In Praise of the Moshpit

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The one event where sweat, aggression, angst, and brotherhood come together in a beautiful, unholy communion is in the untamed mosh pit found at any rowdy live show. Those of us who have joined or been pulled into one understand that these swirling masses of people are not bound by common morals, laws of conduct, or causality. The moshpit, however, is a more nuanced beast, filled with community and brotherhood, than it is perceived it to be amidst the anarchy. Let’s jump in and take a deeper look. Despite regular association with punk scenes, mosh pits are not exclusive to any one genre. I’ve experienced pits at shows including Earl Sweatshirt, Yellow Claw, and The Slackers, and across genres, ranging from Reggae to Latin-hardcore, and despite some differences, the smell of sweat and beer was pervasive, and the hive-mind of the participants remained. The dances and movements seen in the pits rarely take one form. Instead, it is common to see some people skanking, (a move popular in the ska and punk worlds), some energetically jumping around, and others just barreling through the crowd to feel and augment the force of the crowd.

Most mosh pits are not without codes of conduct; after all, everybody is here for the music. The unwritten mosh commandments are obeyed in all pits as reverence to the power of the pit: if someone falls, pick them up immediately; don’t use the pit as an excuse to be purposefully violent; be aware of your surroundings; and the most important, don’t take getting hit personally. These rules regulate the behavior of all pits and succeed in ensuring the most possible safety for all involved. Whenever an individual clearly hurts or targets others, the pit will be sure to enact a swift reprimand, justice if necessary. The flip side to the community culture of the pit is the necessary ingredient of grit, a characteristic required to successfully navigate time in a pit. Upon entry, a mosher must accept the reality that they will be roughed up, pushed around, and perhaps seriously hurt; for the most part, any bad injuries incurred will be the result of randomness, chance, and the inherent risk of jumping into a pool of angsty, frantic, pumped-up concertgoers, so be prepared to suck it up, champ.

To just say that the mosh pit is a wild animal with a few chains restraining it; however, is to misrepresent the who and why of the mosh pit, the most ignored element of the experience. To explain why a mosh pit forms, let’s examine the antithesis of a mosh pit: a lifeless crowd. There is little movement aside from the swaying of bodies like brainless zombies. With every drop, there will be those guys and gals whose fists and index fingers pump up and down in the air, but they’re bandwagoners. Most audience members don’t dare to turn to their neighbors and communicate, discuss the show, or just open up to meet new, interesting people.

This counterpoint, a lonely experience, in which each participant is contained to his or her own mind, opposes the true essence of music. Being at a show should be an immersive, involved experience, where the artist, the audience, and the performance all interact to make a changing, subjective reality that is, in and of itself, a work of art. With this goal in mind, we can see how a mosh pit allows for the creation of an ideal space. To those who, standing in a crowd, feel the need to let loose in movement, lose themselves in the music, or just physically express other emotions, a mosh pit is the answer to their prayers. A space set aside for the release of emotion and urge, a mosh pit channels and guides the more ravenous energies of a concert into a space where energy is dissipated through collisions of bodies and the transference of energy from movement into friction and heat.

It is fair to say that we who participate in mosh pits have a love and respect for the mosh pit, in which we submit ourselves to randomness, risk, fear, and anger so that we may find an escape from those exact pressures of life. We find unity in our shared experiences. The mosh pit is without a doubt not for everyone; in fact, it is not for most people. However, if you’re at a concert, and you have thoughts about that movement at the front of the crowd, don’t turn away. Instead, make your way forward and take a look. Even if you don’t want to join, I implore you to let that energy fuel you to open up to the music and all the people celebrating around you. Let down your guard and let life in: dance, smile, and let yourself be silly. I can’t say it won’t be painful, and it’ll definitely be embarrassing, but you know deep down you want nothing more than to walk out a sweaty, happy mess. Stay wild, stay moshing.

Image via Flickr.