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Audience members moshing in front of the stage at a concert
|Genre||Live punk rock and heavy metal|
|Inventor||Fans of hardcore punk|
|Origin||Early 1980s, California and Washington, D.C., United States|
Moshing or slamdancing is a style of dance in which participants push or slam into each other, typically performed to “aggressive” live music. It originated in the hardcore punk scenes of California and Washington, D.C. in the early 1980s, thereafter spreading from hardcore to other forms of punk rock as well as thrash metal and grunge, which exposed it to the mainstream in the late 1980s. Since then, moshing has occasionally been performed to energetic music within a wide variety of genres, including alternative rock, EDM and hip hop, while remaining a staple at punk and heavy metal shows. Though moshing is primarily done to live music, it can also be done to recorded music.
Variations of moshing exist, and can be done alone as well as in groups. Moshing usually happens in an area called the "pit" (sometimes called a "mosh pit") near the stage. It is intended to be energetic and full of body contact. Variations on the traditional mosh include "pogoing", "circle pits" (where the participants bump and jostle each other as they move in a circle) and the more extreme "wall of death". Some moshers swing their arms back and forth and move their legs in a rhythmic fashion. Moshing is typically done in an area in the center of the crowd, generally closer to the stage.
While moshing is seen as a form of positive fan feedback or expression of enjoyment, it has also drawn criticism over dangerous excesses occurring in offshoots. Injuries have been reported in mosh pits, and a few deaths have occurred in "Wall of Death" moshing, an offshoot that developed when fans at thrash metal shows adopted punk-style slamdancing.
The term mosh came into use in the early 1980s American hardcore scene in Washington, D.C. Early on, the dance was frequently spelled mash in fanzines and record liner notes, but pronounced mosh, as in the 1982 song "Total Mash" by the D.C.-based hardcore band Scream. H.R. of the band Bad Brains, regarded as a band that "put moshing on the map," used the term mash in lyrics and in concert stage banter to both incite and to describe the aggressive and often violent dancing of the scene. To "mash it up" was to go wild with the frenzy of the music. Due to his Jamaican-accented pronunciation of the word, fans heard this as mosh instead.
By the mid-1980s, the term was appearing in print with its current spelling. By the time thrash metal band Anthrax used the term in their song "Caught in a Mosh", the word was already a mainstay of hardcore and thrash scenes. Fans of Billy Milano and the band Stormtroopers of Death have often used the term mosh as an acronym for the phrase "move over shit head" during crowded shows. Through the mainstream success of bands like Anthrax, Nirvana, Stormtroopers of Death, and the Melvins, the term came into the popular vernacular.
The first dance identifiable as moshing may have originated in Orange County, California, during the first wave of American hardcore. Examples of this early moshing can be seen in the documentaries Another State of Mind, Urban Struggle, The Decline of Western Civilization, and American Hardcore, as well as footage from the shows of the era. At the time California hardcore punk bands such as the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Fear and Dead Kennedys were popular in Orange County.
Crossover into mainstream genres
By the end of the 1980s, the initial wave of American hardcore punk had waned and split into other subgenres. The Seattle-based grunge movement was among the many styles of music that directly evolved from hardcore. Through the mainstream success of several grunge bands, the word mosh entered the popular North American vocabulary and the dance spread to many other music genres. According to John Linnell of They Might Be Giants, "it didn’t matter what kind of music you were playing or what kind of band you were; everybody moshed to everything. It was just kind of the enforced rule of going to concerts."
Physical properties of emergent behavior
Researchers from Cornell University in Ithaca studied the emergent behavior of crowds at mosh pits by analyzing online videos, finding similarities with models of 2-D gases in equilibrium. Simulating the crowds with computer models, they found out that a simulation dominated by flocking parameters produced highly ordered behavior, forming vortexes like those seen in the videos.
Opposition, criticism and controversy
The Washington D.C. post-hardcore band Fugazi opposed slamdancing at their live shows. Members of Fugazi were reported to single out and confront specific members of the audience, politely asking them to stop hurting other audience members, or hauling them on stage to apologize on the microphone.
Consolidated, an industrial dance group of the 1990s, stood against moshing. On their third album, Play More Music, they included the song "The Men's Movement", which proclaimed the inappropriate nature of slamdancing. The song consisted of audio recordings during concerts from the audience and members of Consolidated, arguing about moshing.
In the 1990s, the Smashing Pumpkins took a stance against moshing, following two incidents which resulted in fatalities. At a 1996 Pumpkins concert in Dublin, Ireland, 17-year-old Bernadette O'Brien was crushed by moshing crowd members and later died in the hospital, despite warnings from the band that people were getting hurt. At another concert, singer Billy Corgan said to the audience:
I just want to say one thing to you, you young, college lughead-types. I've been watchin' people like you sluggin' around other people for seven years. And you know what? It's the same shit. I wish you'd understand that in an environment like this, and in a setting like this, it's fairly inappropriate and unfair to the rest of the people around you. I, and we, publicly take a stand against moshing!
Another fan died at a Smashing Pumpkins concert in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on September 24, 2007. The 20-year-old male was dragged out of the mosh pit, unconscious, to be pronounced dead at a hospital after first-aid specialists attempted to save him.
Reel Big Fish's 1998 album Why Do They Rock So Hard? included their mosh-criticizing song "Thank You for not Moshing", which contained lyrics that suggested that at least some individuals in the mosh pit were simply bullies who were finding conformity in the violence.
|“||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.||”|
Sixteen-year-old Jessica Michalik was an Australian girl who died as a result of asphyxiation after being crushed in a mosh pit during the 2001 Big Day Out festival during a performance by nu metal band Limp Bizkit.
Groove metal group Five Finger Death Punch had an incident when, during the song "White Knuckles" at a concert in Hartford Connecticut, a young man received a compound fracture on his ankle in a mosh pit. Ivan L. Moody, the band's lead singer, stopped the show, leaped into the crowd with Zoltan Bathory, the band's rhythm guitarist, and carried the injured fan onto the stage, where he was taken to the hospital. Moody has been quoted as saying: "I looked him square in the face and asked him if he was okay, or if there was anything I could do for him. He looked over at me, still in shock, and said 'You guys fucking rock!'" Moody stated "I've felt bad because of what has happened. I miss the old Pantera kids who would just throw each other. Just respect other people; come on." Bathory stated: "Because he broke his leg I threw down my guitar. We just finished when he broke his leg, and I came out and I stayed with him until the paramedics picked him up. These are my people and that's how it is."
Slipknot percussionist Chris Fehn spoke about the state of audience interaction following the onstage incident and subsequent legal issues involving Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe, who was eventually found innocent of any wrongdoing in the death of a concertgoer. Fehn briefly addressed the Blythe situation, stating "I think, especially in America, moshing has turned into a form of bullying. The big guy stands in the middle and just trucks any small kid that comes near him. They don’t mosh properly anymore. It sucks because that’s not what it’s about. Those guys need to be kicked out. A proper mosh pit is a great way to be as a group and dance, and just do your thing." 
- Tsitsos, William
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- Heavy Metal Monday blog
- Joey Demaio Anti Mosh PSA YouTube Video
- MTV: The Social History of the Mosh Pit (2002)
- Berger, Tom (2004) In the Pit – How to survive mosh pits and bodysurfing! (online book)
- How to Mosh in a Mosh Pit on wikiHow (detailed listing of steps to follow, tips, and warnings)
- "Crowd Surfing and Moshing" at Safeconcerts (includes information on injuries sustained)