The headliner is about to come on. The crowd lurches forward and every person in the mosh is getting pushed forward by the people behind them. Shorter than most of the crowd, I’m just getting shoved to the floor.
The guy behind me is definitely one of the more gross ones in the crowd. You know the stereotype – Metalhead, hasn’t showered in a week, hasn’t washed his hair in a year. He reaches over my head and thrusts his stinking armpit into my face. Has yet to be introduced to the concept of deodorant.
I shoot him a look that I hoped he would interpret as ‘respect-other-people-please’, although I’m sure it looked more like ‘exhausted-and-mad’ with a healthy dose of sweat running down my chin.
The band comes on. Someone yells to open up the pit. The guy behind me shoves into me harder and a crowd surfer is lifted up on top of me. I slip in the puddle of beer I’m standing in and the side of my head goes straight into the cold, hard, metallic barrier.
I give up. Holding my breath, I duck under smelly guy’s arm and push against the crowd until I’m expelled into the empty space between the back of the mosh and the door. When I finally look up, an underpaid female bartender is offering me a glass of water and a look of empathy.
Hanging back is nowhere near as fun as being in the front row. But with a sore forehead I decide to observe the band from the safety of the back of the room, even if it is behind the wall of very tall, very big man-children. One guy is literally hanging from the ceiling. Have you ever heard of a wall of death? It’s when a bunch of guys wearing band shirts and shoes duct taped to their feet run towards each other, knocking the weaker participants to the floor. Darwinism at it’s best.
I’m not actually trying to talk anyone out of enjoying heavy metal. Believe me I love listening to metal and attending gigs. Moshing can be the best fun you’ll ever have. Especially when the crowd is great and everyone is looking out for each other.
It’s just at that moment, I didn’t particularly envision my death as being a result stage diving head injuries, music festival dehydration or being crushed by a group of smelly men in a mosh pit.
Let me start at the beginning. When I first got introduced to heavy metal, I thought it was awful. The gigs were ninety per cent male. The girls were all either hanging back, safely out of the mosh or getting crushed, pushed and pressed up against by a hundred and something people inside the mosh.
But eventually I came around. The music was good. Moshing was fun. Almost all the guys I met at gigs were considerate, respectful and happy to help me up every time I got knocked to the floor (which was pretty often).
Convincing my female friends to give heavy metal a go was a bigger challenge than I first imagined. The biggest hurdle was that the vast majority of people at these gigs were men. When I tried to bring along female friends, this fact acted as a huge deterrent. The crowd was just way too intimidating.
This wasn’t the only issue though. Speak to any group of girls that love live music and you’ll hear a collection of war stories. Of being felt up in the middle of a mosh. Of black eyes from tall guys elbowing them in the face. Of torn shirts, beer poured down chests and getting crushed by some one hundred kilo idiot who thought it was a good idea to stage dive.
I have to stress that not all these experiences are gender specific. In fact, most women don’t want to be treated differently from anyone else in a mosh pit.
But it takes too long for this behaviour to be called out. Especially when it happens to women. Maybe that’s because in the collective imagination of male musicians and fans, women are still confined to the side of the stage, playing the role of the ‘groupie’.
After an incident at one of their live shows earlier this year, vocalist of Melbourne metal band High Tension, Karina Utomo said, “The pit is not an area to be opportunistic or an open invitation to violate”.
“A love for metal / aggressive music is NOT exclusive to men?” she wrote, “We can’t believe this shit is still happening”.
Cassandra Luzko, a member of the University of Melbourne’s Heavy Metal Club and the presenter of Radio Fodder’s Heavy Metal Hour said, “There has always been a gender disparity of some kind in the metal scene. While there has been bands with women, including all-women bands, the majority of musicians have tended to be male and a majority of fans have been male.”
However, Cassandra disagreed that heavy metal shows were generally unsafe for women. “There have been incidents of guys groping girls in the mosh pits but pretty much every metal head I know finds that to be unacceptable and a lot of people in the scene have made statements condemning that kind of behaviour”.
Spyke, the vocalist of Melbourne death metal band Scaphis emphasised that gender disparity issues “stem from broader social ideas and they just get amplified a bit in the metal scene”.
“Within Melbourne’s scene at least, I always see women in the pit and in the front row. Generally everyone looks out for everyone else; if someone falls they get picked back up. Metalheads tend to stick together and look out for each other”.
I think everyone can agree that every single person, regardless of their gender or ability, should be treated respectfully at every live music event. Every person deserves to be there. And no one deserves to be groped or injured in the mosh.
Editors’ note: This version of ‘Wall Of Bros’ is different to one that appears in Farrago Edition 7. This is the updated version that includes quotes from Mary’s interviews. Endless apologies to Mary – you are an angel and we are idiots.