Recently, thanks to a friend dressed in all black, I have expanded my music tastes. I am the type of music listener who indeed listens to just about everything–from country to rap to classical. But one genre that was missing from my repertoire was the harder, alternative, “screamo”, metal-core-like artists that I’ve always walked past at Warped Tour, and now that I have started listening, I can’t seem to stop.
What am I doing here? Why is that kid without a shirt and normal colored hair? Also, how does he get his hair the consistency of cotton candy? Everyone seems to be in black, making my neon pink Nikes stick out significantly. Maybe I should have put more eyeliner on. These are all thoughts I had as my friends and I entered the Electric Ballroom here in London, a venue in the mysterious Camden Town. We were participating in a Crown the Empire concert, with openers dangerkids, Set It Off, and Alive Like Me–or should I say that I am participating in a new experience, with loud, riotous bands with even crazier fans that could potentially suck me into the siphon that is a mosh pit at any point. I stayed in the back.
I was skeptical of course. I had only just started listening to this type of music and new that mosh pits and loud noises generally were not my thing, but I also knew that London was a place for new things, new stories, new places I had checked off my list to visit. Why not make an exception for a seedy looking venue and screaming boys? Soon, I realized that I had no reason to be skeptical.
Alive Like Me, the band to start the night off, was much better than I originally expecting. Writing this now, weeks after the concert, I cannot really pinpoint any of their great qualities, but I do remember being impressed by them (and probably attracted to the lead singer). dangerkids took the stage next. With semi-electronic sound and a lead singer that reminded me of Drake (not sure why…) they definitely got the crowd going. I stayed in the back, of course, still tentative at the fans jumping up and down, screaming along with the lyrics that almost floated through the year. I was most excited for Set It Off, a band that my black-cladded friend had shown me and I came to love and when they took the stage next, they definitely blew me away. They were different from Alive Like Me and dangerkids, and almost seemed to not fit the line up very well because of their poppy tunes and great, not-so-screamy vocals. So when dangerkids came off stage, their fans, along with my friends, surrounding them and the merch table while I stayed glued to my spot and waited for Cody Carson to make his glorious appearance on stage. To say the least: they. were. awesome. I finally felt like I belonged as I sang along to the two and a half songs that I knew, getting excited and into the same vibe the crowd was feeling. I jumped up and down, I yelled back at the music, almost singing it before Cody even got the chance. This is what I needed, a band that I could be a part of, a band that would pull me into the scene at hand, making the flashing lights more appeasing and the people around me less inviting and more familial. And that is exactly what happened.
Crown the Empire was up next and the crowd was energized, waiting severely impatiently for the headliners to perform their magic. We were a family now, we all sang to the openers together, we all bonded as we began to sweat through our clothes in the dark but humid room, and I was finally ready to be a part of this experience.
Unfortunately, no, if you’re wondering, I did not enter the mosh pit. When Crown the Empire came on stage, all their members jazzing up the audience as they sang their lungs out, the pit was opening and the fans around me, my new family, was running to become a part of it. My friends, eager to enter also, set their eyes on me, worried about leaving the only girl alone in this area to go run around ridiculously and push people. I was scared when they left me, not for my own safety (I’m a badass and can fend for myself), but I was more worried about them and the possibility of broken noses or limbs, knocked out teeth and black eyes. But, I was mistaken.
The pit, opening up during an unfamiliar song to me, was beautiful. No, really. Everyone was smiling as they raced past, creating a cyclone of black clothes, plaid shirts, and Converse, but mostly it was full of people enjoying being a part of a collective experience. I noticed that the mosh pit wasn’t as terrifying as I originally thought. As described by my friend, the most eager to lose himself in the mass of people, those pushing and shoving are the first ones to help someone up. Girls willingly pushed their way past other, larger men to stand in the center of the cyclone; they were not afraid.
My friend did return slightly hurt, and definitely sweaty, but he barely recognized both of those nuisances, instead a huge smile spread across his face, his black hair stuck to his forehead and he was energized. The pit had charged the room, the music had charged the room, and we were all running high on it. I even considered, for once in my life, to go into that pit, to fully participate in this outstanding experience; an experience that I had begun to deem as religious. The people were finding their god in this room and it was a collective experience; it was having an effect on me and I could recognize the need for it, the drive and desire for it.
Somehow I wound up back in Camden Town, at a similar venue, this time named the Underworld, and waiting in line for an even harder line-up than the other night. The same friend that turned me on to all this music invited me to tag along to a concert featuring Shields, Oceans Ate Alaska, Veil of Maya, and finally Chelsea Grin. First, I should add, that I do not know any of the bands performing, not even one song, like I had when I found myself at the Electric Ballroom. But I wanted to hang out with my friend, and I had made the choice to be a “yes girl” and try to not turn down any experience. In lieu of recanting the entire night again, I will simply comment on the most important parts. The music, and therefore the mosh pit, was much harder and much scarier, and yet, everyone (mostly the men) was getting into it, punching the air violently and head-banging even more violently. The most remarkable sight, though, was that I saw, down in the pit, one of the same guys that was at the Electric Ballroom for Crown the Empire. I shouldn’t have been so surprised by this, and in a way I wasn’t, but I was astonished that I recognized someone in the dark crowd as he danced and pushed his way through the pit. He was here, being a full participant in yet another semi-religious experience perhaps because his body required it.
I could recognize that feeling within myself. Maybe not in the case that I would follow Chelsea Grin on tour, but concerts, at any venue with any artist taking over the stage, engages me in a way that normal activities (like class at my university, sitting in the common room with friends, out at a bar) cannot. Something about entering a dark room where the only illumination comes from rainbow colored lights that flash out into the crowd. Something about feeling the pounding of the bass, of the drums, blaring through the speakers and rattling your chest. Something about being surrounded by people that are standing there, bouncing on the balls of their feet, for the same reason, for the same purpose: being collectively alone. We all come from wherever in London or farther to this small room to sweat together and sing, might not sound too appealing to someone who doesn’t get it, but once inside, you are transformed into a believer. Believing in the fact that we need this music pounding out of our chest just to feel our own heart beat sometimes, but ultimately believing that no matter what happens, we can come to one of these concerts and feel our misfit family around us. Because we are a family of moshers.