Moshing; The case for and against music’s “violent” form of dance

Date: February 17, 2017

By Bobby Bevilacqua

Mosh pits and metal concerts essentially go hand in hand. A longstanding concert tradition of the metal community, moshing has caused controversy since its inception, raising questions of whether or not it’s safe or if it should even be allowed.

With the rise of hardcore and metal music, mosh pits could be seen at concerts, with people forming an open circle and doing things like pushing each other and running into one another. There are many variations, including push pits, circle pits, and more extreme variations such as the wall of death.

Despite the physical nature of it, moshing is meant to be a fun, cathartic experience according to Garren Lewis, assistant program director at WSOU, Seton Hall’s metal station.

“A good mosh pit should be something you look back on as adding to the concert,” Lewis. “Even if you get an injury, as long as it’s not bad then you’ll have a good time.”

Such a physical activity means that moshing isn’t without its share of injuries. There have been nine moshing related deaths recorded between 1994 and 2006, and even more injuries like broken bones and bloody noses according to an article from ABC News. They also claimed that over 10,000 injuries in mosh pits were reported from 1998 to 2008.

Since moshing has been around for a long time, people have developed traditions and ways to properly act in a mosh pit. One of the biggest dangers in a mosh pit is inexperience Lewis said.

“I’ve seen people have bad experiences,” he said. “That’s usually people who are not well-versed in moshing, and think it’s funny to join in or don’t really know what they’re getting into.”

According to Nick Durant, a WSOU staff member and an avid concert goer, it’s also important to know the setting you are in before you begin. While some shows and genres permit a more wild, reckless style of moshing, that won’t be appropriate at every show you go to.

“If you’re going to go to a hardcore show where they’ve adapted that wild, flailing style, then fine,” Durant said. “But don’t go to a Metallica concert and start throwing spin kicks and swinging your arms. I’m not totally against it, but it depends on the environment.”

Being aware of your environment goes beyond just knowing what’s appropriate at the show, Durant said. It’s important to know who is in the pit with you, and to know your limitations.

“Do what’s appropriate for who you’re with,” said Durant. “If you’re with a bunch of small people, don’t be that guy that’s just knocking everyone over. And if you’re small and there’s a bunch of big people, there’s a good chance you’ll get knocked over.”

While moshing can be one of the more dangerous activities at a concert, crowd surfing also poses a big threat to someone’s safety. Holly Fitzpatrick, WSOU’s program director, was injured twice at concerts because of crowd surfing. Fitzpatrick said she was kicked in the back of the head at an A Day To Remember concert, and the hit sent her glasses flying and gave her a concussion.

“It made schoolwork very hard to do, and I actually had to withdraw from a class because of it,” Fitzpatrick said. But unfortunately for her, that wasn’t the last injury she would sustain.

“A few months after that, [WSOU] presented a show for Exodus and Testament which I went to, and I got kicked in the head by a crowd surfer,” said Fitzpatrick. “I don’t go to shows anymore because I keep getting hurt, it’s a repeated pattern.”

Garren Lewis noted some of the same problems with crowd surfing when he went to see Swedish death metal band Amon Amarth at a crowded Playstation Theater in New York.

“I decided to hang out up front instead of by the mosh like I usually do. That was a bad idea because I was in the second row of people from the press area. And it was so crowded by the time Amon Amarth came on, and I would raise my hand and not be able to move my arm. When the crowd surfers started, you couldn’t even turn your head to see if there was one coming right at you.”

Over the years, there has been a lot of criticism and outrage against moshing, citing it as a dangerous activity that sometimes turns into a form of bullying. Some artists have taken a stand against moshing, including the Smashing Pumpkins, Manowar, and Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, who spoke about the topic in an interview for his website.

“I think our audience have become a little bit more attentive and less of that type of [mosh] mentality [...] I understand you want to release that energy... [but] once people start doing that during "Through Her Eyes" it gets ridiculous [...] So this time around we're consciously aiming at theaters that people can actually sit down and enjoy the show and be comfortable [...] without having to worry about their legs falling off or being kicked in the face by a Mosh Pit. So [that] will probably eliminate that problem anyway.”

Holly Fitzpatrick has seen firsthand certain artists speaking out against moshing, including Robb Flynn of Machine Head, who stopped the show to kick out an overly violent mosher. Another show featured one of the band members making sure that people were respectful.

“I remember very clearly at the [Exodus and Testament] show, the front man for Exodus opened up their set by saying, ‘be nice to each other, take care of each other and don’t get violent,’” Fitzpatrick said. “That was the first time I’ve seen that at a metal show.”

At some of the metal concerts in smaller venues, it can be difficult to avoid the most pit or stay out of the pushing and shoving that goes on in the general admission floor area. Lewis described how an entire venue can turn into one big push pit.

“When I go to a show at Terminal 5 and I start in the front, even though the mosh pit starts a few rows behind you, the whole floor will become a pit at some point,” said Lewis.” You’re going to be pushed around. It’s fun, but after four songs I had to move back.”

Some people who prefer to go to a live show and just enjoy the music may not like that there will be some pushing and shoving that comes with standing in the crowd. But according to Durant, the people who like to mosh are also just trying to have fun.

“I know that people don’t want to be a part of the mosh pit, but at the same time those other people are trying to have a good time,” Durant said. “It’s mutual respect.”

There are also ways to avoid the hectic, moshing areas at a metal concert. Some people prefer to be able to stand or sit in the venue without the physicality that comes with being in the general admission areas. Lewis says that all it takes is some awareness and positioning.

“If you’re going to a show and don’t want to mosh, look where people are gathering and look for people who look like they want to mosh, and avoid those areas,” Lewis Said. “For some shows that might mean standing closer to the gate, or further back or off to the side. But at many of these venues, no matter where you stand, you’ll have a great view.”

For people that do want to mosh but are turned off by the seemingly chaotic and hectic nature of a mosh pit, it might be surprising to find out that there is actually a lot of order and unwritten rules, that includes things like picking people up who have fallen and respecting people in and around the pit according to Durant. Lewis says that if those rules are violated, there are repercussions.

“There’s a code of rules and that has to be followed,” Lewis said. “You can’t just go in there and do whatever you want and expect people to take it. Because at some point people are going to get fed up with it and fight back.”

Durant, Lewis and Fitzpatrick all stated the importance of withholding the rules and standards of moshing, because it can get out of hand if people aren’t aware. Durant said moshing can turn into a fight if people don’t follow the rules, while Lewis and Fitzpatrick discussed the importance of pointing out violent and drunk offenders as well as keeping the boundaries of the pit intact.

If you’re interested in learning how to mosh and getting involved in the activity at concerts, the best way to do so is by getting experience at a band’s show with a longstanding history and tradition of moshing, Lewis said.

“The best way to get experience moshing is by going to shows that have a good moshing tradition, bands like Exodus and Testament,” said Lewis. “These are bands that made thrash metal what it is today and brought mosh pits into the culture. When you go to those shows, you learn how to most from people there. Things like the code of conduct.”

Moshing is all about acceptance too, with everyone being welcome to partake in the pit, no matter their size, gender, or level of experience according to Lewis. And that’s what can make it easy to get into.

“I’m a small dude, I’m 5’6” and weigh like 120,” Lewis said. “In most people’s minds I’m the last person that should be out there. But most people, when they see a small dude out there or a girl, they’re gonna give you some respect. They’ll try to hold back a bit.”

When done properly, moshing can be a very fun experience that draws you in at every show you’ll wind up going to.

“When you start moshing and you have a good time, you can’t get enough of it,” Lewis said. “It’s one of those weird things about it. People think, how can you enjoy is, you’re getting pushed around and there’s a chance of injury. But why does anyone do anything like wrestling or football? You enjoy it and it gets a release out of you.”

However, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with stopping if it’s too much to handle or if moshing is not for you.

“Use your common sense and know your limitations,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s absolutely no shame in needing space.”

Bobby can be reached on Twitter: @BobbyWSOU

Posted in: WSOU, Metal, Interviews

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