A while ago I wrote an article about attending your first metal concert, which had some ideas in it about surviving in a mosh pit and mosh pit safety. But the other day I was thinking about mosh pits from an entirely different perspective – the organisors. I wondered, how do you ensure people are safe at a concert when you know there’s going to be moshing and other somewhat violent behaviour? After all, we don’t really notice what goes on – we just show up and party. So what is done to ensure a metal show is a safe and fun environment, especially on a large, festival-sized scale?
So I thought I’d do a bit of research on the matter. And that’s how I learned about Paul Wertheimer, who is one awesome safety conscious moshing dude.
Paul Wertheimer wrote Crowd Management Strategies in 1995, and it was one of the first papers to address the problem of moshing on crowd safety. He says that for the majority of his career, the concert industry has basically blamed concertgoers for any injuries they sustain. And to a certain extent, I’d agree with that – personal responsibility for one’s own safety has to play a part. But, as Wertheimer points out, “music fans – a large segment of whom are minors – cannot be expected to be both spectators and professional crowd safety managers at the same time.” Pauls places the responsibility for crowd safety in the hands of the venue operators, promoter and enterainers, because they have a legal responsibility to establish and preserve a safe environment for patrons.
So Wertheimer’s solution was to study moshing for 2.5 years – he spent hours hanging out in mosh pits of all varieties and talking to fans about moshing at shows such as Slayer, Sepultura, Anthrax, Nirvana, Beastie Boys, Black Sabbath, Obituary, GWAR, Fear Factory and White Zombie. I’d quite like that job!
Over his moshing years, he survived more than 30 concerts in eight countries and counted 21 deaths, 4,567 injuries, 2,683 arrests and about $524,000 in property damage.
From his research, he came up with what he calls “mosher-friendly” guidelines. Because simply banning moshing is not the answer. Wertheimer believes that moshing is an important part of the concert experience for many fans, but that they should also expect a certain level of safety when attending a concert. No one person can protect themselves against 10,000 other people. That’s when the venue management and promoters come in.
Some of his ideas were:
- Separating the mosh pit from the general audience. This is now common practice at most larger arena shows and festivals, especially in New Zealand. From about 2002 I think the Big Day Out NZ used a D-ring to separate the pit from the rest of the audience. The Rock2Wgtn show we saw in 2009 also had a D-ring. Interestingly, though, none of the European festivals I’ve attended had any kind of separation, although the moshing over there has been a lot friendlier than what I’ve experienced in the Southern Hemisphere.
- Limiting mosh pit capacities. I’ve seen this at the BDO as well – if there are a certain number of people inside the D ring, they won’t let more people go in. Having only one entrance on the D-ring, on the far end of the stages, also helped as people getting out of the pit couldn’t just dive back in.
- Placing first aid stations near the mosh pit. It sounds sensible, but surprisingly it needed Mr. Wertheimer to make this happen at many festivals.
- Restricting moshing to people 18 years or over. I admit I haven’t seen this done anywhere, expect at shows where the entire show is 18+. But then again, at many bigger shows tickets in the front section cost more than other tickets – sometimes significantly more, and I think that limits the age of moshers somewhat and kind of ensure that the people up the front REALLY want to be up there.
- Banning Stage Diving and Body Surfing/Swimming. I’ve seen this a lot of places. It’s impossible to stage dive at most larger venues and shows, but Body surfing is going to happen anyway. Often it’s the only way for people in trouble at the centre of the pit to get out.
- Providing ventilations and drinking fountains for moshers. I’ve never seen drinking fountains in mosh pits – luxury! – but I have been to lots of shows where security hands out cups of water or regularly sprays the crowd with big hoses. It sounds so minor, but can really actually save lives.
- Safety Signs: having accurate and adequate signage can help direct crowds and make sure everyone is aware of rules and safety procedures. This includes placing signs indicating the entrance to the pit, any rules regarding circle pits, slam moshing and crowd surfing, signs for first aid and toilets, and exit signs for fire exits and getting out of the pit. Safety signage is readily available online through stores such as SETON signs, so there’s no excuse for venues not to have adequate signage.
- Padding: Have you ever been to venues or shows where some part of the mosh pit area has that padding underneath? I love that stuff. That was one of Werthiemer’s recommendations. He also suggests padding the barrier and bar. I’ve never seen this done – that sounds like luxury to me.
- Mosh pit safety announcements before and during the show: I’ve heard these at bigger festivals – including BDO and Wacken Open Air. It makes a lot of sense, although I don’t know how many people actually listen.
- Assistance from performers in managing moshing: For me, this seems essential. After all, if you’re trying to get people to mosh in a certain way, and the performers are up there rarking the crowd up and convincing them to tear the stadium apart, then all your good work is for naught.
In 2001, a teenager died in the mosh pit at the Big Day Out in Perth, Australia. Her death was most likely linked to either crushing or crowd surfing in the pit. This was a huge blow to the traveling festival, and they were forced to take a much closer look at their crowd management strategies. The festival started doing things like separating the mosh area, placing first aid close to the pit, banning crowd surfing, advising patrons about safety procedures for pits, and ensuring a large enough space between the barrier and stage (at least 1.5metres) to allow security/crowd management staff to work effectively. They’re also really diligent about providing a shaded area in front of the stage (it’s a summer festival) and oodles of free water.
I found an interesting article about how Boston Banned “Dangerous” Mosh Pits after police cited a local club for breaking safety rules after a mosh pit broke out during a Flogging Molly show. I do agree with Brian Fair (Shadows Fall) who said the ban is ridiculous because moshing is part of underground music cultore. I think rather than outright bans, venues need to be educated to be able to spot the difference between a harmonious happy pit and a pit that’s out of control, so they can step in if necessary. Normally, it’s not the pit itself that’s dangerous, but one or two people in the pit who are taking things to far, and sometimes they drag others into that negative energy. All it takes is security sweeping in and getting those guys out. Most venues that regularly host underground shows have a great handle on pit culture and behaviour. And the moshers themselves play a big part in mosh pit safety: I’ve often seen shows there the crowd actually ejects people they think are being dicks.
My attitude toward moshing is always that it’s heaps of fun if you’re in the mood, but it should be an atmosphere of harmonious energy, not unhinged, violent destruction. I like being in a pit where everyone is feeding off each other and unleashing their aggression, but the basic rules of pit etiquette are being obeyed. You’re not getting felt up for being a girl, you’re not getting kicked and elbowed in the face for no reason, and if you fall down, people will pick you back up.
Other interesting Moshing related links:
Moshing.org – a whole wiki site dedicated to moshing, written by Thomas Berger. His moshing poem is awesome.
Mosh Pits Teach Us About the Physics of Collective Behaviour – an article from the Atlantic. Seriously fascinating stuff.
Mosh Pits: How Do They Work? – more about the world of applied physics and moshing.
Boston Bans Moshing? – article on MetalSucks. As always, great comments.
Support Safe Mosh Pits: Punch a Crowd Surfer – I never advocate the punching of anyone, but sometimes … Everyone has different views on this. Personally, I don’t mind a few crowd surfers, but people who do it need to be aware that it REALLY ruins the show for those poeple who have to hold you up and get smacked in the head with your (often considerable) limbage. So be mindful and do it every ten bloody minutes.
So, what do you guys think about moshing? What’s safe moshing to you? Have you ever had a really awesome – or really scary – mosh pit experience? What safety rules do you agree with? What do you think venue managers can do to improve the mosh pit experience?