I'm a veteran of the original Irish art punk scene so I saw people pogoing and slam dancing to punk rock as soon as punk got going. I saw The Clash playing at a half-full club and I saw John Lydon's PIL play one of their first gigs, the same night U2 did their first real show.
That was all a long time ago and by the time that actual moshing came about I wasn't a part of that scene until I was at an open air festival one day and got accidentally sucked into a moshpit. I found it both terrifying and exhilarating. I think that's how a lot of people end up moshing for the first time; they get kind of sucked in, like into a whirlpool. The most fun I've had while standing up. But I'm a person who wrote a book about moshing, not a typical mosher. I go moshing any time I can. I guess I'm an embedded reporter from the front line.
Moshing has a communal aspect to it which is parallel to the feeling of "love" that people used to get out of the original rave scene in England. Physically, it puts the body through its paces and gives one a sort of natural high. And all mosh music is rhythmic tribal ritual music which appeals to the primordial beast and spiritual being within us all. I think you've got to do something a bit more involved at a punk rock show or a rap metal night than tapping your feet. You're the loser if you don't.
Emo is that bit more girl-friendly, and most pits are a male-only preserve where, traditionally, women don't have such a big role. So emo tends to give women a chance. The sort of hardcore moshpits which I came across in the States were not for the faint hearted. I'm pretty well able to look after myself but in a Dropkick Murphys pit or a Slayer pit I've been chewed up and spat out. I find emo a bit wet and girly.
Moshing is controlled violence. It is violence but it should be violence by mutual consent. There is nothing worse than bullying or forcing people to participate in pits when they just don't want to be there.
Most moshing takes place in front of mosh-friendly bands, obviously, but there could be (and has been) moshing at everything from Bob Dylan through to Johnny Cash. Mosh-friendly bands (punk, metal, hardcore, etc.) encourage it and can be quite informative about different mosh cultures, such as the difference between Japanese moshers and English ones. I spoke with Joey from Slipknot about that. NYC punk bands, some of whom have seen moshing since it was invented, relate very much to the moshpit part of their audience. Musicians who want to be listened to, to have their artistic or musical skills paid attention to, can be annoyed by the bovine desire of some people to mosh no matter how inappropriate the context.
If you've never gone moshing, do so. Keep cool, watch out for yourself and for those around you. Listen to the music. Like Kid Rock said, 'Get into the pit and try to love someone.' Pulsate to the backbeat.
Joe Ambrose's next book, Chelsea Hotel Manhattan, is being published by Headpress.