The Anatomy of a Mosh Pit: How Chaos Becomes Community

(Oliver Perez)

The lead singer belts into their microphone before the song begins to slow. The crowd dies down with the music, swaying to and fro in unison. Each member of the band gaze upon the other, exhaustion and intention in their eyes. With one simultaneous breath, the breakdown commences…and you get pushed into the pit. Sweat drips down your back as you throw your body towards the closest person, only to bounce back towards another concert companion who’s ready to catch you before you fall. You revel in the rebellion, the adrenaline that surges through your body, with every heartbeat felt. You survived your first mosh pit. 

If you have ever been fortunate enough to go to a local show with a bit of a heavier tone, you have most definitely heard of and seen moshing. Concert goers have been partaking in this zealous form of dancing since the 1980’s, when the American Hardcore genre flourished. Originally known as “mashing”, punk shows enabled excitable listeners to release their aggressive energy through the movements. As according to Benjamin Isaacs in his article, “History of The Mosh Pit,” the reason for its name change was thanks to H.R., the vocalist of the iconic Bad Brains. As a result of his Jamaican accent, the crowd instead heard him say “moshing”, which inevitably led to the term becoming a punk show staple. In my own experience, I was always terrified to truly lose myself in a mosh pit. Having gone to concerts since the age of 13, I had always admired the commotion from afar but never felt ready enough to dive in. 

So…do you just shove people around? Well, yes! This disorderly type of dancing takes many shapes and sizes, ranging in difficulty as well as contexts. 

Some of my favorites (listed from an easy tussle to fairly frightening): 

– Elbow throwing: Throw those elbows back (either one or both at a time) as you feel the music. Imagine you’re taking off a jacket you REALLY hate. 

– Two step: Think of it as an angry shuffle; run in place and keep those elbows swingin’. 

– Windmilling: Rotate those arms as fast as you can, as if all the world’s electricity depended on you. Not to be confused with ‘helicoptering’ that just makes you look like a human dreidel. 

– Spin kicking: Throw that leg up and around; sometimes referred to as ‘emo karate’. – Circle pit: Basically a circular conga line, but make it METAL! 

– Wall of death: The entire crowd splits in half to only run back into each other with as much force as they possibly can. Wouldn’t want to be the guy in the middle of that collision…

Honorable Mention 

– The wall/barrier: willing bystanders act like a “cell membrane”; allows the flow of moshers in, keeps non-moshers out!

Mosh pits can be the epitome of camaraderie. The moment someone lands on the floor, the surrounding moshers are quick to reach out a hand and bring the person back up on their feet. Keys, phones, and wallets get lost in the commotion but are retrieved and held up, so that the owner may find their belongings. The bigger guys stick to punching each other while the pair of tiny best friends are given space to twirl around until the dizziness takes over. Hardcore shows create the perfect environment where people can release their frustrations with the music and have a (mostly) safe space to do so. The kerfuffle of smelly music lovers can have a place where they can exert all their energy with like-minded people, while also giving performers the opportunity to interact with their listeners. An undeniable connection is made between the performer and the observer when a band mate yells to “open up the pit” moments before the climax of a tune. Musicians can literally command the stage while fans can feel like they are spoken directly to by individuals they admire. It wasn’t until my first local show during my senior year of high school that I decided I was ready enough to mosh. The least I could do was shove a few shoulders and keep myself standing (fortunately, being tall has given me an advantage). I slowly but surely got comfortable with bigger crowds, harder pushes, and more complicated moves, while still allowing myself to step aside for my own sake. Within these chaotic crowds, complete strangers take each other’s hands, yell out their favorite lyrics, and laugh out loud as one collective. A sense of community is automatically established through the moments of mayhem shared, regardless of age, look, or background. 

Though mosh pits can be one of the most exciting parts of going out to local shows, there are still some understandable controversies surrounding the act of slam dancing. Danger is always a possibility in any kind of show one attends, especially in this day and age. In my years, I have seen some bloody noses, fainting, as well as the occasional inappropriate quarrel. To be frank, I still get a little nervous during bigger mosh pits; however, I am glad to simply be there to take in the ambiance. I mostly take solace in staying on the edge of things to make sure I can push people back into the circle while keeping unsuspecting buddies away from any flying fools. We unfortunately live in a society where ignorance runs rampant, while a lack of empathy and consideration affects the safety of those who just want to enjoy what life has to offer. These flaws do trickle into the alternative scene and can cause harm within the pits we know and love. People have taken the opportunity to purposefully hit fellow moshers, causing serious brawls. The presence of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and overall bigotry has unluckily pried its way into what many considered to be a safe space; these issues can and will arise tension within crowds. In addition to this, those who may not consider the safety of anyone but themselves tend to ignore basic concert etiquette. Pushing an unexpected crowd member, throwing food or drinks, and uncalled-for exclamations are all things that can turn a good show sour. What one person might consider to be a form of expression can easily turn into a genuinely violent altercation. In fact, many bands and venues ban the act of moshing throughout many shows, even as soon as a few years after its conception. In Andrea Alford’s article on “The Dangerous History of Moshing,” 90’s groups like The Smashing Pumpkins enforced the rule in hopes to avoid any harm that could occur. Not to mention how many music festivals, like the infamous Van’s Warped Tour, would take the time to put up banners that warned concertgoers of the consequences of hardcore moshing. This was done not only to keep attendants protected, but in an effort to escape any possible lawsuit that could lead to the end of our favorite shows and performers. 

Unfavorable aspects such as these, though intimidating, can help us realize the importance of keeping ourselves and the people around us safe so that we may continue to benefit from the experiences available to us by attending local shows. Some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind before we descend into that coveted bundle of mosh pit madness: 

DON’T 

– Carry anything valuable or fragile that can easily be lost/broken. 

– Include someone who doesn’t want to engage in moshing. 

– Mess with the band (unless they join in voluntarily). 

– Try to escalate the aggression or show off 

– Get in the pit if you’re intoxicated or too exhausted to keep up. 

DO 

– Be mindful and safe; watch out for people’s sensitive spots when throwing hands. 

– Read the room, not every show calls for a showdown. 

– Try to help someone out when they have fallen. 

– Wear comfortable, durable attire with closed-toe shoes to protect those piggies. – Let loose! We’re there to have fun and blow off some steam. 

No one is there to judge how good your spin kick is; have fun and mosh responsibly! 

After my few years of experience, I can confidently say that I am now overcome with a feeling of euphoria during the moments where I do partake in the classic two step, or even the over-the-top windmill. Any scratches or bruises I leave with are proof of my contribution to this music scene I have come to love. I am glad to be able to find and share the happiness that comes with being part of this intricate community that thrives in the chaos.

 

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