Heavy metal mosh pits mimic rituals of remote rainforest tribes in Papua New Guinea

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Heavy metal fans communicate with one another at concerts in a similar fashion to members of remote rainforest tribes, scientists say.

The rules followed by so-called metalheads in mosh pits – an area in front of the stage at a rock concert where dancers push or slam into each other – mirror the 40,000-year-old rituals of remote tribes in Papua New Guinea.

Within the chaotic throng, etiquette is passed down to younger music fans by ‘elders’, according to a new anthropological study of mosh pits.

Members participate in gift-sharing rituals and dance to dark, cathartic music, mimicking ancient rites among Papuan tribes, they found.

The find demonstrates that some principles are fundamental to humanity, naturally forming in cultures that are otherwise worlds apart, scientists said.

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The rules followed by so-called metalheads in mosh pits - an area in front of the stage at a rock concert where dancers push or slam into each other (file photo) - mirror the 40,000-year-old rituals of remote tribes in Papua New Guinea

The rules followed by so-called metalheads in mosh pits - an area in front of the stage at a rock concert where dancers push or slam into each other (file photo) - mirror the 40,000-year-old rituals of remote tribes in Papua New Guinea

The rules followed by so-called metalheads in mosh pits – an area in front of the stage at a rock concert where dancers push or slam into each other (file photo) – mirror the 40,000-year-old rituals of remote tribes in Papua New Guinea

HOW ARE MOSH PITS LIKE PAPUAN TRIBES? 

Research has found that mosh pit etiquette mirrors some of the ancient rules of Papuan tribe rituals.

– Rules for behaviour are passed down from ‘elder’, more experienced members to newcomers

– Members participate in gift-sharing rituals

– They bond by dancing to dark, cathartic music

Lead author Lindsay Bishop, a researcher at University College London, said: ‘It recognises this completely alien culture of mosh pits, heavy metal music and rituals links into this indigenous clan living in the rainforest of Papua New Guinea.’

She has spent a decade studying heavy metal, and over the past three years toured with a variety of bands from the UK, USA and Europe.

She carried out interviews with hundreds of fans and documented bands including Fear Factory, 3Teeth, Mortiis, Pig and Combichrist.

Ms Bishop found that older generations of metal fans pass on mosh pit etiquette and behaviour to newcomers and younger generations.

She said this ensures an environment of ‘controlled chaos’, including an implicit understanding that ‘moshing’ is not a fight but a way to release tension.

‘Unspoken rules’ outline that the ‘pit’ is voluntary with no pressure to join, and that those who fall over should be picked up immediately.

Conventions in Papuan tribal communities (pictured above), in which shared objects and sculptures are used to remember past events, parallel the collection of dated tour T-shirts, or band paraphernalia like drum sticks or plectrums thrown from the stage 

Conventions in Papuan tribal communities (pictured above), in which shared objects and sculptures are used to remember past events, parallel the collection of dated tour T-shirts, or band paraphernalia like drum sticks or plectrums thrown from the stage 

Conventions in Papuan tribal communities (pictured above), in which shared objects and sculptures are used to remember past events, parallel the collection of dated tour T-shirts, or band paraphernalia like drum sticks or plectrums thrown from the stage 

If someone is hurt, they are taken to the bar by the person responsible, Ms Bishop said.

There were mosh pit traditions such as ‘the circle’, where fans run around the edge of the pit, and ‘the wall of death’, where they part like battling armies before crashing back together.

Ms Bishop said: ‘Mosh pits, crowd surfing, circle pits – in an abstract sense epitomise the metal community.

‘The older generations teach mosh pit etiquette and newcomers learn that moshing is not a fight, it’s a way to release tension and often create lasting bonds with people.

Within the chaotic throng, etiquette is passed down to younger music fans by ‘elders’, according to a new anthropological study of mosh pits. Members participate in gift-sharing rituals and dance to cathartic music, mimicking ancient rites among Papuan tribes (file photo)

Despite the perception of the heavy metal community ‘as a brutish rite of passage for teenage boys’, Ms Bishop said it was a ‘complex, inclusive and global community that now encompasses several generations’.

The shared camaraderie, etiquette, camaraderie and catharsis, mirrored traditions of behaviour similar to Papuan tribal communities, she said.

Conventions of the Malangan culture, in which shared objects and sculptures are used to remember past events, parallel the collection of dated tour T-shirts, or band paraphernalia like drum sticks or plectrums thrown from the stage.



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