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The Evolution of Subcultures in the Internet Age: The Case of Hardcore and Straight Edge

Originally Published: Wednesday, February 9, 2005
Written by: Helen White
Edited by: Kelly Leonard, November, 2023

Introduction to Subcultures in the Digital Age

Since the invention and subsequent growth and establishment of the Internet, the whole shape of society has begun to change.

The Impact of the Internet on Subculture Integration

In a society without the means to communicate via email, messenger services and on message boards, one has to integrate themselves physically in culture to become part of it.

Subcultures grow out of cultures as a reaction to mainstream accepted society and have relied on generation from within certain musical scenes, people meeting like-minded people in places of common interest, talking, becoming friends and continuing to frequent those places.

The Evolution of Hardcore as a Community

Hardcore is arguably one of the most close-knit, protective communities in existence in music at the moment, and straight edge within that, as a subculture within subculture is also extremely bonded by its shared feelings.

Online Communities and Subcultural Change

As the internet becomes our generation’s method of choice for communication, we see ‘communities’ spring up online, sites where edgers can meet and talk to other edgers anywhere in the world, sites dedicated to hardcore in cities everywhere. This is totally changing the whole idea of a subculture, the way subcultures are born, and how they sustain themselves. Many people believe that this is a sad state for a subculture to be in, that the trends that stem from the Internet will kill the subculture or dilute it radically.

The Commercialization of Musical Subcultures

Studying most musical subcultures throughout the last few decades, we see that they all face commercialization at some point. A transition from alternative to the mainstream will begin to happen at the more commercial end of the music scale, for example; punk was a rebellion against political and economic climates at the time it came about, mass disaffection amongst the young gave birth to a new movement and attitude. A few years into its existence, it became commercialized, with the ragged clothes that once belonged to those who could not afford much else than being made by designers, to look old and ripped. The movement as it was then became a parody of itself, another tool in the capitalist box as such. However the essence of punk, the anti-establishment stance that it was built on, still exists in many forms, one of those forms being straight edge. As Ian MacKaye explained:” If you grew up white in this city, and you’re not part of the political establishment, or you’re not part of the true culture, which is a black culture, then you have no culture. There is nothing here.” Although punk grew out of working-class, and straight edge came out of middle class America, both were unhappy with their society and made a new society for themselves.

As the Internet connects many more people who cannot necessarily see each other, people are no longer reliant on semiotics to see who is part of which scene or subculture. We have to rely merely on what people choose to show us about themselves, their music tastes, their feelings and beliefs they profess online to us. A person could feasibly stay at home and never attend a single show, but still listen to hardcore, say they are straight edge and feel the same way about society that other edgers do. As the subculture changes in years to come, will we have to relax the ideals we have around edge and hardcore which suggest we must go to shows and have a physical presence to be acknowledged?

Personal Perspective on Hardcore and Straight Edge

Personally, coming from rural England where not much music is available live or to buy, and certainly my only window into hardcore was through the little radio play it received on late night shows, I had no experience of any scene until I moved to London and began to work in the music industry, which allowed me to see many shows every month. Having ignited my passion for hardcore, I was soon deeply involved with the scene here. But alongside the shows I attended and records I bought, I also discovered a multitude of information on all things hardcore on the Internet. Sparking my interest even further, it allowed me to listen to bands I otherwise would have never heard of, get in touch with other hardcore fans who I then met at shows, and become part of communities I was too shy to integrate with otherwise. A mixture of all these levels has become, for me, the best way of enjoying my subculture, using the net as an informative tool, and to stay in touch with my friends around the world, but integrating physically into the scene as much as I can for now in a country where straight edge and hardcore are not cool, they are still tiny communities with very dedicated followers.

Adapting Subcultures in the Internet Era

Similarly, the world religions, which have survived with the biggest numbers, are the ones that adapt to the times, which acknowledge that society is changing rapidly. Those who remain rigid ultimately do not survive, and their message dies out through secularisation. In conclusion, as the internet is here to stay, it would be unreasonable to expect the way subcultures exist not to change as a result of the online community, but if it is used to further the message of straight edge and hardcore, to bring together people who feel the same, and think the same, not just look the same, go to the same places or act the same way, it can become stronger and more positive than ever. It is more relevant today than ever, with our society seemingly focussed on self-deprecation and material greed, to have a subculture trying to steer itself towards productivity and positivity towards others, without violence, and even without a leader. Fads will always come from subcultures that look so positive from the outside, but the people who share the ‘feeling’ that created the subculture will be the ones who sustain it.

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