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Moshing: The Art and Consequences of One of the Most Celebrated Concert Dance Forms

Breaking down the history, anatomy, and art of moshing

Moshing History
Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    Punk Week continues with an essay on the history and art of moshing. Keep checking back throughout the week for interviews, lists, editorials and videos — it’s all things punk, all the time.

    When the brutal reality of a global pandemic began to set in last year, many concertgoers felt a foreboding sense of doom: Would the experience of live music ever be the same? The fear was rooted in the fact that being shoulder to shoulder at a venue or a festival had been deemed “too risky,” that even from a baseline level, being that close to strangers could be the reason you test positive for COVID-19 the next week.

    But there’s an even deeper facet of the concert experience that was put in jeopardy: moshing.

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    At its best, moshing is a visceral and collective experience, a physical way to match the energy of the music you’re witnessing with the feeling it gives you. When done right (and safely), there is a willful exchange of bodily autonomy in the mosh pit — it’s a relinquishing of a certain amount of control of where your body goes and moves, a step into chaos, a pushing and pulling motion that mirrors the intensity of what’s happening on stage. At its best, there should be a feeling of respect in the pit; everyone is there for a similar reason: to enjoy live music in a visceral and cathartic way.

    At its worst, moshing can be, of course, deeply harmful. It’s an easy way to pick up some sort of injury, large or small, and those who throw and receive fists in the pit can sometimes walk away with a bloody nose (or more). The very concept of bodies smashing together like pinballs is dangerous to our fragile frames. Even beyond physical injuries is a danger far more sinister: violation.

    The recent HBO documentary on Woodstock ‘99 outlines this concept in a devastating way, bringing up the fact that women were repeatedly assaulted and violated in the pent up, male-dominated crowds, and that the anonymity of a concert allowed for the lack of accountability and personal responsibility. Watching the doc, it’s clear that this behavior went directly against the peaceful mission of the original Woodstock, and that using a mosh pit as an arena for debauchery is an act of cowardice. What’s more, it went against the ethos of punk and the reason moshing exists in the first place.

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    Moshing as a style of dance is believed to have originated roughly between 1976 and 1980 in Orange County, California; Washington, DC; and at punk shows in England. It’s said to have been preceded by pogoing — a style of dance that sees the crowd jumping up and down, arms tightly against their sides, almost like a box of pens being shaken. Pogoing was pioneered by Sex Pistols’ bassist, Sid Vicious, in the early days of the UK’s punk scene.

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