From Eden Burning to Gethsemane Rose, British Christian rock bands are energetically moshing and stage diving. Tony Cummings avoids the flying bodies to report on the phenomenon.
Steve Taylor gave us the immortal "On The Moshing Floor". Seemingly every Christian rock band seriously wanting to avoid being dubbed softies has experienced a mosh or stage diving sometime. And for many straighter, older Christians the whole phenomena has passed them by.
So first off the history lesson: Moshing first emerged in the 1970s at punk rock gigs, only then it was called "slam dancing". It is a swirling, frenzied style of dancing done in the "mosh pit", a mass of sweaty bodies careering and hurling against each other in a chaotic circle. Later, speed and thrash metal fans picked up the pace and added "stage diving" (which is just like it sounds: fans taking a flying leap off the stage into the crowd, hoping someone will catch them) and "floating" or "body surfing" (in which people are passed over the heads of the crowd by hand). Kids have been moshing for years at clubs and concerts wherever punk, metal and alternative rock bands are playing.
All of this could be dismissed as just another disgusting, pagan practice, more proof to the anti-rock brigade that the music and mindlessness-cum-violence were inseparably linked. But moshing/stage diving also began to occur in the gigs of Christian heavy metal, thrash and alternative bands.
As pastor of the Sanctuary Church in San Diego (a church originally designed to minister to heavy metal fans) Dave Hart has had many discussions and debates with youth pastors and youth workers on the subject of moshing. Recently he wrote in Media Update, "I was one of the few who actually supported a 'manageable mosh' at Christian rock concerts. I didn't see the ungodly, angry violence that so many others complained about. In most Christian concerts, I observed a friendly tussle that was no more dangerous or aggressive than the games of touch football or backyard 'contact' basketball that I'd seen played by many church youth groups.
"For the most part, I saw moshing at Christian shows as a fierce form of male bonding for young men trying to relate to their peers. It was also a means of relating to the non-Christians who came to the shows. By allowing them this familiar practice, they were more open to hearing the Gospel in a context they could understand and enjoy.
"But over the last few years, the mood of moshing has begun to change and I'm having second thoughts about it. In the first place, moshing has become increasingly violent over time. A mosh pit at a Los Angeles secular concert last year produced three broken legs and three broken arms (Chicago Tribune, 7/18/94). A 15 year old boy sustained serious injuries with a broken neck when he was dropped while "body surfing" at a Lollapalooza show this summer (Associated Press, 8/9/94). At a Mötorhead concert in England last June, a 21 year old man died from head injuries he sustained while stage diving (Kerrang!, 8/94). And there are countless other unreported injuries. It's as if they need to feel physical pain just to make sure they are still alive. Then they can go back to being numb again.
"This increased violence is spilling over into Christian moshing as well. The excuse for moshing continues to be that it's a great release of energy and aggression. But is anyone really getting rid of anger or aggressive feelings this way? Just the opposite seems to be happening. Kids are having such a good time being angry in the pit; they can't wait until the next concert to get angry and aggressive all over again. This means that moshing is actually reinforcing their aggressions, rather than releasing them."
Dave Williams, who was once the manager of Christian thrash metal band Seventh Angel and now runs Meltdown Ministries, has his own horror story of a mosh going badly wrong. "There was one Seventh Angel gig when a bloke in the mosh pit fractured his skull. There he was, covered in blood, saying what a fantastic time he'd had and what a fantastic band Seventh Angel were! It was really disturbing."
Seventh Angel were determined there would be no reoccurrence. A while later, while the band were getting ready to play at the prestigious JB's rock venue, the very same fan was spotted going in. Word was passed back to the Seventh Angel prayer bus. Remembers Dave Williams, "They prayed that angels would be in the crowd preventing people from hurting themselves. When the gig started this bloke kept on trying to get into the mosh. Every time he got to the edge of the mosh he was shoved back. He just couldn't get in there. Eventually he gave up and went and sat at the bar all evening! That situation really brought home to me the need to cover everything in prayer - including the behaviour of the crowd."
Dave has mixed feelings about moshing. "Usually if there's any trouble it's just one or two nutcases spoiling it for everyone else. What we do at Christian events like Meltdown where there may be a mosh is have some heavyweight stewards at the edge prepared to wade in and fish out anybody who's TOO aggressive or who's in danger of hurting themselves or somebody else. At Meltdown two years ago I fished out a lad wearing studded armbands. With those on he was obviously in danger of hurting someone."
Dave Williams' qualified acceptance of some steward-controlled moshing is not going far enough for the Sanctuary's Dave Hart. He believes moshing has now gone too far to be acceptable behaviour for Christians.
"The truth is that moshing is losing any meaning or value it once had. Oh, it's still possible to have a friendly, fun mosh. But real bonding takes place when people get honest and vulnerable with each other. Moshing is rampant with physical contact, but completely void of emotional contact. It promotes a fantasy of macho invulnerability and sweaty escape. As Soul Asylum sings in "Runaway Train": 'I'm out of touch - just a little insane/But it's easier than dealin' with the pain!' Real relationships don't happen in the pit.
"Moshing may release aggressions for awhile, but it never deals with the true roots of anger in their lives. Young people must learn how to forgive their families, themselves and others, and truly reconcile with Christ. Otherwise, they will just go on building up more anger for the next mosh and never find true peace. And the kind of unresolved turmoil this produces within is truly from the Pit."
Brandon Pilling of Bolton metal band Crucifer sees no problem with moshing. "When we do a gig and a mosh starts we feel the gig is going well. It's what happens at a non-Christian gig and it's a sign to the band that they like you. They won't mosh if they don't like you."
What about stage diving? Interestingly, although this appears less potentially dangerous than moshing (unless of course the crowd conspire to move out the way and leave the diving musician or fan to hit the vacated floor space!) Dave Williams is opposed to it. "As a concert promoter, I feel you're losing control once people are climbing on the stage to dive off. We always have stewards to stop people climbing on stage."
But what if the band themselves do the stage diving? Crucifer's Brandon Pilling comments, "We don't have a problem with stage diving, in fact at the first gig we ever played we were involved in it! There was an incredible vibe that night and diving into the crowd just expressed how good we felt!"
Andy Mears, of metal band Gethsemane Rose, sees no real problem with stage diving. "We're pleased when stage diving occurs only if there's a good crowd at the front. We were at a Why? concert recently and there was a lot of stage diving going on. But it was getting a little out of hand and one or two people weren't getting caught properly. So Why? got them to stop, pointing out that someone might get hurt. They handled the situation really well."
The final word on the moshing/stage diving debate goes to Dave Williams. "It's easy for Christians to insist that everyone who listens to thrash or hardcore should be sitting quietly, sipping Lucozade, but it's entirely unrealistic. Exciting music produces excitement, and a mosh, though I would emphasise again, a SAFE mosh, is for some an expression of that excitement. Now of course people will quote the Scripture that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit and we shouldn't put them in any situation that can, however remotely, be dangerous. But if we followed the same argument those of us who live in cities wouldn't go out because the air is so polluted! There has to be a balance in these things."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.