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Photo courtesy of Thrash Hits

Not a drunken bar fight nor kickboxing, but somewhere between the two there lies the Holy Grail of fighting: the mosh pit. For those who don’t know, mosh pits can be found at most rock concerts and are circles wherein the people moshing are punching and shoving each other around.

There is punching, falling, bruises, and if you’re unlucky you could get broken bones. But all of these are worth it and are sometimes the entire point of entering the pit.

For people who are unfamiliar with heavy music, the mosh pit seems ridiculous. More often than not, I’m met with the stunned gaze and the familiar question of, “How is that fun to you?” And honestly, the need for an explanation is more confusing for me than anything. Objectively, I can see how the thought of getting shoved around by a bunch of sweaty strangers doesn’t seem all that appealing. Getting hurt in such large volumes while trying to enjoy a band is a very different experience than one might have at the same concert from a seat.

My first concert was Linkin Park’s A Thousand Suns Tour on February 22, 2011. I was fourteen and full of angst, so Linkin Park (still one of my favorite bands) was the perfect first concert experience. I saw them at the Shark Tank (the HP Pavillon, or what is now the SAP Center) in San Jose. I was in the first row of the second deck in the pavilion, leaving me able to see everything but more of a bystander rather than a participant. Seeing the floor, I always imagined what it would be like to be in the middle of the pit I could see open throughout the night. What I wouldn’t have given to be in the action.

I wouldn’t be in my first pit until 2014 during the Van’s Warped Tour. Granted, this experience wasn’t the typical “first pit” story, but nonetheless I was quite literally thrown into my love of moshing. I was at one of the larger stages with a band I don’t remember playing, and the singer said everyone’s favorite words at a hardcore concert, “Open the fuckin’ pit.” But he didn’t want a mosh pit. No, he wanted a circle pit. The largest of the day. And when a singer at a concert tells you to do something, you do it with no questions asked. Singers on a stage have more power over people than any elected official could ever hope to achieve.

As the circle pit opened up (everyone running counter-clockwise in a circle that slowly expanded) and reached at least a ten foot diameter, I felt the need to be part of it, the same need I’d felt at previous concerts. This man, your stereotypical large biker dude who was at least six and a half feet tall, picked me up and physically threw me into the pit… and I was off. Thrashing around with a bunch of sweaty strangers in the June heat. I’d been waiting thirteen years for that moment. At the tender age of four, I found myself head banging along to songs in the front seat of my grandpa’s faded red pick up truck. It was his initial push towards the action that lead me up to every moment of punching someone in the face.

Sometimes there is a physical response to anger or deep seated emotion. When you feel something so deeply within yourself, there are so few outlets. Some people turn to self-harm, others to drugs. Writing doesn’t cut it every time… but the mosh pit… the mosh pit is a place where you can leave every fiber of your being and your anger and all of your pent up emotions that nobody else will fucking understand and leave exhausted. You push someone, and it’s okay. For once you don’t have to apologize for anything because it’s okay. If you fall, someone will help you back up only to shove you again, but you keep going. There is a sense of community with these other people because they too feel exactly as angry as you in the moment and it’s beautiful. It is a small community created and disbanded in a matter of hours.

One of the goals of music is to make you feel something. Good songs can make you feel something in your body as well as your spirit and/or mind. In this sound of music™, those feelings use anger as a channel. From the breakdowns to the screaming vocals, this music can awaken a rage and a power within you that you might not have known was there. Sure, it’s part adrenaline, but it taps into a part of ourselves we can’t otherwise get away with expressing in the machine we’re all part of. Identity is something expected to be thrown to the wayside in favor of being productive members of society, and it leaves a lot of people struggling to break away from that, which is where that music comes in.

It teaches us to give a big “fuck you” to society and be your own person. Being my own person always proved to be difficult in my family. Though they love me, there is no denying I am vastly different from them in a lot of their opinions, so keeping my identity and ideas to myself was–and still is–the best way to maintain relationships with them. Despite that falling to the wayside in recent years as I was forced into adulthood, it’s been easier to bite my tongue in most conversations than argue with the brick walls that they can become; coming from a family full of conservatives and being way more liberal than they are has been a challenge in itself without trying to hold space for discussions nobody but me wants to have.

But even beyond interpersonal relationships, anger stems from society. Angry about racism? Get in the pit. Did you get your ass kicked at school today? Get in the pit. Is your mental health spiraling and you don’t know what to do about it? Get in the pit. It’s a solution that gets brushed off as a bunch of whiny and/or immature guys, but there is space for so many people in mosh pits. It’s not the most constructive solution, but I personally know three different people (myself included) who have turned to mosh pits instead of self-harming. It’s a safe (and by safe I mean nobody is going to get angry at you in particular) space for someone to turn all of their inward anger, no matter what it’s about, and expel it out into the world.
Aggressive music had been a home for me in a way that I couldn’t find in a community around me that felt safe. It started in middle school when everything was shitty. We all remember seventh grade: you’re awful and everyone else around you is even more awful. My anger, however, did not dissipate after those years. In fact it only grew, becoming more about the realities of the world around me more so than my own frustrations (though they still played a large part). There are people who get paid to be angry…and isn’t that the real American Dream?