Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The best fun you can have standing up

Moshing is the best fun you can have standing up. For those who don't know what moshing is, it takes place in mosh pits at metal or punk concerts, or other concerts that are of the heavier sorts of music such as grindcore or crustpunk. You will see footage of people down the front near the stage, fighting and grappling and jostling and shoving and stage diving and dancing. Mostly they are young and male. There are pictures at the bottom of this post. It looks fierce because it is.

Earlier this year I went to see seminal death metal band Suffocation, from the US, and their excellent support band Decapitated from Poland. Also playing were local band Blindfolded and Led to the Woods. This was my first ever death metal concert. I was there in my borrowed Absu t shirt, black jeans and Docs, and prepared to rock out. The venue had a balcony at the back and I stood and watched the moshing below. Here are photos of the bands.

After a few minutes I figured it was governed by algorithms.

The flocking of birds (called, so beautifully, a murmuration in the case of crows) is governed by algorithms. There is no bird in charge, no bird says 'Hey guys., let's take to the skies'. Mathematical energy builds, and then the flock takes off. The mathematics governing steam arising from a cup of coffee is called Brownian Motion (a name which amused me greatly when I was about 11) and it is also an algorithm. The maths eludes me, and I wonder at times if the appeal of algorithms is just that it is so incredibly groovy and explains things in a manner that allows for heaps of fuzz and imagination. Like I don't know what fractals are, really, but they sure are pretty.

Regardless, it struck me that I could make sense of the mosh pit if I saw it as an entity in itself, rather than just a mass of individuals behaving strangely. I watched as it pooled and flowed, and grew and dispersed, and there seemed to be a core of people who were there all the time, and others who came and went around them like the arms of a whirlpool. Hold my bag, I said to my friends, I am going in.

Because I have a low centre of gravity (i.e. I am very short) I was able to work my way into the pit easily, basically by knocking out people's legs. All those sweaty young black clad bodies. The atmosphere was dense and wild. Soon I was in the thick of it, right up at the stage, in the jostling throng.At least, I jostled, and the young men jostled back, and then they looked down at me, and being decent fellows, decided they could not really knock me around any. That meant that I effectively shut down the mosh every time I shoved someone, so I stopped. Kind young men made way for me and I found myself jammed up against the stage. If you see footage of these gigs, there is always a row of people right up against the stage, throwing the Horns and head banging. That was me. I was flung right onto the amp, bashed by a tide of bodies; the tide would crash against me and I would shove it back in order to keep standing.

Now, my other reason for going in, apart from to investigate the notion of algorithms, was to consider the possibility that moshing could alter my state of consciousness. Rock gigs are magic. The energy created is literal magic and could be used by someone who knows their shit, I suspect. It certainly was a wonderfully visceral way of understanding the music, especially that of Decapitated, who just hurl forth into the ether this powerful grinding background bass reminiscent of Sibelius. I really like Decapitated! I enjoyed myself immensely. There was a highlight for me when the vocalist from Suffocation bent all the way down and shook my hand. But the coolest thing was when there was a bit of a quiet patch, and one of the young men next to me shouted to me that I was 'metal as fuck', which under the circumstances I take to be a compliment.