunks are very much a product of the technological explo-

sion of the 1980s with its proliferation of media, computers, and new technology. Their work is heavily influenced by the saturation of cul- ture and everyday life through science, technology and consumer cul-




response to (the) explosive proliferation of technology and

mass culture which it embodies. (p. 303)

Similarly, for Rave, there is a relationship between the usage/con- sumption of technology by subcultures members, and the everyday experiences, perspectives and activities of these same members—a re- lationship seldom studied in work on youth subcultures. Of course, and as Gilbert and Pearson (1999) argued, the problem with employ- ing the term technology so widely is that it assumes “high technol- ogy,” when in fact “dance music cultures interact with and are predi- cated a variety of technologies, new and old, ‘high’ and ‘low’” (p. 111). It is from these underpinnings that we consider the position of Internet technology and communication in the Rave subculture—a topic not engaged by Gilbert and Pearson—and interrogate relation- ships between online and offline life for Rave subculturalists.


By recognizing that Rave cultures in different locales are subtly distinct, we begin by establishing that Rave in southern Ontario, Can- ada, is a largely middle-class youth scene, renowned for amphetamine drug use, an interest in computer-generated music known as techno (a term used here to describe a variety of electronic dance music genres), and attendance at all-night Rave dance parties (Weber, 1999; Wilson, 1999, 2002b). In Toronto in particular, Rave culture, or what is some- time called club culture (a more evolved and mainstream version of Rave), has evolved to a point where techno dance music is widely available in mainstream and after-hours clubs. Having said this, more conventional Rave parties—usually nonalcoholic events, with a younger crowd (14 to 25 years old) that are promoted in ways that are in keeping with the “peace-love-unity-respect” (PLUR) doctrine that is a traditional reference point for the southern Ontario Rave commu- nity—still occur, albeit in legally sanctioned venues. The Rave com-

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munity is especially defined by their protechnology views and prac- tices, which are embodied in the computer-generated music they produce, the often technology-related occupations they hold, and, of course, their frequent use of the Internet for various reasons (Wilson, 2002b). In fact, Dery (1996) described Ravers as countercultural “technopagans” because of their participation in the subcultural ritual of free-form dancing to synthesizer-produced, heavy-beated music that is arranged by DJ “techno-Shamans” (p. 52). Following Dery, we assert that Rave is a complex example of a sub- culture that is not only defined by its existence online and offline but also by its tendency to embrace this relationship. Online-offline rela- tionships were evident in the practice of “Raving,” the dissemination of Rave values, the promotion of the local and global Rave commu- nity, in the business of raving, in the politics surrounding raving, and in the globalization of Rave more generally. The most explicit example of the relationship between online and offline is the “virtual Rave”—a simultaneously virtual and real event. Virtual Raves, which take various forms, usually include live video of DJs playing music and an accompanying chat room where virtual Ravers can interact (the video and chat room appear together on the event’s Web page). Evidence that Ravers are leaders in the develop- ment of online and offline subcultural links is that virtual Raves sur- faced (in Canada) in the mid-1990s, a time when the World Wide Web was only beginning its rise. In Toronto, for example, among the first online-offline Rave parties took place at the home of Toronto DJ Men- tal Floss in the summer of 1997, followed by another event in this DJ’s university residence (also in Toronto) the following year. A more traditional example of online-offline interaction is on southern Ontario–based newsgroups and Web sites that were de- signed to promote the local scene and community. Although several currently exist in Toronto area, one of the longest running sites is the Western New York and Southern Ontario Rave-Net (WNYSOR). Be- gun in 1993 as an e-mail–driven Listserv discussion group (which continues to operate), the community is now supported by a well- developed Web site that includes

a list of local DJs who are part of the newsgroup (including links to their own personal/business Web pages),

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a list of upcoming events,

links to local online radio stations,

links to mass media articles about Rave and drugs,

photos from recent local Rave parties,

a space to sign-up for the e-mail based Listserv, and

a chat room/forum for discussion.

In the chat room section, online interactions take place that are par- ticularly relevant for offline subcultural life and developments. Topics discussed are under the headings Rave Events (with subheadings event reviews and upcoming events), Music (with types of music and discussions among DJs subheadings) and General Topics. Especially notable is the DJ discussion area, described as a place to “discuss ways to promote yourself as a DJ and your gigs,” to discuss “skills such as mixing, scratching, producing, gear, record shopping, labels, and new vinyl releases,” and to promote local DJ relationships. The General Topics area includes a subsection devoted to “harm reduction” and in- formation about illicit drug use. Other topics in this section include the politics of the Rave scene, relationships with police and the law, Rave-related clothing styles and their meanings, and places and times that Listserv members can meet at upcoming Rave parties. In some respects, this promotion and protection of community (es- pecially the local DJ community) through Internet technology is at odds with conventional arguments by commentators such as Buxton (1990) who suggested that technology/synthesizer music such as that produced by Kraftwerk has “disenfranchised the musician at the ex- pense of the computer boffin” (Gilbert & Pearson, 1999, p. 119). Rec- ognizing that Buxton is referring to the impacts of technology on the authenticity of produced music (which is itself a contentious claim), the irony here is that state-of-the-art technology has always been used to advance the production quality of music. In the same way, the do-it- yourself distribution possibilities made possible by the Internet, along with the local and global business and peer-group connections that are enabled by Web pages and discussions forums, have enfranchised many DJ-musicians and helped democratize music promotion. The Rave community generally, and its attendant online-offline re- lationships, are also supported through Web sites posted by Rave pro- moters. In the earlier days of Internet and Rave in Toronto (mid-

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1990s), the posting of information online about “secret” Rave loca- tions and times was common, and congruent with Rave’s history of subversion tactics, wherein Rave promoters needed to avoid having il- legal parties closed down by police. Eventually, though, the Internet became more about the advertising of Raves through promotion com- pany Web sites. Since the late 1990s, promotion company sites have remained quite static, typically including

a history of the company and its most noteworthy events/parties,

an overview of company’s Rave-related values and what it hopes to contribute to the scene (Note: It is here where variations of the peace- love-unity-respect doctrine of the Rave community tend to be outlined and promoted), profiles of the DJs that regularly spin at their parties, a promotional section focused on upcoming Raves being put on by the company, usually with a Rave flyer for the event posted online, photographs taken at previous Raves put on by the company, a message board where Ravers talk about the company’s most recent event and talk about the Rave scene generally, links to other Rave-related Web sites (often other companies that might be run by friends of the promoter), and a contact e-mail for the promotion company.

These sites are rich sources for understanding online and offline Rave- related experiences because they embody simultaneous connections with the business of raving, the promotion of community within the Toronto Rave scene, and the marketing of Rave-related philosophies and values more generally. In some respects, a “vortex of (subcultural) publicity” has been created as these mutually supportive networks of Rave promotion interact and interweave (cf. Wernick, 1991). Some companies exemplify one of these layers of connection more explic- itly than others though, depending on their ideological orientation. Toronto’s Nightmare Productions (www.nightmarehell.com/) is an example of a company that has positioned itself as a promoter of an underground Rave community. At the same time, though, the Night- mare Productions Web site is intricately connected to the business of Rave, through Web-site links to a Rave clothing company, to a Cana- dian retailer of LED lights (used at Rave parties), and to various on- and offline Rave-inspired stores that sell clothing, CDs, and tickets.

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  • 290 YOUTH & SOCIETY / MARCH 2005

This is in addition, of course, to the company’s promotion of its own Rave parties. A Baltimore-based Rave promotion company known as Ultraworld advertised what they perceived to be the final step toward a virtual Rave world on one of the Toronto Rave newsgroups. This vision of a communication, business, and pleasure-oriented environment for those from the electronic music community embodies the fluidity and continuity of the online-offline connection. This is evident from the following description of the Ultraworld concept appearing on the company’s Web site:

We are creating a virtual world dedicated to the electronic music com-

munity. In this world you will find individuals and businesses that have some relation to the growing worldwide electronic music scene. This is an interactive 3D virtual environment, in which you can have an identi-



From the business end, we will be populating the

Ultraworld with anything and everything that is relevant to electronic music, or anything that we think is cool enough to be in the world. There will be record stores, DJ booking offices, clothing stores, thea-

tres where visual artists can show their work,

etc. . . .

There is no limit to

what we can do. Here again, the setup can be simply a link to a busi-

nesses’Website, or they could have a virtual store where customers can come in and browse. Imagine this scenario: You log into the Ultraworld, and the virtual world appears on the screen. You choose your avatar and you’re ready to go. The onscreen display tells you that there are over 400 people worldwide currently logged on! From the list

you see 10 people that you are friends with, and you send them all a let- ter: “Hey, I just logged on, meet me in front of the Ultraworld Visitor’s

Center as soon as possible.”


that, you want to do some record/

... CD shopping, so you walk to the street where record stores from all

over the world are located.

As pertinently, Web sites similar to the one proposed by Ultraworld facilitate offline relationships between Ravers around the world, as do globally oriented community Web sites that provide links to Rave-re- lated sites in various countries. In this sense, and drawing on Best and Luckenbill’s (1994) framework for understanding deviant organiza- tions and Straw’s (1991) conceptualization of music scenes and com- munities, Rave can be understood as a complex social organization

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that includes local, integrated communities that exist within more transient local scenes. In turn, these communities and scenes are lo- cated within a more diffuse and imprecisely defined subcultural world. The San Diego-based Web site Rave Links is an example of a world-level links site, while sites such as Seattle, Washington-based Event Nation disseminate information about and links to a variety of regional scenes in North America. Interactions on this world level have been facilitated for several years by the Web site called Hyper- real, a site that historically had a North American and European ver- sion. The philosophy underlying the Web site is as follows:

“[Through] on-line connections, information is exchanged, a loose community evolves. Technology fosters communication: Interacting on the Internet helps bring us together” (from http://www.hyperreal. org/Raves/spirit/plur/PLUR.html). The potential interactions between Ravers from around the world are online experiences that will sometimes result in offline transac- tions or potential meetings. Indeed, the current hyperreal.org site in- cludes a map of the world and an invitation for users to click on any part of the map to download Rave-related information about that loca- tion. Affiliated with Hyperreal is the globally accessed newsgroup, alt.Rave, that has been in operation since 1992—a newsgroup that, ac- cording to Hyperreal, is read by approximately 20,000 users. The increasing number of offline “travelling Ravers” who tour around the world with the primary goal of raving/clubbing is notable in this context, as is the increasingly global Rave/club scene and busi- ness, because they embody key relationships between the Internet, the globalization of culture, and the globalization of subculture. In partic- ular, these trends are consistent with Appadurai’s (1990) understand - ing of travel, technology, media/communication, finance, and ideas as various dimensions/avenues of “cultural flow” that contribute to the development and acceleration of a global culture (or in this case, global subculture; cf., Carrington & Wilson, 2002). Similarly, these links between a global Rave scene, the Internet, and interrogations of online and offline cultural life bring to mind Gilbert and Pearson’s (1999) view of technology and the “modes and locations within which various music is encountered and interacted with” (p. 130). That is to say, by incorporating understandings of the various spaces that simul- taneously guide and structure interactions with technology into our

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  • 292 YOUTH & SOCIETY / MARCH 2005

examination of the Internet and Rave, much can be ascertained about the notion of “subcultural mobility” and its relationship to the appar- ent virtual-real divide. This is especially evident in the movement of electronic/techno music (from CDs or MIDI files to the Internet through uploading, and to CDs or MIDIs through downloads—and eventually to Walkmans and music players), information (e.g., Internet discussions about upcoming events or about the quality of newly released dance music that move between online forums and offline music stores or DJ-basement parties), and people (whose on- line and offline interactions at virtual-real Raves are facilitated by movements between cyber and physical spaces). This perspective on the connection between (global) flows of culture, local interactions and interpretations, and everyday life is consistent with our thesis that online and offline experiences do not exist in disparate social spaces, nor are they conceived as such by subculture members.


In 1981, an American Punk Rock band named Minor Threat wrote a song titled, “Out of Step (With the World).” The song extolled the virtues of self-restraint, personal responsibility, and social awareness. By rejecting the largely nihilistic messages offered to youth by other Punk Rockers of the day, Minor Threat challenged their fans to em- brace more positive social attitudes about the body (Wood, 1999, 2001). Specifically, instead of being encouraged to aggressively resist their own political disenfranchisement and cultural dislocation through present-centered hedonism, a new generation of Punks were asked to adopt strict corporeal practices that would enrich their lives. The credo of this inverted Punk philosophy, dubbed Straightedge, be- came “don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t fuck. At least I can fucking think.” These underlying ideas suggested that if young persons could first take control over their own bodily impulses, they could collec- tively stimulate cultural change (Irwin, 1999). In effect, Straightedge evolved into a lifestyle of rebellion against the physical excesses associated with many youth, and indeed adult, cultures in North America.

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Through the early 1980s, the first and second waves of North American Straightedge practitioners fabricated brands of Punk music, clothing, and language to represent their philosophies of corporeal as- ceticism. Closely aligned with more traditional Punk styles (e.g., ripped clothing, Mohican hairstyles, shaven heads, thrasher music, and Doc Marten boots), Straightedge style drew attention to an alter- native message of “walking the edge” through self-restraint. By the mid-1980s, Straightedge had developed into a fully subterranean life- style of social resistance, with practitioners’ alternative physical styles entwined with nonmainstream messages of “physical purity” (Wood, 2001). Reaching the apex of its initial popularity during this period, the lifestyle waned in appeal by the latter part of the decade as Rap, Grunge, Goth, and other socially rebellious (and more nihilistic) style cultures blossomed in suburban scenes. However, facing social uncertainties initiated by globalization pro- cesses, economic expansion, biological threats, and cultural fragmen- tation characteristic of the 1990s (Hannerz, 1990; Muggleton, 2000), some middle-class North Americans and Europeans started to re-ex- plore the viability of Straightedge as a lifestyle geared toward self- protection. During this time, Straightedge spawned a variety of ideo- logical offshoots such as Hardcore and Emo, and some practitioners incorporated Vegan and/or Animal Liberation Front ideologies into the lifestyle. Some of the younger Straightedgers in the United States (New York, Utah, and across southern California), Canada (British Columbia, Ontario, and Newfoundland), England (London and Man- chester), and Sweden (Umea and Lulea) adopted more militant posi- tions regarding physical purity—claiming absolute purity to be the hallmark or “true” subcultural uniqueness of Straightedge. An even smaller number of extremist Straightedgers (termed terrorist or hate- edgers) began to aggressively promote Straightedge, utilizing vio- lence against nonbelievers as a means of illustrating their commitment to the lifestyle. The sociological literature on lifestyles of bodily resistance such as Straightedge is a diverse collection of empirically oriented and theo- retically diverse research. Sociologists, for instance, have located and theorized about how corporeal practices ranging from ritual piercing (Pitts, 1998) to the cultivation of cyborg bodies (Balsamo, 1996; Wolmark, 1999) are undertaken in the process of representing cultural

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  • 294 YOUTH & SOCIETY / MARCH 2005

discord. From a review of studies on lifestyles of corporeal resistance, a consistent theoretical theme is uncovered—resistant bodily prac- tices such as Straightedge tend to be produced by structural relation- ships of exploitation/inequality, and are designed to confront domi- nant social structures, relationships, and ideologies in dramatic and highly disruptive manners. They are, as Hebdige (1979) might concur, forms of distinct cultural “noise” in situated contexts of social interac- tion. Despite McRobbie’s (1994), Muggleton’s (2000), and Wilson’s (1999) suggestions that resistance in the postmodern era may take on more mundane, everyday, and less spectacular forms of expression, few study corporeal resistance as that which is either muted or more private. Even fewer, aside from feminist researchers, analyze forms of bodily resistance as the “hyper-acceptance” of dominant norms rather than the deliberate violation of cultural standards. In a related way, only a handful of researchers have critically in- spected the role of middle-class youth in developing subcultures of physical resistance. Despite cursory research on middle-class resist- ers including Slackers/Gen-Exers (Epstein, 1998), Ravers (Wilson, 2002b), Cyberpunks (Featherstone & Burrows, 1995), and Modern Primitives (Atkinson, 2003b; Atkinson & Young, 2001)—all of whom arguably engage in bodily resistance (i.e., through idleness, drug experimentation, “wearing” technology, or ritual body marking) as variations of “retreatism” (Merton, 1938)—scant theoretical atten- tion has been granted to forms of corporeal resistance common among White, heterosexual, youth in the urban middle class. Research on an- tiwar movements (Boulding, 2001), environmental rights advocacy (Jelin, 2000), and anticorporate movements (Seymour, 2001) has re- spectively identified key factions of the young middle class as social dissidents, however sociologists have remained largely inattentive to how subcultural resistance may be enacted through the body in micrological contexts of interaction. Equally, there is a paucity of re- search on the processes through which lifestyles of corporeal resis- tance are affected or mediated by the pursuit of social protest online (Shields, 1996). In the following discussion of Straightedge in Can- ada, emphasis is given to how off- and online resistance became inter- laced within the Straightedge “figuration” (Atkinson, 2003a), and how practitioners utilize cyberspace to promote and reaffirm the experience of bodily purity.

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Similar to any other belief system underpinning a lifestyle orienta- tion, Straightedge cannot be understood when decontextualixed from its practice-situated contexts of interaction. In the case of Straight- edge, we must commence with a fundamental recognition that the as- cetic mantras of personal responsibility and self-protection (i.e., no promiscuous sex, illicit drugs, or alcohol) are more than espoused phi- losophy; these dictums are the very bedrock of the everyday life prac- tices of Straightedgers (Atkinson, 2003a; Irwin, 1999; Wood, 1999). Such corporeal orientations permeate all aspects of practitioners’lives and are not merely experimented with in the leisure sphere. The ability to “walk the Straight-edge” (i.e., to integrate principles of self-control into daily regimen) set the individual apart from the cultural main- stream. As the Straightedger Patrick (age 25) proclaimed:

Walking the Edge is not just a thing you do when it’s convenient. It’s a minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day lifestyle. Wherever I go,

whatever I do, it’s with



  • I look at myself, and see myself as dif-

ferent, because I am in control, I am strong.

On these grounds, self-proclaimed disciplined group members co- alesce around and revel in their perceived distinction from others. In Thornton’s (1995) terms, it is the possession and display of such “subcultural capital” that distinguishes them as an esoteric group. Outsiders, perhaps quite predictably (cf., Muggleton, 2000), are col- lectively deemed as a homogeneous set of unsympathetic, uncon- vinced, or unenlightened others. It is, then, the everyday physical per- formance of Straightedge (i.e., the management of desire, the renunciation and control of impulse, the battle with addiction and craving, and the suppression of hedonistic urges), coupled with iden- tity-confirmation processes between group members in micrological contexts, that reinforce the meaning of the lifestyle for practitioners. Straightedge is typically practiced within a local community of mutually identified and interdependent others. Because group mem- bers are interlinked by ideology and everyday lifestyle performance, they form into a web or con-figuration (Elias, 1994) of actors. Some within the Straightedge figuration are bound to one another through deep interdependencies, while others more occasionally affiliated

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  • 296 YOUTH & SOCIETY / MARCH 2005

(Atkinson, 2003a). In a majority of Canadian cities, the population of local practitioners is relatively small, ranging from a few dozen to a several hundred. Therefore, people involved in the local scene (Irwin, 1977), come to know one another and develop at least loose personal affiliations. Others form more tightly-knit Straightedge factions termed “crews.” These relative “lifestyle enclaves” (Stebbins, 1997) reflect more traditional, symbolic interactionist conceptualisations of what subcultural life entails (cf. Prus, 1997):

Your crew is where you feel at home, even more so than among your bi- ological family. The crew understands where you come from, and how

tough it can be to lead the lifestyle

[Straightedge]. . . .

When we hang

out together at a [music] show, it’s like going home, taking your shoes

off, and putting your feet up. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve known these guys my whole life. (Jim, age 26)

Principally, active crew members place qualitatively and quantita- tively similar emphases on walking the Straight-edge, actively prac- tice Straightedge as a group lifestyle, reaffirm the identities of other practitioners as legitimate and authentic, forge personal relationships with members that transcend the spare-time spectrum, and promote intense commitment to Straightedge among others. Whether one interacts with Straightedgers in an open community of locals or an internally policed crew that defends its subcultural cap- ital, a central gathering place for all practitioners is the urban music show (simply, a concert involving at least one, but typically several, Straightedge bands). As in other subcultures such as Rave (Wilson, 1999, 2002a), Hip-Hop (Bennett, 1999, 2000), and Goth (Hodkinson, 2002), music plays a key role in signifying and disseminating Straightedge ideologies (Wood, 1999). The current generation of Straightedgers organize and perform collective expressions of Straightedge (though music/lyrics, dancing/posturing, dress, and other forms of display) at urban shows, much like their Punk prede- cessors of the 1980s (cf. Baron, 1989; Leblanc, 1999). The show is, then, a vehicle for realizing and exhibiting Straightedge as a meaning- ful group behavior. As in Wilson’s (2002b) case study of Rave culture, practitioners ritually perform their ideologies at music shows through symbolic gesture (i.e., dance) and language (i.e., interpersonal com-

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munication and musical lyric). In most Canadian cities, shows form the interactional hub of Straightedge figuration; they are a focal meet- ing place for practitioners, showcase central figures of the lifestyle (i.e., musicians), and function as a tool for attracting potential newcomers or neophytes. Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has provided Straightedgers with a vital communicative medium for the promotion of local bands and shows. Web sites such as straightedge.com, posionfree.com, xsisterhoodx.com, and xstraightedgex.com have become beacons for disseminating information about Straightedge music and its global history. Although the Internet is not nearly as engrained in the Straightedge figuration as in the Rave scene, Straightedgers have found in the Internet a useful platform for marketing local shows:

Without the Net, the music scene in this city would be damn small. You have to realize that Straightedge is really only starting to develop in Canada, and word of mouth only gets you so far. Now, people bump into Straightedge bands on-line, and come across postings for local shows all the time. I can’t tell you how many kids show up just because they found us on-line. (Pete, age 28)

As a result, online communication about Straightedge music has al- tered the contextual flavor of the show scene in Canada and elsewhere. Some Straightedge bands have achieved widespread notoriety in Ca- nadian cities, as an outcome of online exposure on Web sites such as vancouverhardcore.com and davexxx.com. This has helped establish certain urban centers such as Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and St. John’s as Straightedge hotbeds. In other cases, the online promotion of Straightedge shows advertises the very existence of the music scenes in particular locales. Here, the Internet is used as a device for bringing people together in real time—unlike the creation of virtual communities wherein participants rarely, if ever, meet face-to-face (Parks & Roberts, 1998; Pleace et al., 2000). The Internet has also become central in the circulation of songs by independent bands who do not possess the financial resources to widely distribute CDs. Instead, Straightedge music is transformed into MP3 or MPEG audio files and placed on Web sites for free down- load. Rather than explicitly resisting technological advances similar

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  • 298 YOUTH & SOCIETY / MARCH 2005

to their Cyberpunk cousins (Featherstone & Burrows, 1995), Straightedge practitioners integrate various music-related media plat- forms into their signifying practices. The age of “free” digital piracy has seemingly helped to raise awareness about and interest in the lifestyle:

Realistically speaking, I know our band is not going to get a lot of mainstream airtime [radio], and I could care less. I want people, who want to listen my music, to come out and support us. When you have to dig around in obscure places to find something, and then it’s free if you want it, you’ll appreciate. Anyone down with the lifestyle [Straight- edge] can download from our [on-line] song list all they like. (Darren, age 23)

In Markham’s (1999) terms, the utilization of CMC by individuals such as Straightedgers facilitates a sense of subcultural control and agency through group signification processes. The broad use of the Internet to circulate independent music (and do-it-yourself fashion) is also congruous with traditional antiestablishment and anticorpor- atism Punk philosophies, where autonomy in all phases of the music distribution process is celebrated. Practitioners have also seized personal Web space as CMC to clar- ify popular cultural definitions of the lifestyle, and debunk popular myths or misconceptions about Straightedge. For example, a host of personal Straightedge Web pages have arisen in light of the American police’s official labeling of the group as a recognized gang, and rising concerns in North American schools about Straightedge’s evolution into a violent and socially disintegrative youth movement. Such on- line counterlabeling activities by social outsiders are not unprece- dented. Durkin and Bryant (1999) noted how pedophiles (i.e., as a group of stigmatized social actors) collectively utilize cyberspace in an attempt to neutralize negative definitions of their behaviors. Other Straightedge Web pages form in response to unsympathetic peers’ la- beling of Straightedge as a movement for freaks, losers, or misfits. The creation of such personal Web pages, and the development of Straightedge message-boards, is a process of, as Cohen (1972) might describe, “winning cultural space” via online ideological dis- semination:

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I go on-line to strike back, you know. I read a lot of shit about so-called Straightedge kids in the U.S., and I feel like I have to get active on the Net to break media stereotypes. Wouldn’t you rather know about the scene from somebody involved, rather than some bullshitting cop or reporter? (Rick, age 19)

In this instance, winning space means reclaiming the right to define your esoteric group through self-employed terms and categories, and to discursively reframe Straightedge as a lifestyle geared toward per- sonal empowerment and social/civic responsibility. Practitioners’ at- tempts are clearly orchestrated to negate the ideological dilution of their messages of resistance created by mainstream media sources. More important, when youth are able to secure space on a local area network (LAN) or server, they may initiate a political claims-making process of their own. Without such access, their philosophies of resis- tance may be further silenced, marginalized, or rearranged through other preferred media frames (Hall, 1980). In everyday interaction, then, Straightedgers tap into Internet me- dia as a means of engendering broader cultural knowledge of and tol- erance toward their collective lifestyles. As the Internet is a public space that can be easily politicized (Cresser et al. 2001; Wilhelm, 1998), personal or group-oriented Web pages are fashioned into bill- boards for promulgating core tenets of the group’s ideology and coun- teracting the labeling process initiated by more mainstream media from which Straightedgers are excluded. By exploring the Internet as a more diverse CMC platform, and not simply a tool for promoting lo- cal shows, practitioners exploit the virtual world to underline the posi- tive social outcomes of strict personal responsibility and restraint. Not only does their middle-class, relatively affluent, social standing pro- vide them with the resources to resist online, the hyper-middle-class nature of their corporeal philosophies is highlighted through CMC. For example, testimonials about personal recovery (i.e., from addic- tion), individual growth, and social bonding through Straightedge can be readily posted in these virtual clubhouses. Encoded with decisively middle-class ideologies of “corporeal asceticism” (White, Young, & Gillett, 1995), personal responsibility, and morality, their messages of resistance are publicly clarified online:

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  • 300 YOUTH & SOCIETY / MARCH 2005

To all the people out there who think addiction can’t be beaten, you’re

wrong. Be straight and you will survive. This [Internet] space is for all of those who have been kicked by life and want to use their bodies to fight back. Total fucking purity and courage is what you need to suc-

ceed. . . .

If you discipline your mind, the body will follow. (posted on-

line by an anonymous Straightedger)

Through the creation of stable, ongoing, and easily locatable virtual clubhouses wherein visitors may peer into Straightedge lifestyles, practitioners reach communities across the country (and indeed the world). Web sites transform into spaces that normalize the group’s be- lief systems, signifying the group as a cadre of hyper-normative (rather than excessively profane) social protestors. A stark outcome in the production and consumption of Straight- edge communication online has been the proliferation of the lifestyle in Canada. Quite simply, the creation of a vibrant and proactive online Straightedge network facilitates the development of more integrated offline Straightedge scenes from coast to coast. The consolidation of Straightedge scenes via CMC supports Katz’s (1996) and Robins’ (1996) contentions that online interfacing between people alters offline bonds and relationships. Micrological pockets of Straight- edgers are connected with others across the country (even those in rather remote locations), and communication between members en- hanced. Similar to empirical findings in Stubbs’ (1999) study of vir- tual social networks between diasporic Croatians, Straightedge can be organized but not wholly experienced online. Yet such communica- tion tends to reinforce practitioners’ sensibilities about corporeal as- ceticism, underline the social importance of the lifestyle within the group, and help actively recruit various youth in crisis (Acland, 1995) who seek personally empowering subcultural solutions to an array of status problems (i.e., within peer groups, educational circles, and fam- ilies) or chemical dependencies. As a result, then, the mass extension of Straightedge into virtual space has stimulated a heightened sense of figurational “communitas” (Turner, 1969) among some Canadian practitioners. We must be mindful, however, that Straightedge is neither realized nor consolidated by individuals by simply participating online with other practitioners. As illustrated in the case of cybersex (Wiley,

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1995), one does not fully realize a corporeal practice in the virtual world. As noted above, Straightedge is a lifestyle that must be per- formed daily through physical experience. Even though individuals may coalesce in cyberspace, Straightedge is principally “done” among groups of mutually-identified others in the here and now of ev- eryday life. Similar to Modern Primitives or Cyberpunks who resist techno culture by testing the boundaries of the corporeal through bodily ordeals (Atkinson, 2003b; Atkinson & Young, 2001; Featherstone & Burrows, 1995), some Straightedgers practice the lifestyle as a form of resistance to techno modes of living that they per- ceive to be characteristically detached from physical experience (un- like their Rave counterparts). Such practitioners reject the global es- cape into virtual worlds and prefer to explore/control the body as a meaningful social text of communication. Quite paradoxically, practitioners exploit virtual space to inspire consciousness about the lived body. Yet online communication between Straightedgers across the country (and around the globe) has fuelled a splintering among them. Although most Straightedgers tacitly believe in similar orienting life principles, there is noticeable disagreement as to how stringently one must believe in and practice corporeal edicts of restraint. Debates about the authentic nature of Straightedge have been exacerbated within online chat rooms, and those with varied understandings about the lifestyle now meet in virtual space to contest definitions they prac- tice. Such debates transcend cyberspace and are occasionally enacted through heated confrontation at shows or other public places. Follow- ing a trend in European football hooliganism, as evidenced at the 1998 and 2002 World Cup events (Finn & Giulanotti, 2000), violent con- frontations at public spectacles between individuals are arranged in advance through the Internet. Small, aggro-oriented or “anti-hate- edge” pockets have formed as a response—from hardcore practitio- ners who adopt a militant party line, to more liberal Straightedgers who explicitly condemn the more radical factions of the movement. Given the increased popularity of Straightedge among Canadian youth and the genesis of antagonism among practitioners, Straight- edge styles (and other signifying practices) cannot be easily, or singu- larly, decoded. With the proliferation of Straightedge styles (includ- ing music, clothing, dance, argot, and tattoos), practitioners have

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  • 302 YOUTH & SOCIETY / MARCH 2005

experienced an “internal incorporation” (Thornton, 1995) of the life- style. In other terms, Straightedge may be, as some members describe it, “eating itself from within.” Although Straightedge movements in North America have never constituted a homogeneous set of peers, we should not overlook the contemporary diversification of the lifestyle spawned by CMC, and the very real effects of group segmentation on the physical practice of Straightedge in group contexts. A number of hardline practitioners lament that there have been un- intended ideological and representational shifts within Straightedge stemming from online communication. Because anyone may venture online, learn about Straightedge, and mimic the lifestyle as popular fashion (in many cases, without fear of reprisal from committed prac- titioners), the practice is open to be poached by youth in search of chic countercultural movements:

One of the main problems with the Internet is the anonymity factor.

Anyone can get onto the Web and call themselves “down for life.” Or

else, you learn a bit of the jargon, and play the

role. . . .

It’s when people

steal from our dialogue on-line, and pretend they have an understand- ing about what it’s really like that pisses me off. (Don, age 24)

Questions arise, then, regarding how deeply Straightedge philosophy has been inserted into everyday physical regimen by some. According to self-proclaimed devotees to Straightedge, certain “posers” barely extend the virtual into the physical realm. This critique is most fre- quently directed at those middle-class youth in Canada who have ac- cess to high-powered computing systems and high-speed home con- nections to the Internet and dabble in Straightedge (i.e., through style or participation at local shows) as a means of experimenting with subcultural difference: “To all the hypocritical losers out there in the suburbs who think they’re Edge because they listen to Minor Threat, drop dead. Hardcore [Straightedge] is the only way to live, and unless you’re hard now, you never were and never will be” (posted online by self-termed “Hate-Edger” Stewart, age 21). However, because the Straightedge figuration is somewhat close knit in most urban areas in Canada, distinctions can be made readily between those who participate in Straightedge on a recreational basis, and those who possess a level of commitment to the lifestyle.

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In sum, the community of Straightedge practitioners in Canada is perhaps best conceptualized as a moving figuration of mutually iden- tified and interdependent actors. As individuals collectively partici- pate (albeit to varying degrees) in the lifestyle, they are bound by rela- tionship chains that are forged online and offline. Because com- munication online brings people together and mediates understanding of what it means to be Straightedge, one may be inclined to refer to the group as an online community or subculture (cf., Porter, 1997; Shields, 1996; Smith & Kollack, 1999). To be sure, relevant informa- tion about Straightedge and ideological debate regarding the lifestyle are presented online. However Straightedge (as a corporeally driven activity) is chiefly practiced through physical regimen and thereby is lived in real time. Practitioners do not differentiate between on- and offline performance; to them, both are included as part of walking the Straight-edge.


The cases of Rave and Straightedge provide a rich basis from which to consider the positioning of the Internet in the lives of subculture members and, in turn, to reflect on the changing nature of subcultural life. The most striking themes that emerged in this analysis had to do with relationships between these subcultures and mainstream culture. In broad terms, it appeared that there is a complex and contradictory relationship between youth who support Internet-related business practices that contribute to the incorporation of these subcultures (es- pecially in the case of Rave), and those dedicated to the online (as well as offline) promotion of alternative communities and antimainstream philosophies and perspectives. Also relevant in this context is that the Internet provides subculture members with frequent and various op- portunities to be active media audiences/consumers and producers— roles and identities that are also blurred and interconnected. For exam- ple, subculture members studied here used the Internet to promote ideologies, communities, events, and consumer products (in the case of Rave), while at the same time responding to the sometimes-nega- tive mass-mediated mainstream portrayals of their subcultures and to attempts to incorporate their scenes. It is worth noting that the ‘subcul-

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ture-Internet’ relationship described in these case studies is akin to perspectives that are presently circulating among those who study the Internet, social movements, and political economy more generally. That is to say, current understandings of the Internet as an effective tool for promoting and organizing social movement groups (Castells, 1997; Wilson, 2002a) and as a medium for promoting commerce, consumption, and the global market (Schiller, 1999) mirror our finding that the Internet enables subcultural resistance and supports incorporation practices. This position is reinforced by our finding that Rave and Straight- edge are distinct subcultural entities who resist the cultural main- stream through media production in different ways and with variable intensities. Straightedge, a subculture that is philosophically opposed to the physical excesses promoted by mainstream culture industries, is unlike Rave (and especially Rave’s descendent, Club Culture) that in many respects promotes weekend (often drug-related) excesses as forms of symbolic escape (McGuigan, 1992; Wilson, 2002b). Straightedge’s emphasis on self-restraint and its still overtly alterna- tive orientation has made the lifestyle less marketable as pop culture and, in turn, somewhat less incorporated. That Straightedge is a closer-knit community than the increasingly diffuse Rave scene is similarly important in that Straightedge posers are more recognizable and more easily discouraged from selling out because the market in- terests/attractions that influence Rave promoters are less a part of the Straightedge reality. Conversely, the positioning of the Internet as a medium for promot- ing Rave and its DJs is seldom challenged by the protechnology Ravers, especially those who work in Rave-related occupations (such as DJ or promoter) and those who recognize the legitimacy of these occupations. Although not explicitly described as an online-offline relationship, work by authors such as Smith and Maughan (1998) who have studied dance music’s emerging underground economy and the links between this economy and the rise of Internet communication/ technology similarly demonstrates the extent of Rave’s (internal and external) incorporation. Straightedge is much more cynical about the capitalist opportunities presented by the medium because the group is less dependant on the market/occupational side of the subcultural life. That is to say, walking the Straight-edge is more clearly anticorporate

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than Rave, and for this reason, the Internet tends to be used in more countercultural ways than the more apolitical and incorporated Raver/ Clubber subculturalists. Understanding these complexities and differ- ences, our findings also provide some nuance to McRobbie and Thornton’s (1995) observations about the development of the rela- tionship between media and subcultures by describing how the philo- sophical orientations of Rave and Straightedge are intricately related to the groups’ perspectives on (alternative) media production and usage. The insights derived from these cases also inform our understand- ings of the impact of the Internet on the structure of youth subcultural formations. For example, it is clear that global subcultural networking (through Internet communication) has been enabled in unprecedented ways, and that this is at least somewhat related to the emergence of a loosely defined global level of involvement for Raver and Straight- edge youth. As above, though, the differences between Rave and Straightedge in this context are substantial and significant. In essence, for Rave, the conflict between the capitalist motives underlying the distribution of the culture (especially in the form of items such as techno music and Rave clothing styles) around the world and those that oppose the incorporation of the culture has played out on a global stage, precisely because of the political and economic influences that are part of Rave culture (and especially its descendant club culture). Straightedge, which has more effectively rejected the advances of the mainstream, largely because this kind of rejection is the philosophical raison d’etre for the group, is less of a global culture at present. The Rave and Straightedge cases are also intriguing departure points from which to consider how the Internet might enhance social cohesion among youth by facilitating offline meetings and events, and providing an online forum for support and discussion. That is to say, youth culture in the age of the Internet could be viewed not only as more fragmented, diffuse, and neo-tribal than traditional subcultures described in classic British works in the area (e.g., Hall & Jefferson, 1976; Hebdige, 1979) but also as more cohesive in the sense that vir- tual connections can enhance local relationships while allowing for global cultural/support networks (Wilson, 2002a). Having said this, it is worth emphasizing that media developments such as the Internet are still utilized and made sense of on a local and intrasubcultural level, or

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as Ekholm-Freidman and Friedman (1995) stated, “While all social systems are complex, everyday life tends to reduce this complexity to schemes of meaning and action that are significantly simplified” (p. 134). In following the work of Bennett (1999, 2000) and Malbon (1998), who adopted Maffesoli’s (1995) notion of neo-tribes as a concept for understanding the transient aspects of youth cultures, our examination of online and offline cultures points to transience and movement within communities, scenes, worlds, and figurations. Through the study of Rave, Straightedge, and other youth formations, we have come to learn about the permeability and fluidity of subcultures in an increasingly global and cyberage, and to consider how the Internet has affected young people’abilities to maneuver between different leisure or lifestyle activities. Here, however, we also see a pressing imperative to examine the extent to which local subcultural ties are disrupted and challenged by the Internet, because the continuity between online and offline life evident in these two groups might not be applicable to all youth peer groups/cultures, especially youth who tend not to identify with a specific subcultural group. It is our overarching aim, then, to empirically ascertain how youth actually interpret a variety of infor- mation available on the Internet, and how alternative media produc- tion and interpretation are linked for youth subculturalists. In this way, the task of enhancing sociological understandings of how youth subcultural communities relate to media in an age of Internet technol- ogy may be addressed, and widespread claims about the impacts of an increasingly global and cyberculture empirically critiqued.


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Brian Wilson, Ph.D., is assistant professor in the School of Human Kinetics at the Uni- versity of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. His research inter- ests include youth culture, media constructions of race and gender, audience studies, so- cial movements, and the sociology of sport and leisure generally. His published work appears in such journals as the Canadian Journal of Sociology, the Canadian Journal of Communication, the Sociology of Sport Journal, the International Review for the Sociol- ogy of Sport, and the Journal of Sport and Social Issues. He is currently leading a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada: Connected Youth: A Study of Youth-Driven Social Movements, Globalization and Community in the Age of the Internet.

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Michael Atkinson, Ph.D., is assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. His teaching and research interests revolve around issues in social deviance, radical body modification, violence in sport, and figurational sociology. He has published articles and book chapters on such topics as tattooing, modern primitivism, Straightedge lifestyles, professional wrestling, ice hockey violence, terrorism and the Olympics, ticket scalping, and qualitative interviewing. His work has appeared in diverse academic journals including Deviant Behavior, Sex Roles, Field Methods, and The Sociology of Sport Journal. He is the author of the book, Tat- tooed: The Sociogenesis of a Body Art. His current research projects include bodily as- ceticism, criminal violence in ice hockey, self-amputation, and men’s cosmetic surgery.

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