The gentle violence of emancipation

By Neshy Denton

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There are three simple rules involved in a mosh pit. The first. Always lift back up the fallen soldiers. Second. Be humbly aware that everyone in that mosh is your combative ally. Third. Always be aware of the consensual basis involved in and around the rumble. 

The simplicity of these explicit, unspoken rules, lays a firm ground for those who come and mercy their favourite band’s melodies; to feel the band’s addictive rhythm burn through their bodies. Nobody questions these rules unless they’re there for a different reason. 

I like to consider them cherished moments in time, where the far gap that detaches the “artist” from the “fan”, closes in and they come to mean nothing more than the simple title they each stand for. It becomes the only possible moment where the two manage to get hold of each others essence and reach the extremities of the music shoulder to shoulder. 

I guess one could say the latter about all live gigs. That proximity between the performer and the listener (artist/band and fan). Not just the heavy rock, post-punk gigs that involve lawless pits. And I wouldn’t disagree, of course. The dynamic relationship between artist and performer holds this fragile continuity involving bodily language, tones of voices, facial expressions, rebounding energy, which is only summoned when both parties are taking part. 

So, why are mosh pits so violent? Violent to the point we should consider those who delight in the presence of one almost deranged. But then I’d be calling myself deranged. And – from what my family tells me – I’m just about alright. It is because the violence is not a vexed one. It is a celebratory one. It is a communal space, where once the first strums are severed, the unspoken spell of loyalty has been cast upon everyone within. 

Those few square meters you are sharing with your new fellow trustees, becomes the only space where the clammy rules of society are forgotten. They get trod on by the crowds’ vulnerable take on letting loose and releasing  – as well as letting others release – a gentle violence of emancipation. And not being punished by it. In fact, being celebrated by it. With the helping hand of your favourite band. 

See, now, these lawless pits are considered a style of dancing. It has been a ritual for these styles of music for a long time. As mentioned before, to celebrate the release of a common restriction. Recently, mosh pits have become increasingly common in rap gigs. It is argued that the intentions involved, at these particular concerts, come from a completely different spectrum. 

Possibly due to the genre coming from a different part of society. Hip hop has evolved into many different styles and, especially trap music, has made an appearance in including this style of dance into their gigs. The musicians of said genre like to keep an energy going at their live shows, leading them to encourage a disarray of mindless moshing. Or what is considered mindless.

Because, the intentionality within this dance comes with passion and respect. Not a means to roughen up the crowd and prove to see who’s loudest. If what I am touching upon is, in fact, a true case, I believe it is the lack of comradeship that could cause this. And their craving of dominance instead. 

The rawness trails back into the instinctive virtues of our animal kingdom. The cunning outcomes of allowing wolves to finally pounce – and a heavy truth which lies far back into our impulsive muscle memory.

Scientists have come to compare the dynamic movements within a pit, by applying it to models of gaseous particles. Through analysing endless videos of live gigs, they came to understand the similarities between the two. In which they both float around in groups in an excited manner where they bash, push and run into each other. It falls back onto the laws of nature. The thought of this comparison is actually quite amusing to me. At the end of the day, we are just a bunch of idiotic floating particles bumping into each other.

There’s a particular quote that has stuck with me, which specifically proves my point. It enhances the need for love, not violence, in this world. It is a quote by the lead singer of the band IDLES, Joe Talbot, who was performing at a gig. He was just about to set off what is known as the “wall of death”. A mosh pit which divides the whole audience into two. Forming two walls facing each other. Ready to close in on each other when their leader says so. In this case, Joe Talbot. 

He says “When I say go, and only when I say go, you’re going to show each other more love than you have ever shown a community. Because that’s what we are, a community. Do you understand?”

Picture by Alex Ballano