Standing Room Only: Music Over Moshing


Graphic by: Aaron Newman

By Emma Talkoff

Graphic by: Aaron Newman
Graphic by: Aaron Newman

There are some things that are simply better in theory, and unfortunately, for me, live music is one of them. Don’t get me wrong—I love to see my favorite artists in person and soak up familiar music unmediated by the filter of time, space and a recording studio.

I tagged along with some friends for a concert with unreasonably high hopes for the evening. Standing room on the floor was limited, but not uncomfortably so; I chatted with friendly strangers. I wasn’t a fan, but I found myself caught up in the excitement, and a music-video scene unfolded in my mind: a happy, entranced crowd singing and dancing to our favorite songs. We would be friends!

Then the music started. It became clear that I would be getting slightly more than I had bargained for in the fast friend department, as my face was immediately pressed up against the shirt of the concertgoer in front of me. I would have fallen, but the press of bodies around me kept me upright. The crowd moved around me like a vast school of fish, somehow collectively changing direction in such a way that kept me from ever regaining balance or independent movement. Hugely unhelpful was my limited stature, which placed my face at roughly the armpit level of the other sticky, jostling audience members.

But hey, I knew this song! Singing along proved more difficult than I had anticipated given the pressure on my ribcage from all sides, so I resigned myself to jumping occasionally and yelling out a few lyrics like a drowning victim gasping for air. An ill-fated attempt to raise my arms left me in a half-unfolded position for a while; I tried not to bump strangers although errant elbows kept knocking into my face.

I attempted vainly to squeeze some enjoyment out of the concert for an impressively long time (okay, it was a song and a half), then wormed my way out of the sea, in desperate need of fresh air.

From outside the crowd, things looked almost worse than they had from within. I worked my way back to the edge of the fray, hoping to catch as much music as possible without being sucked back into the crush of sweaty bodies. Mild embarrassment at having failed

to stick out the mosh pit was far outweighed by relief at being able to fully expand my lungs and move without colliding with an unfamiliar sweat-slicked limb. I regretted losing the excitement that had made the beginning of the concert fun, impossible to find in the midst of the mob, and equally so here on the fringes of the concert—or so I thought.

Perched on the edge of the stage was a young man gesturing emphatically and emotionally in time to the music; it took me a moment to realize that he was signing. I watched as he interpreted the band’s lyrics at breakneck speed, encompassing not only the words but the emotion and rhythm behind them with the range of his motion. The grace with which he captured the performance seemed more emotional and precise than the music itself, a perfectly silent expression that nonetheless conveyed the incredible sound and power of the performance. I realized, standing outside of the crowd, that this was the concert experience that I had hoped to find—a demonstration of emotion and skill which was, ironically, silent.

Attending the concert was most frustrating not because I wasn’t a fan, but because I was so busy fighting to remain upright and breathing that I wasn’t able to experience the songs being performed in any way other than as a soundtrack to my discomfort. Attending a concert shouldn’t be a struggle to maintain physical safety. It should be a way for fans to connect with each other and the music, and have a memorable experience along the way. But when the experience of being as loud and close as possible becomes more important than the music, something is lost. It becomes impossible to focus on or even hear the music, removing what should be the reason for attending a concert in the first place. Perhaps concertgoers need the same reminder that I got: we go to concerts not to fight with each other for space but to witness music performed well and with feeling.