I have a friend who can unlock awkward social situations like Magic. I’ve seen her do it at live music events when people are not dancing. She takes the initiative, dancing off-beat in an unselfconscious way, getting underneath people.
The first time I saw it I was embarrassed. Then I noticed a ring of people toe-tapping on her periphery heave a collective sigh of relief and start into their own first steps. The Ice had been broken. They seemed to say “Well, at least I’m not the MOST silly person in the room” and an ease spread over the venue like domino. After seeing this happen a handful of times I pulled my friend to the side and told her
“I see what you’re up to, and I like it”.
We talked about her interventions briefly to confirm my curiosity. It only takes 1 person to start things off, you know?
My art is a selfish pursuit. I like getting sweaty and intimate in moshpits. I move to music that I love so I can walk home on Cloud 10 knowing it squeezed the best out of me. I know by now the kind of grind I’m after and understand it takes the cooperation of a room to satisfy.
Two weekends ago I stirred up a room in Halifax. I know I’m going to give my best when a poster for the show makes my whole bodymind go ‘YES!’.
There were several reasons I was excited to attend:
1. It’s a band I legitimately enjoy
2. I was introduced to their music by a friend who has been dead just shy of 11 years
3. It had been too long since I got sweaty in a moshpit
I felt capable of moving time and space to be there. The enthusiasm was heightened when, meeting a friend for lunch the day before, I was offered a free ticket for the event. These are the days when all things align and I have pure confidence in the ground rising up to meet my every step.
When I’m in that mode before a show I usually say things like “I’m going to DESTROY the place tonight.” What I mean is I’m going to give the room everything I’ve got.
As is oftentimes the case, the show got off to a slow start. I’m never sure if it’s self-consciousness, lack of love for the band or just years of ‘watching’ life happen that makes people stand still at rock shows. That’s not my business though, I came here to sweat.
Steeped in music I love I find it impossible to stand still. I start by squeezing my way to a central location in front of the stage. The people standing there usually have some interest in the music so they’re a good bid for fellow-instigators. Too far back didn’t come to dance, too far forward just wants to be close to the band.
When the music gets in me I start slow rocking side to side. Zombie knocking into those next to me. A rhythmic stumble to a beat. Continuing to knock into people brings in the ones who want to push and shove. The ones who don’t want to push and shove move to the outside. It’s my calling card, an advertisement for the kind of time I want to have. This attracts all sorts, of course. Some don’t know they want to push and shove until they’re pushed and shoved. Some show up angry, Some do it in Love. What you Give is what you Get.
I look to lock eyes with others who came to stir up the crowd in a similar sense of brotherhood. Under silent agreement we can work together to create a time that gives everyone what they need. I look to affirm trust in a chaotic environment. The pit can be a very safe and loving place when a handful of people will to stand as pillars of protection. I notice a well built red haired chap in leather jacket pushing through with respect and relaxed attitude, a good candidate. He’s slightly taller than me and a good 80 pounds denser. We exchange a silent contract towards the Mutually Assured Construction of a good time. I’ve come to trust that look as bedrock solid foundation.
In this environment of unspoken trust I rely on my allies to hold up their corner of our protective structure while I stir the crowd and work to expand the circle. The contracts between pillar-people enable a secure environment to grow in confidence. As the structure grows it pushes out, inevitably imposing itself on those who have chosen to stand and watch the show. It’s tension that defines our boundary.
Although I do not always trust their judgment, the venue staff is an important part of the protective structure too. On this night a bouncer tapped me out to say “If I see you straight arm shoving someone again you’re out of here”.
Totally fair, I do get a little carried away sometimes 🙂
There will also be unwitting allies in the mix. I was doing my work advertising at the edge of our influence when a thick, moist arm wrapped itself around my neck. I was suddenly propelled backward – heels dragged – through six rows of crowd. I reached up to remove my noose making it clear to the attached Man that at NO POINT is it ok to choke someone in a moshpit. After some minutes of miscommunication he explained that he was acting in protection of a woman close to the front of the stage who had been harassed and preyed upon by several men at the start of the show. He was an unknown ally under covered contract, another pillarman holding up his corner for the protection of All. He expressed this by wrapping his arm around my neck and dragging me through 6 rows of people. It seemed worth a few minutes investment in conversation to see each other eye to eye. It’s possible to have a high level of trust and security in a chaordic environment. I figured with the right communication we could well be on the same page next time around.
I explained to him that I was there for the music. I told him it was particularly important for me to rock out extra ridiculous for myself and for my fiend who had died. This man, probably 10 years my junior, became visibly agitated.
His eyes widened, he stepped his face close to mine.
“You want to talk about Death?! My mother is in the hospital right now dying of cancer!”
I watched him for a few seconds, then something broke in his expression. A foot in the door for conversation. It was then that I looked down and noticed our hands gripped on each others shoulders and elbows. There was connection and high emotion.
“I’m totally happy to hear you out, man. I understand you’re fucking pissed and if you want to talk about it I’m up for that”
We made a place in the middle of the crowd that was alright for him to say what he needed to say about his dying mother. I reiterated that at no point during future concerts should he choke people. He walked away less agitated, and I think I gained an ally.
I’ve been told I play it close to the chest.
I’d like to know how close our chests can get.