Mosh pits and crowd psychology

It’s the kind of activity that no one really comprehends. Punk, hardcore and metal shows don’t have front row seats, because that spot is reserved for dancing. Not the kind of dancing you’d see your Mum pull of at a Rihanna concert, but instead the swinging of legs and fists, headbanging and people charging at each other. Either way, just like your Mum drunkenly falling over from twerking too hard bruises are common, limbs are sore but the gig was always a great one.

Moshing is its name, coined in the late 70’s/early 80’s and named after influential Washington DC hardcore punk band Bad Brains would yell at the crowd to ‘mash’ with each other.


Other punk bands such as Black Flag and Dead Kennedys also encouraged moshing with their audiences, with criticism in effect for ‘condoning violence’. And whilst the ‘No Moshing’ sign still is visible at music festivals and venues, 30 years on, circle pits and wall of deaths are still commonplace and a blind eye turned by security.

But like most good things, where people are consenting and unwritten rules are normally followed. We have ‘crowdkillers’, who make it their mission to incite violence, and hopefully KO someone.

An example of crowdkilling is at 1.21 in the video.

You see, one rule of moshing is that you don’t attack those not in the mosh. And in the mosh, if you’re swinging arms, you don’t fucking swing THEM AT PEOPLE. Clear cut, this is violence.

I don’t care what I’ll be called by someone who loves to fight unsuspecting people, but know this, I’m not referring to ‘slam dancing’, ‘hardcore dancing’ or whatever karate-esque moves are on the floor.

Why do people mosh?

For an outsider, someone who may like the soft tones of James Blunt or the sounds of alien communication attempts by Skrillex…




They would have no clue as to why people put themselves into harm to express themselves through what can be construed as not even dancing.  James Fernandez, Professor of Anthropology and Social Sciences at the University of Chicago believes that dance is a ‘ritual of rebellion, or cathartic outlet for deviance, representing a segment of the human psyche’.

As someone who’s engaged in moshing, I can attest to Fernandez’s statement. Whilst I don’t have that ‘ritual rebellious’ angst I had aged 16, the release from headbanging or running and bumping into people in a circle pit is unexplainable with any worries and anger at something being left behind.

Mentalities and psychology behind moshing

A crowd or herd mentality, plays a major role into moshing. Crowd or herd mentality is the deindividualization of self when amongst others in a group or crowd setting, leading to a conforming of what everybody in the crowd does…


Through particular parts of songs, there may be different ‘mosh dances’ that people will engage in. During a ‘breakdown’ (first paragraph, the rest is all satire) is when people ‘slam’ the hardest with hardcore fans windmilling and karate kicking and/or other metal fans anticipating it for a ‘wall of death’, which splits the crowd only to run into each other again (so imaginative) when the breakdown finishes and the song continues.

Oh, and just a fan fact. Cornell University studied the attitudes and behaviours of moshing and concluded that moshing follows a very similar pattern to molecules found in gas:

“Moshers, as they “move randomly, colliding with one another in an undirected fashion,” seem a lot like gas particles. “It turns out that the statistical description we use for gasses matches the behaviour of people in mosh pits.

Essentially, this means that moshing is a chemical reaction and if that isn’t the most fucking metal thing ever, then I don’t know what is.


The human reaction known as the fight or flight response has also been examined in the mosh pit. The fight or flight response relates to the reaction around stressful situations and environments. Evolved from a survival mechanism from when we were still banging rocks together, in a mosh it can be observed in the way which ‘outsiders’ of moshes and those carefully watching circle pits will not be involved or those in the mosh pit will ‘slam dance’ without contact with others.

The worst case scenarios

Unfortunately, as my previous article may have pointed out, there’s going to be dickheads everywhere. For those who take it too far, such as crowdkillers, there can be serious danger. We’ve seen this at Falls Festival, which as I importantly stress was not properly secure and safe, but also crowd and herd mentality leading to the stampede incident. Sydney’s Big Day Out in which 15 year old, Jessica Michalik was crushed to death during Limp Bizkit’s set also demonstrates the hidden dangers of a mosh pit.

However, both examples listed also highlight how venues and festivals need to follow proper safety precautions when putting on a concert and the use of barriers is also vital.

Moshing is great fun though, I’d try it at least once.



Just be careful…

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