A few weeks ago, I went to the Roxy in Hollywood to see one of my favorite post-rock* acts, an Ohioan named Ben Sharp, who plays music as Cloudkicker.
*This usually means that the music is entirely instrumental. Think Explosions in the Sky.
Because Sharp makes his music in the style of early Nine Inch Nails (that is, he records all the parts himself) he needed a backing band for his first-ever tour. So he hired members of the LA math-metal band Intronaut to play parts he’d originally recorded all by his lonesome.
Cloudkicker was astoundingly good, which came as no real surprise to me. If you are at all attracted to heavy-ish guitar rock that is only rarely interrupted by the frailties of human crooning, you should buy one of Cloudkicker’s albums. (I recommend Beacons.)
My only beef with Cloudkicker’s set was that Mr. Sharp and Co. were the first act on a bill of three; he only got forty minutes. I would have gladly watched two hours. I considered leaving, but only for a few seconds. I’d just gone through a break-up, and music loud and aggressive enough to massage away my own personal emotional scar tissue, well, that sounded alright by me.
I have a long history with “heavy” music; I spent my twenties and early thirties in a relationship with emotional stability, but we never did much more than flirt. I’ve long found solace in music purveyed by the likes of Tool, the Deftones, and their musical contemporaries.
At the Roxy, Cloudkicker was followed by the aforementioned Intronaut (because: efficiency!). Then a metal band about which I knew nothing – something called Tesseract, who looked like what would happen if Rush and Taproot had nonconsensual sex and decided to keep the product – took the stage.
Tesseract wasn’t very good. But Tesseract did provide an opportunity I’ll never let get past: the chance to observe a mosh pit in action.
Despite my relative familiarity with hard rock, metal, and other forms of music that have been subjected to various attempts at harsh-sounding nomenclature, I am always surprised at the mosh pits that almost inevitably break out when such bands play. Mosh pits make no sense, really, at least not to me. I don’t know why people (mostly young men) are compelled to hurl themselves into one another at great speed. (My working theory is that these dudes share a genetic marker with the guys who will leap over two sets of bleachers in order to catch a $5 T-shirt fired toward them by an unpaid intern “employed” by the Cincinnati Reds.)
What I do know is that every mosh pit is just about the same. And so, as I stood just behind the one that developed in front of Tesseract, I catalogued that sameness.
These are the results – the 10 people you’ll always see in a mosh pit.
1. The Die-hard
Although it seems (to me, at least) that every mosh pit starts by some kind of witchcraft, conjured into a whirlwind from static nothingness, the truth is that someone has to start the thing. Usually, it’s this guy. He’s probably been a fan of the band since “dude, remember that demo they cut in ’97?” He’s seen them 22 times, his love for the music is not only genuine but unimpeachable, and he actually understands that heavy music isn’t as aggressive as old, white people think it is.
Not that anyone could tell from the way he just slammed his body into one of his friends, knocking the poor guy to the beer- and body funk-soaked floor.
2. The Casual Fan
At a baseball game, the most intense supporters of the team playing are usually wearing the gear of their favorite team. Rock ‘n roll is not like baseball. As immortalized by early-career Jeremy Piven in the semi-classic PCU, the only guy who wears the T-shirt of the band he’s going to see is That Guy. And you do not want to be That Guy.
The Casual Fan is That Guy. He also did not know what he signed up for when he jumped into the mosh pit. At first, this means that he is too passive, thrown about like Raggedy Ann tossed by accident into the dryer. Later, it means that he gets too aggressive, at which point his behavior will, inevitably, be regulated by…
3. The Big Mexican
One could also here substitute “The Big Samoan,” or, if one lived in, like, Wisconsin, “The Big White Guy Whose Brain Was Melted by Mushrooms.”
But in Los Angeles – and in most of the (American) places I’ve lived – there is almost always a large Mexican contingent at whatever metal show I’m seeing. I think this is because Mexican people, like most Latin populations, are more in touch with their emotions than the rest of us. (Make no mistake: there is far more raw emotion in metal than there is in whatever goddamn Taylor Swift song you think of when you think about “raw emotion.”)
The Big Mexican probably stands at least 6’3”, usually has big hair, and always wears a black T-shirt. His job (self-appointed) is to participate in the mosh pit by not participating in the mosh pit; he uses his Bigness to tame the tornado. He is Gibraltar, around which the pit swirls like the Mediterranean.
His methods are simple: he will occasionally reach out a hand to swat aside an overly exuberant mosher (the Casual Fan, late in the show, probably), but usually, he affects a watchful pose throughout, his head bobbing, his brain lost in thoughts the rest of us will never decipher.
4. The Small Mexican
“I. Am here. To party,” announces the Small Mexican by way of a display of the most energy of any human being you have ever seen. The Small Mexican will run and jump more at this concert than you or your girlfriend have done at every Tough Mudder or Crossfit session or half-fucking-marathon you’ve ever participated in.
The best part, though, is that he will do it all with a smile. The Small Mexican is not prone to the ups and downs that the rest of us are suffering as we navigate the moody sine wave of whatever tonight’s drinks are doing to us. He is sober, has been for years, but he has learned to deal with not drinking by bouncing, pushing, and thrashing at shows like this one.
5. The Bro
The Bro shares many traits with the Casual Fan. The one he does not share is this one: he had no idea who he was coming to see before tonight. He is drunk, probably because of Meister, J, and he saw the mosh pit not for what it is, which is an oddly tribal ritual meant less for aggression and more for catharsis, but for what it is not, which is a chance for him to flex muscles he once used as a linebacker for Thomas Jefferson High, but now only uses to do CURLS FOR THE GIRLS, YO down at Bally’s.
6. The Girl
The gender ratio at most of the metal shows I’ve ever seen approximates that found at a Halo convention or that in my engineering classes in college. But just like in those situations, the few girls that are present will be some of the most interesting humans you could ever talk to.
You will not talk to them, however, because it is entirely too loud at the show you are attending. And because she is not an idiot; she came with a group of people she’s known since high school. That group is probably not in the mosh pit; she is the only one with the guts to participate.
You will fall in love with her, briefly.
7. The Black Guy
No one’s saying it, but everyone’s thinking it:
Man, imagine being the only white guy at a Pusha T concert.
Make no mistake: the Black Guy is the best of us and we will do everything within our power to make him comfortable here, although he does not know it, because the only person who will say anything to him is the Bro, who is, unfortunately, shit-hammered and thus, even more racist than usual.
Sorry about that, Black Guy.
8. The Headbanger
If there’s anyone likely to have come by himself to see Cockbeast or Dragonslayer or Doomharbinger, it is this fellow. He’s dressed like it’s 1993 and he is Chris Cornell, down to the long, stringy hair that, let’s be honest, everyone here wishes he had, if only in this moment. Because it looks like a hell of a lot of fun, to be able to pull off that Faith No More thing, if not for those jobs we have, those looks we’d get, our desire to have sex ever again.
9. The Guy with the Misfits T-shirt on
OK, there are probably sixteen of these.
Enough, people, with the Misfits T-shirts. We get it, you want us to know you listen to punk music.
Also, I think you missed the point of punk music.
10. The Bystander
Because, let’s face it, while I am prepared to dance with the devil such that I will stick around for Intronaut and Tesseract, and such that I will sporadically enjoy myself at this show, the truth is that I am too cowardly (also: old) to actually enter the mosh pit, thus making everyone involved – even The Bro, distasteful as I might have made him – more authentic than I.