[Photo by Bryce Hall]
We’ve all done it—thrown ourselves into a heaving pit of thrashing bodies at our favorite show, that is. Moshing is an integral part of the live experience at rock shows, and whether you’re still one of the first to pitch into the chaos at gigs, or you prefer to stand and watch from the safety of the back row, it isn’t going anywhere. We looked into its checkered past and found that there have been plenty of attempts to stamp it out. Mosh-related casualties gave it a bad name, but thankfully, they’re rare these days. Here’s how it all started.
Moshing started on the hardcore scene
Moshing was born in the Washington, D.C. punk scene of the early 1980s. Bad Brains would encourage the crowd to “mash,” and Rolling Stone described them as a band who “put moshing on the map,” even though, in those days, it was spelled differently. The intensity was still the same, though.
Moshing caught on film
Even though the word mosh (or mash, as it was back then) was first used on the East Coast, one of the earliest instances of full-throttle moshing being filmed happened in LA. The 1981 punk documentary The Decline Of Western Civilization captured the West Coast punk scene, spearheaded by Black Flag and Circle Jerks, and is proof that fans back then were just as crazy—if not more so—than gig-goers today.
It made its way into thrash
Anthrax’s third album, Among The Living, released in 1987, features the song “Caught In A Mosh.” By that time, zines and music publications were using the current spelling, and everyone knew what Anthrax was talking about in the song.
Smashing Pumpkins take a stand against moshing
Vocalist Billy Corgan made his feelings on moshing clear at a Chicago show in 1995, saying, “I wish you'd understand that in an environment 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!” He had a point: Moshing doesn’t come without risk, and has, unfortunately, been the cause of various concert fatalities over the years, including at Smashing Pumpkins shows. At a show in Ireland in 1996, a 17-year-old girl named Bernadette O’Brien was fatally crushed as the crowd surged toward the stage, despite Corgan and bassist D’arcy Wretzky’s warnings that fans were getting hurt.
The mosh backlash
Smashing Pumpkins weren’t the only ones with concerns about moshing. On their 1998 album Why Do They Rock So Hard? Reel Big Fish went in on mosh-pit bullies in the song “Thank You For Not Moshing.” In the cutting lyrics, they portrayed moshers as jumped-up jocks looking to pick fights with weaker concert-goers. Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy also revealed in an interview that the band preferred performing shows in sit-down theaters so people couldn’t mosh.
Warped Tour puts a ban on moshing
In 2014, signs warning crowds not to mosh or crowdsurf were displayed around Warped Tour, warning the attendees with the statement, “You get hurt, we get sued, no more Warped Tour.” They didn’t seem very stringent at making sure the crowd stuck to the rules, though, with videos showing plenty of moshing and crowdsurfing appearing on social media. Later, Warped founder Kevin Lyman explained, “This is really a reminder to be safe and take care of each other. No one has been kicked out for moshing.” So…are we allowed to mosh or not? In a series of tweets from the previous year, it seemed that Lyman was more worried about bands encouraging moshing in case anybody got injured and decided to sue, rather than crowds taking it upon themselves to mosh.
Moshing goes digital…kind of
What better way to bring moshing into the modern age than make it digital? When one Reddit user decided to make a mosh pit simulation, he probably wasn’t expecting it to go viral. But the resulting animation is so compellingly creepy that obviously, it became internet gold.