|Late 1970s, Huntington Beach and Long Beach, California, United States
Moshing (also known as slam dancing or simply slamming) is an extreme style of dancing in which participants push or slam into each other. Taking place in an area called the mosh pit (or simply the pit), it is typically performed to aggressive styles of live music such as punk rock and heavy metal.
The dance style originated in the southern California hardcore punk scene, particularly Huntington Beach and Long Beach around 1978. Through the 1980s it spread to the hardcore scenes of Washington, D.C., Boston and New York where it developed local variants. In New York, the crossover between the city's hardcore scene and its metal scene led to moshing incorporating itself into metal beginning around 1985. In the 1990s, the success of grunge music led to moshing entering mainstream understanding and soon being incorporated into genres like electronic dance music and hip hop.
Due to its violence, moshing has been subject to controversy, with a number of concert venues banning the practice, and some musicians being arrested for encouraging it and concertgoers for participating.
The name "mosh" originates from the word "mash". While performing their song "Banned in D.C." in either 1979 or 1980, H.R., vocalist of Washington D.C. hardcore band the Bad Brains, shouted "mash it - mash down Babylon!" Because of his faux Jamaican accent, some audience members heard this as "mosh it - mosh down Babylon". Beginning around 1983, metalheads began to refer to the slower sections of hardcore songs as "mosh parts", while hardcore musicians had called them "skank parts". Once Stormtroopers of Death released their debut album Speak English or Die in 1985, which included the track "Milano Mosh", the term began being applied to the style of dance. The term was then further popularised by Anthrax's 1987 song "Caught in a Mosh".
The direct predecessor to moshing was the pogo, a style of dance done in the 1970s English punk rock scene, in which crowds members would jump up and down while holding their arms beside them. According to The Filth and the Fury, it was invented by Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious in 1976.
As a prominent punk rock scene in Southern California began to form in the late 1970s and early 1980s with early hardcore punk groups like Fear and Black Flag, moshing as it is understood today began to develop, originally termed "slam dancing". Participants in slam dancing at this time modified the pogo by bringing additional physical contact to those around them by pushing and running, as well introducing the idea of a recognised area where it takes place called a "pit". According to Steven Blush's book American Hardcore: A Tribal History (2001), there is a common belief amongst those involved in this scene that the dance was invented by former US army marine Mike Marine in 1978. His specific style, involving "strutting around in a circle, swinging your arms and hitting everyone within reach", would go on to be termed "the Huntington Beach Strut". The Orange County Register writer Tom Berg credited, Costa Mesa venue, the Cuckoo's Nest (1976–1981) as the "birthplace of slam dancing". Examples of this early moshing were featured in the documentaries Another State of Mind, Urban Struggle, the Decline of Western Civilization, and American Hardcore. Fear's 1981 musical performance on Saturday Night Live also helped to expose moshing to a much wider audience.
By 1981, slam dancing had become the predominant style of crowd interaction in the southern California scene, as Huntington Beach and Long Beach became the scene's heart. Washington, D.C. band the Teen Idles toured California in August 1980, where they were first exposed to slam dancing. Upon returning home, they introduced the practice to the Washington, D.C., hardcore scene. That particular scene took a more chaotic approach to slam dancing and saw an increase in stage diving, whereas in the Boston hardcore scene slam dancing became violent and incorporated punching below the neck, developing a style called the "Boston thrash" or "punching penguins". Another development in the Boston scene was "pig piles" in which one person was pushed to the ground and others would begin to pile on top of them. This originated during a D.O.A. set, which was initiated by SSD guitarist Al Barile. The New York hardcore scene of the mid-1980s, modified this early slam dancing into an additional, more violent style. In their distinction, participants may stay in one position on their own or collide with others, while executing a more exaggerated version of the arm and leg swinging of California slam dancing.
As fans of heavy metal music began to attend New York hardcore performances, they developed their own style of dancing based on New York hardcore's style of slam dancing. It was this group, particularly Scott Ian and Billy Milano who popularised the word "moshing". Ian and Milano's band Stormtroopers of Death released their debut album Speak English or Die in 1985, which included the track "Milano Mosh". This led to the term being applied to the style of dance. The same year, moshing began to incorporate itself into live performances by heavy metal bands, with one early example being during Anthrax's 1985 set at the Ritz.
Moshing entered mainstream consciousness with the rise of grunge in the early 1990s. Grunge becoming the dominant force in rock music, brought with it aspects of genres like hardcore, punk and ska, and in turn, pop culture became aware of the mosh pit. This was exacerbated by the success of Lollapalooza, which began in 1991 as a touring festival. In his book Festivals: A Music Lover's Guide to the Festivals You Need To Know, writer Oliver Keens stated that "Lollapalooza's greatest impact was to expose Middle America to the joys of stage-diving and moshing...You can see Lollapalooza's legacy in the way mosh pits have become an integral part of youth culture; beyond rock and metal". By 1992, the practice had become so common that concertgoers began to mosh to non-aggressive rock bands like the Cranberries.
Moshing slowly entered hip hop during live performances by the Beastie Boys, who began as a hardcore punk band before adopting the hip hop style they became known for. During Public Enemy and Ice-T's European tour in the late 1980s, the artists witnessed moshing during their performances, which was still not commonplace during hip hop concerts. The 1991 collaboration song Bring the Noise by thrash metal band Anthrax and hip hop group Public Enemy led to a number of mixed genre tours, which brought metal's moshing to the attention of hip hop fans. This was solidified as a part of hip hop by Onyx's 1993 single "Slam", a song which alluded to slam dancing and had a music video featuring moshing. Following the video's release, pits became increasingly common during performances by hip hop artists including Busta Rhymes, M.O.P. and the Wu-Tang Clan.
Moshing has been present during electronic dance music performance since at least 1996, with the Prodigy's performance at Endfest. By 1999, moshing had become commonplace during techno performances, especially hardcore techno. At late 1990s parties such as New York's H-Bomb, Milwaukee's Afternoon Delight and Los Angeles' Twilight, attendees inverted the intellectualism and PLUR credo which permeated electronic music genres, like intelligent dance music, earlier in the decade, by incorporating crowd participation acts similar to those found at hardcore punk, metal and goth performances. In the 2010s, the success of Skrillex and his "DJ as rock star" attitude brought moshing into mainstream dance music.
The 2010s saw the rise of a number of hip hop artists who used an "anarchic energy", which some critics at the time compared to that of punk. These artists, notably A$AP Mob, Odd Future and Danny Brown, revived moshing in mainstream hip hop, which led to pits becoming a staple of performances in the genre. Amongst this era, Travis Scott's performances became particularly notable for their violet combination of moshing and crowd surfing, which he called "raging". Scott was arrested in 2015 and 2017 for inciting riots after encouraging these actions, with the latter event leading to an attendee being partially paralyzed. However, the most infamous example of this at his concerts was the 2021 Astroworld Festival crowd crush, which left 25 hospitalized and 10 dead.
Researchers from Cornell University studied the emergent behavior of crowds at mosh pits by analyzing online videos, finding similarities with models of 2-D gases in equilibrium. Simulating the crowds with computer models, they found out that a simulation dominated by flocking parameters produced highly ordered behavior, forming vortices like those seen in the videos.
While moshing is seen by some as a form of positive fan feedback or expression of enjoyment, it has also drawn criticism over dangerous excesses in its violence. Injuries and even deaths have been reported in the crush of mosh pits.
The American post-hardcore band Fugazi opposed slamdancing at their live shows. Members of Fugazi were reported to single out and confront specific members of the audience, politely asking them to stop hurting other audience members, or hauling them on stage to apologize on the microphone.
Consolidated, an industrial dance group of the 1990s, stood against moshing. On their third album, Play More Music, they included the song "The Men's Movement", which proclaimed the inappropriate nature of slamdancing. The song consisted of audio recordings during concerts from the audience and members of Consolidated, arguing about moshing.
In the 1990s, the Smashing Pumpkins took a stance against moshing, following two incidents which resulted in fatalities. At a 1996 Pumpkins concert in Dublin, Ireland, 17-year-old Bernadette O'Brien was crushed by moshing crowd members and later died in the hospital, despite warnings from the band that people were getting hurt. At another concert, singer Billy Corgan said to the audience:
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!
Another fan died at a Smashing Pumpkins concert in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on September 24, 2007. The 20-year-old man was dragged out of the mosh pit, unconscious, to be pronounced dead at a hospital after first-aid specialists attempted to save him.
Reel Big Fish's 1998 album Why Do They Rock So Hard? included their mosh-criticizing song "Thank You for Not Moshing", which contained lyrics that suggested that at least some individuals in the mosh pit were simply bullies who were finding conformity in the violence.
Mike Portnoy, founder and drummer of Dream Theater, and Avenged Sevenfold where he briefly filled in after the death of The Rev, criticized moshing in an interview published on his website:
I think our audience have become a little bit more attentive and less of that type of [mosh] mentality [...] I understand you want to release that energy... [but] once people start doing that during "Through Her Eyes" it gets ridiculous [...] So this time around we're consciously aiming at theaters that people can actually sit down and enjoy the show and be comfortable [...] without having to worry about their legs falling off or being kicked in the face by a Mosh Pit. So [that] will probably eliminate that problem anyway.
Sixteen-year-old Jessica Michalik was an Australian girl who died as a result of asphyxiation after being crushed in a mosh pit during the 2001 Big Day Out festival during a performance by nu metal band Limp Bizkit. At that same festival, post-hardcore band At the Drive-In ended their set early after only three songs due to the audience's moshing.
Joey DeMaio of American heavy metal band Manowar has been known to temporarily stop concerts upon seeing moshing and crowd surfing, claiming it is dangerous to other fans.
Former Slipknot percussionist Chris Fehn spoke about the state of audience interaction following the onstage incident and subsequent legal issues involving Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe, who was eventually found not guilty of criminal wrongdoing in the death of a concertgoer, despite being held "morally responsible". Fehn briefly addressed the Blythe situation, stating "I think, especially in America, moshing has turned into a form of bullying. The big guy stands in the middle and just trucks any small kid that comes near him. They don’t mosh properly anymore. It sucks because that’s not what it’s about. Those guys need to be kicked out. A proper mosh pit is a great way to be as a group and dance, and just do your thing."
Then there was the song "Banned in D.C." — at the end of which the Brains would switch the gears of their revolutionary sound, causing the whole house to drastically change their slam tempo. Well, it was at some point in either late 1979 or early 1980 that H.R. of the Bad Brains yelled a Rasta/reggae inspired "mash it-mash down Babylon!" Add a little Jamaican accent to the mix and the untrained ear hears "mosh it-mosh down Babylon."
Then," says Martin, "the metal clowns started calling them 'mosh pits', the slow parts where everybody would dance harder in hardcore songs. When I was playing in Agnostic Front and I would write a slow part or whatever, those guys would be like, Oh, that's a good skank part. And then the metal people started calling them mosh parts." The word emerged into common New York parlance around '83/'84.
Alternatively the term may have been coined by Anthrax or SOD (Stormtroopers Of Death), an Anthrax affiliated project whose 'Milano Mosh' was an influential track. New York rock publicist Trevor Silmser recalls: "What made the word popular was in '85 this group SOD put out a record and had a song called 'Milano Mosh' and that was a pretty big crossover record, basically getting tons of metal kids into hardcore." Billy Milano from SOD says that although there was a certain period during which people stopped calling it slamming and started calling it moshing, it was SOD and not Anthrax that actually started it.
Scott Ian of Anthrax, who also plays in SOD with Milano, gives the credit to the more commercial of his two bands: "The first time I saw moshing at a metal show was when Anthrax played the old Ritz in early '85 and a pit opened up. So yeah I can definitely say, as far as I know, we definitely brought it out into the world of heavy metal. Sadly I would have to take some responsibility for that.
Slamdancing is a style of dance which originated in the United States in the punk rock subculture of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is a modification of the early punk 'pogo' dance. Slamdancing brought increased body contact to the original pogo...
The pit is not an explicitly marked off area, but pits usually form in front of the stage where a band is playing. Occasionally (usually at shows in larger venues), more than one pit will break out in various parts of the crowd. Although 'the pit' refers to an area, a pit only exists if people are dancing in it...
Slamdancing involves fast movement. Often, this movement takes the form of everyone in the pit running counter-clockwise, occasionally slamming into each other. The dance involves some arm-swinging, but it is usually just one arm (most often the right one) in motion. When dancers are running counter-clockwise, the swinging of the right arm serves a double function. On the one hand, it allows dancers to slam into people and then quickly push them away, and on the other, it helps dancers gain momentum while running in a counter-clockwise circle. Sometimes, however, slamdancers do not run in a circle, but rather move in a more 'run-and-collide' fashion, simply throwing themselves into the part of the pit where the most people are gathered, slamming into each other
Slamdancing arose in Southern California towns like Huntington Beach and Long Beach. According to lore, Mike Marine (former US Marine and star of the film The Decline Of Western Civilization) performed the first slamdance in 1978. Mike created a vicious version of punk dancing, smashing the face of anyone who'd get near him — especially some fucking hippie, who'd get pulverized. Kids called it "The Huntington Beach Strut" or "The HB Strut" — strutting around in a circle, swinging your arms and hitting everyone within reach. Slamdancing proved significant because it separated the kids from the "posers."
Lee Ving (Fear): Right around the time of our first album, around 1981, it changed from the pogo bullshit into the real slam stuff. Pogoing was just jumping up and down. It was less interactive, more benign. The focus changed from Hollywood toward the beaches, and the idea of speed and the slam pit had its birth. We started playing as fast as you could fucking think and the crowd would go as berserk, pounding the shit out of each other in the pit. It was good sportsmanship and all about working up a good sweat
They came back from the West Cost with this thing they got from Huntington Beach. Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins definitely filtered that through their own ideas, but wearing bandanas around your boots and the slam dancing came from the Teen Idles going out to L.A. [sic] There's no question.
Kids in the pit jumped on each other in "pig-piles." This unique local pastime, like the scene itself, often turned into a scary mess. At some point they'd throw some kid onstage and pigpile him right there. There'd be as many as twenty kids — stacked up so high they'd touch the lights — crushing those on the bottom.
Al Barile: It's a Boston thing. I think I was the first person to push someone down and start the pile. This D.O.A. show at The Underground was the first pigpile I remember. It got so crazy the drummer trashed his kit and jumped on top of the pile...
"Straight Edge" Hank Peirce (Boston scene): Boston was much more violent than slamming I'd seen anywhere else. We described it as "punching penguins." It had a name — "The Boston Thrash." New York had that big circle-storm thing. DC wasn't as organized — more chaotic with more diving. LA was the king of running in circles with no sense of rhythm to it. When you watched The Decline Of Western Civilization you said, "That's slamdancing!" But Boston really changed things.
The dancefloor action could turn savage but it was never about hits above the shoulders or blatant shots to the face. There were plenty of bloody or broken noses, but after knocking someone down, you'd bend over and pick them up.
Much like slamdancing was a modification of the pogo, moshing emerged in the mid-1980s as a variation on slamdancing...
In contrast to slamdancing, moshing lacks the elements, such as circular pit motion, which promote unity in the pit. The development of moshing in New York City in the 1980s even saw the partial breakdown of the convention of picking up fallen dancers, as pit violence increased. New York City straight edge shows became legendary for their brutality...
Moshers keep their bodies more bent over and compacted, and they swing either both arms or just one (usually the right) arm around across the body in a move that one of my interviewees called 'the death swing'. This swinging of the arm(s) in moshing is far more theatrical and exaggerated than in slamdancing. If a mosher swings only one arm, the non-swinging arm is kept ready to provide some guard against collisions with other moshers. The dancers often stand in a stationary position while performing these moves, but sometimes they run into other people inside and on the edge of the pit. To do so, dancers generally just move to where there are other dancers clustered and colliding with each other and join in the collision. This run-and-collide style of moshing can be distinguished from the style of slamdancing which also involves running and colliding by the more exaggerated body movements in moshing. Moshers do not move in counter-clockwise group motion...
Compared with slamming, the fundamental body movements of moshing, such as the more violent swinging of the arms, the more violent body contact, and the lack of group motion place even greater emphasis on individual territoriality over community. Whereas the bodily motion of swinging arms and high-stepping legs has remained the traditional motion of slamdancing since it first emerged, moshing has seen the introduction of new moves such as jumping karate kicks.
Mike Schnapp (NYHC scene): In 1985, I started hearing a new word: Moshing. It was a Metal word from Billy Milano and Scott Ian of S.O.D., and was a new term for a similar thing I knew as slamdancing in the Punk world. Some of the Metal kids showing up at the Hardcore shows didn't understand the nuances of the scene. They saw kids banging into each other and just joined in. So some of the Hardcore crew didn't like the Metal crowd at "their" shows. You took your life in your hands if you were one of the lone longhairs at a CBGB's matinee. That's when things got rough, and the violence really messed things up. People lost focus. It used to be about the bands and the music. It started one way and ended another"
Out of Seattle came a wave of rock bands who played no part in the cock-rock circuit on which the likes of Def Leppard and Whitesnake were cleaning up. Nirvana, in particular, became the most commercially successful punk band of all time. Jeff Inman, writing in the Las Vegas Weekly, said that, "Suddenly pop culture wasn't dominated by guys just thinking with their Johnsons. Men like Cobain, Eddie Vedder, and Billy Corgan helped rock move up the spinal cord from the crotch to the brain."...
The mainstream of rock was invaded once more by junkies, layabouts, girly boys, and righteous deviants from the norm. Between '90 and '95 disenfranchised fringe-scene punks wiped out lucrative pomp rock and replaced it with the myriad genres within which mosh pits as we know them emerged and exploded. Hardcore, skacore, grindcore, emo, straight edge, punk, punk pop, were just some of the genres that swamped and replaced cock rock.
But perhaps Lollapalooza's greatest impact was to expose Middle America to the joys of stage-diving and moshing. Born in punk clubs and hardcore venues, they went national when Lollapalooza's audiences moshed in the beloved national parks and sports arenas of George Bush Snr's America. It was so new and perplexing to staff in each city that, as Jobson pointed out, 'We were having to educate security guys to not smash kids' faces in. They had never experienced anything like this before, to get kids out from a barricade and seat them off to the sides and give them water. You can see Lollapalooza's legacy in the way mosh pits have become an integral part of youth culture; beyond rock and metal, they're now firmly de rigueur in rap, too.
By the end of 1991, America was ready to throw down in the pit, not sway back and forth on its heels. Moshing became so common that it even happened at Cranberries' concerts, during "Linger." The Irish band even set aside their folk-ish, dreamy pop long enough to write their grunge-y "Zombie" anthem, appeasing the flanneled masses.
Collins persuaded half of those leaving to return. "It just went off. It was the first time I'd seen [electronica] work with grunge kids. It was an amazing moment for these kids who all of a sudden don't know what to do... they're going to mosh because they don't really know how to dance, and the Prodigy played into it."
Techno has always been inner space music, built for dancing with yourself. But now, techno fans who really want to feel something-fear, disgust, or the occasional bloody nose-are turning to hardcore. Hardcore parties are lusty, sloppy, and fiendishly hedonistic-like pure, old-fashioned rock'n'roll. "A lot of people have tried to prove that beer doesn't go with techno," snickers Matt Bonde, editor of the Milwaukee fanzine Massive, the bible of the scene. "But the Massive posse have proven it can and does."
After years of intellectual electronica artists preaching "good vibes" and fans talking about "unity," some ravers are acting their age: Despite their Elmo backpacks, they, too, want to get stoopid and wreck things. Full of slam-dancing, satanic imagery, and the occasional tear-gas attack, hardcore techno parties like H-Bomb, Los Angeles area's Twilight, and Milwaukee's Afternoon Delight look like ass-up inversions of the utopian club-kid credo of P.L.U.R. (Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect). Instead of emitting cool, the linebacker-shaped moshers and candy ravers who inhabit the scene embrace wretchedness in rituals that recall the moshing of straight-edge punk shows, the headbanging at speed-metal concerts, and the gloomy Lugosi boogie of a good Nitzer Ebb gig."
Skrillex's work is on some level rooted in club culture, but it's also been made with arenas and festival stages in mind places where DJs jumping on tables and whipping up massive crowds into a mosh pit-style frenzy is not just encouraged, but expected. Dance music has historically frowned on this kind of blatant "DJ as rock star" behavior—and overwrought grandiosity in general-but following a year in which even the genre's supposedly "underground" corners embraced both star worship and the caning of commercial pop tunes like never before, it makes sense that present-day Skrillex has ascended to towering new heights. EDM may have lit the spark more than a decade ago, but with Skrillex and pals leading the way, it sure feels like dance music as a genre has now entered its American Idiot phase, becoming larger than ever before despite bearing only a passing resemblance to its former self.
The two-step is also common in hardcore dancing. It is used exclusively during mid- tempo punk rock styled riffs and beats (for a good example of such a beat listen to "Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats. Much like the two step in breakdancing or country line dancing, it involves placing one foot in front of the other and hopping forward onto it, then repeated with the other foot, etc. Combined with forward thrusts by the arm opposite to the forward-stepping foot, the dance creates a sort of "running in place" illusion. The move is commonly practiced and refined to look slick or interesting. The "two step," was taken from another form of dancing known to ska music, "skanking."