Broken noses, busted lips, smashed phones, and lost belongings, these are just a number of things I’ve witnessed leaving a mosh pit at the end of a gig. When you’re in the midst of it the pit is met with multiple reactions, the two most common being unbridled enthusiasm and the other sheer disgust, as it pushes inactive concertgoers further and further to the side.
As somebody who attends metal gigs regularly, mosh pits are just part of the experience. In a small cramped venue like Glasgow’s Audio, which holds about 150 people, the heat can be stifling and the movement crammed and violent – but in many ways, this is the fun of it. The bands encourage it, the fans love it, it’s all part and parcel of the metal experience. Personally I’ve always enjoyed it, there’s a rush of adrenaline that comes with just letting loose in the pit, similar to raves and other high-energy music experiences. For many people it’s a healthy outlet, a method of exercising frustration in a healthy manner, similar to taking it out at the gym. Is it aggressive? Yes, naturally. Often as aggressive as the music it’s done to. And of course this isn’t for everybody, being in a pit you’d rather not be in isn’t a fun experience by any means. However, for many people, including myself, mosh pits not only heighten the experience of all the components of the gig, but also serve as a means of catharsis. They’re very much a chance to let go of the various mundane stresses of everyday life, allowing you to relieve these frustrations in a way which is almost primal, while also being harmless, collective and fun.
Don’t be fooled by the pervasive idea that metal is the only genre that brings about vicious mosh pits. Aside from the fact that moshing owes more to hardcore punk than it does to metal, the music doesn’t necessarily have to be “heavy” to warrant a pit. One of the largest and most intense in recent memory was King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard for me. Understandable for the songs from their new album, with its heavy, thrash-metal influenced tunes, but the pit somehow got worse during the upbeat jaunts of Fishing For Fishies. It was during this gig that my partner was trampled by a particularly rowdy crowd, moshing fiercely to the tune of Plastic Boogie, having a chunk of his hair ripped out and ribs crushed in the process. Acts such as Royal Blood, Wu-Tang Clan, Perturbator, and Airbourne aren’t metal by any means, but still warrant mosh pits, and often vicious ones at that. The intense, adrenaline filled experience remains just as exciting regardless of genre at many points, and again, heightens the experience of those factors that make the concert experience so appealing.
Is moshing just pushing and shoving? Not really, to some it can encompass any kind of movement in the pit, but that seems a bit too vague. I’ve been at several gigs where a ceilidh has erupted in the midst of the pit to great amusement of the band (try Strip the Willow to NY hardcore, it’s a strange but wholesome experience). Conga lines, crab dances, and cutting shapes often intermingle with walls of death, circle pits and crowd surfing. Bodies fly about like ragdolls with people desperately trying to keep their balance. That’s the fun of it in many ways, it’s absolutely chaotic and wild, but still maintaining a degree of mutual respect and enjoyment for the music at hand.
One might think a certain code of chivalry would be enforced in the pit, but it can be hard when half the men there have longer hair than you and when crushed up against the back of a sweaty random man, the strobe lights can make my 5’8 skinny self easily mistaken for his backpack. Jokes aside however, the pit has always treated me well. Well, as well as it can when I leave with a battered and bruised body as stamps of victory. There is an unspoken code of respect with several rules, examples of such being “don’t go throwing fists, legs or elbows”, “if somebody falls you help them up”, and “don’t pick on people who can’t give the same back”. Fairly reasonable rules, but of course once in a while there’s always somebody, likely under the influence, who ruins it for everybody. Sadly, these are the people who give mosh pits a bad reputation. The people who think that the pit is a place to show off and act tougher than everybody else, or want to start fist fights, or just can’t keep their hands to themselves. Thankfully, in my own personal experience, others in the pit have always had a tendency to watch out for one another, and people like that are generally shut down pretty quickly for their obnoxious behaviour. However even then there’s been many calls for more to be done about people who don’t know how to act respectfully in mosh pits, with multiple organisations such as Safe Gigs For Women, who focus primarily on preventing sexual harassment at gigs (an extremely noteworthy and admirable cause) coming together to help make gigs safer and ensuring that everybody is able to have a great experience.
Gigs should be a place where everybody can let off steam, get pumped up, get whatever they get out of a concert. And for many, mosh pits are a core part of these great experiences.