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February 24, 2008

Mosh Pits Ecstasy: more than just an interesting controversy!

There’s a certain ecstasy of movement in mosh pits. From the outside, it looks like formless, gormless masses, the inevitable victory of too much testosterone and misdirected angst. Limbs fly unfailingly, sweaty torsos are pressed up against each other with aplomb, and bodies slam back and forth in unison. The tumultuous exhilaration of the great unwashed is observed with a cocked eyebrow from afar, by those perhaps too amnesiac to remember innocence.

Washing underfoot, however, is a strict code of adherence. The mosh pit is not a state of anarchy. It is not uncontrolled violence. It is not just an exuberant release of pure energy, not just an excuse for violence, not just an antiquated throwback to simpler times. The mosh pit is an unwritten tribe where anyone can participate, regardless of size, gender, lineage or looks, a truly democratic arena, where everyone is equal, where no one falls through the cracks for too long, nor is anyone lifted above for too long. The only idol celebrated is a common presence on stage, raised up by ostensibly democratic means (the modern insidiousness of the record industry notwithstanding).

The mosh pit starts out from the basest of assumptions, the commonest of understandings: people who are in it want to be in it. There is no forced participation — there are other places in the venue to watch the band (in fact, the mosh pit is one of the worst places to be if you just want to listen) — and everyone is looking to have a good time. Everyone is looking to amplify, magnify, enhance the intensely visceral feeling they succumb to when listening to the band. And so, people move, they groove, they are overtaken by the music. It is never a contest in the mosh — there are no best moshers, no trendiest moshers, no parades of exhibitionism. People are there all facing forward in the dark doing two things at once: living and surviving. The experience of the music is everything to them, and the experience of the mosh pit is everything else.

People don’t frequently get hurt in mosh pits. Sure, there have been tragedies in the history of rock, like the two fans at the Guns N’ Roses concert that got trampled underfoot, but these are comparatively rare. Instead, an understanding has developed amongst frequenters of pits, and those who are newcomers learn fast, more often than not by example. People will inevitably lose their balance and fall, or plummet from the rafters as their weight becomes too much for the tired dancers. Limbs will tangle, bodies will contort, holes in the weave of bodies will form. The understanding is that they will not die. Much like reality. The pit momentarily forms a protective barrier around them, and they are hauled back up to continue on their way. The whole production may only last two seconds, but, just like the ocean, the pit opens and closes with its own capricious whims, understood by those inside alone.

Similarly, the same happens to those who want to float above. There is no meritocracy, no economy of exchange, no aristocracy. While there may be those that float more than they sink, it is solely personal preference. Anyone can tap his or her neighbour on the shoulder and point to the roof. At that point, he or she will find themselves launched onto the crowd, moved easily from collective hand to collective hand, until the ride is over or the crowd thins out, when they will fall, and the cycle starts again. The middle reigns forever, undifferentiated and unique, alone in company and in company alone.

The mosh pit is incomprehensible from the outside: people lose their identity, their voice and their footing. But on the inside, it is a natural expression of the music, an inherent extension of the raw ecstatic energy of rock, punk or metal. Once someone experiences the mosh, it is difficult for them to return to listening to live music from afar, unengaged and safe. The music loses its danger, which is why the mosh pit quickly becomes the only place to interact with the artists. The experience is a primordial return, a place of complete freedom, restricted only by consensual rules of engagement, agreed upon in the moment unanimously, yet already known. The ecstasy of movement, the ecstasy of experience, the ecstasy of life, is all that matters: it is the ruling telos of the pit.

This interesting controversy is brought to you by: Sebastian Buzzalino

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