Moshing, hardcore dancing, thrashing, slam dancing, call it what you want, moshing has been a part of live music for a long time, and has changed and evolved since its formation in the crowds of the early hardcore scene. It has gone from hardcore, to metal, to grunge, to pop punk and everywhere in between. But just how exactly does one of the most popular concert activities come to be? And just how has it evolved since then?
A Brief History of Moshing
There’s no doubt about the fact that slam dancing originated with hardcore music, and there’s also no doubt about the fact that hardcore in America comes from the Washington DC scene in the ’80s. When it comes to live music, no scene has ever topped the aggressive, angry, and violent shows from the heyday of American hardcore music. What set bands like Minor Threat, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, and Bad Brains apart was not their musicianship or vocal talent; it was their attitude. An attitude which translated to the atmosphere of their shows.
Moshing was simply the next step in live music when it comes to the hardcore scene. A room full of disgruntled young men listening to Ian MacKaye scream “I DON’T WANNA HEAR IT!” at them aren’t just going to sit still and listen.The pushing, jumping, and fighting soon morphed into the art of moshing, crowd surfing, and stage diving.
As true hardcore began to wane, various subgenres emerged, such as thrash metal, which combines elements of hardcore and punk with the musicianship and speed of metal. Bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Exodus, Slayer, and others brought thrash to the forefront of the scene, focusing on speed and graphic lyrics about death and destruction. The aggressive and lightning-fast nature of thrash lent itself perfectly to the crowd mentality of the hardcore scene.
Suddenly, thrash exploded all around the country, spreading out from the Bay Area and New York scenes, and soon bands like Anthrax were playing on MTV. With the popularity of thrash blowing up, moshing came with it, taking it out of the basement shows and garages of hardcore and bringing it to the big arena shows that bands like Metallica started playing when thrash ruled the world. Anthrax, often considered one of the “Big Four” of thrash metal, even released a song titled “Caught In A Mosh” which officially lifted the taboo and turned moshing into a fun thing to do at a metal concert.
Naturally, music evolved once again after thrash, moving on to to the Seattle-based grunge scene, which, just like thrash, soon spread worldwide. Moshing began as an expression of emotion in the hardcore scene, but was now becoming a staple of all types of rock shows in many different genres, nearly as common as the guitar solo.
Crowd surfing and stage diving followed as well, with many grunge frontmen tossing themselves into a sea of fans to be carried around while singing. While guys like Henry Rollins had been punching fans since the early days, now grunge rockers were getting in on the fun, moshing with fans and fighting bouncers.
Again, as per the natural order of music, grunge died out too, but moshing and crowd surfing did not. For the rest of the 90’s, moshing thrived in genres like nu metal, death metal, and pop punk. However, more and more, bands were coming out in opposition to moshing. The Smashing Pumpkins famously opposed the act, with singer Bill Corgan addressing the crowd in 1996 by stating:
I just want to say one thing to you, you young, college lughead-types. I’ve been watchin’ people like you sluggin’ around other people for seven years. And you know what? It’s the same shit. I wish you’d understand that in an environment like this, and in a setting 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!
Even hardcore bands like Fugazi, made up of former members of Minor Threat, opposed slam dancing at their concerts, going so far as to chastise members of the audience for getting a little too rowdy. Despite the concern of many musicians in the scene, moshing didn’t die, it barely even calmed down. Shows like the Vans Warped Tour created the perfect atmosphere for moshers looking to let out some aggression to the best punk music.
With the introduction of metalcore, deathcore, and a new wave of hardcore, moshing began to change. What was once a pit of chaos and violence was now being transformed into a dance floor of sorts for kids executing carefully prepared arm swings and Karate Kid style air kicks.
Moshing, in it’s truest form at the formation of the American hardcore scene, is surely dead in the mainstream music world of shows like Warped Tour and Bamboozle. In fact, Warped Tour recently banned the act altogether, putting up signs asking attendees to refrain from moshing and crowd surfing. Similarly, the attitude that created moshing is simply no longer present in popular music today, and you’ll find it extremely difficult to slam dance to Mayday Parade.
There are still some hints of the classic scene that come through every once in a while. Audience members causing bloody brawls and the “wall of death” is still going strong at many metal shows. And who could forget a recent incident involving a security guard and Parker Cannon of The Story So Far.
While moshing may be dead, it’s safer, more enjoyable cousin crowd surfing is still a staple of many shows of every genre, so don’t worry, you won’t have to just stand in place or practice flailing dance moves in your basement to enjoy yourself at a show. In fact, the death of moshing is something that has helped usher in an age of tolerance in a music scene which no longer puts up with “tough guy” bullies pushing around everyone smaller than them while they try to enjoy their favorite band.
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