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Sonispherence, or A Treatise on the Ritual of Mosh

July 8.9.10,2011

Weekend of Sonisphere at Knebworth was insane. Really, actually insane. Consider: The total anticipated count, by sales of tickets told to me by logistics master Martha, was fifty-one thousand people. Fifty-one thousand. That’s something like thrice the population of my home town. Except that, instead of a citizenry leaning towards retirement, lawn-mowing and a slow, quiet lifestyle of Christianity and sweet tea (Diabetus!), this entire population was composed of the wildest, vilest, paganist, metalest bunch of raging crazy Melon Farmers that central-southern England has to offer. Even further than that: We met, during our daily swims amongst the manswarm, fine young cannibals from Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Canada, California, Australia. Imagine the degree of fanaticism necessary, so strong you could almost feel it simmering under your feet, to be so compelled by a lineup of Metallica, Mars Volta, Slayer and Slipknot that you must cross entire oceans, nay continents, and under great expense, in order to join in on the raucous happenings here on the fine expansive lawns of Knebworth estate. Seems some will go to  any length in order to sling their ecstatic corpses to the sounds of heavy metal grunge. Ferocious, I say. I saw grown men with tattoos of their favorite classic metal bands scrawled on the sides of their naked skulls. Saw bikers and writhers and punks, Big Black Wookies in leather, near-naked football rioters. I saw one guy with the image of a goat’s head etched right into the flesh of his chest, from clavicle to hip-wing, all hand-done and with a fine evil concentration by the looks of it, the scarring raised and angry red. Snapped a clear picture too, ha! And, he didn’t kick my ass for taking it, neither. Double ha. Wouldn’t put sudden violent outburst past a guy like that, if you know what I mean. Had to take the picture though, you don’t see conviction of that caliber often, satanic or otherwise.

No, actually, I had little to fear. At that point I was still worrying over my knee, (read A Tale of Exquisite Pain) my relic of injury from central America a week’s fold earlier. But by the time the Friday of the concert came I was feeling limber and solid enough to test it with a little midday moshing. Doc had told me to massage it and work it as deeply as I could, so I just made an effort to keep the fight in my arms and out of my legs, so to speak. Anticipating against any sudden jolts or stumbles, the better to guard my stilts, ya’ know?

You have got to try it out sometime, the mosh scene. It’s actually a wonderfully therapeutic catharsis, a real Ouster of pent-up energy. Little push here, a dodged elbow to the ear there, no hard feelings, just the anonymous fray of humanity working itself out. Dancing itself clean. The misconception is that these big sweating goliaths are out for blood; Not so. Actually, you’ll never see a more vicious lashing then by the defenders of the Fallen: When (inevitably) someone loses their balance and goes down headfirst (or, perhaps they thrown themselves headlong and horizontal into the Eye of the Storm), the generally random skirmish of our dear rioters will become immediately concentrated and intentional, the collective goal being to get the downed kid back on his feet as fast as possible. Really warms your heart to see it; Even more so to feel it firsthand. Sometimes the hoard of heathen hands reaching down to help are so excited and united that the lift becomes more of a throw, sending whomever from face-down-in-the-mud to flying-over-the-fray in a half a second’s time. Beautiful, really. An inspiration, after all is said and done.

No, I am a great proponent of the Mosh, often more so then for the music itself. Being specifically styled a “Metal” festival, the range of sound is pretty limited. I’m not complaining, I listened to that music back in highschool when it was the fiercest, most exhilarating stuff I knew. Used it as catalyst, a pre-soccer psyche-up, or as battle-rally in our rural teenage hysteria: bottle-rocket wars in the midnight streets, or epic, hours-long manhunt games in residential forests. Caffeine and nicked beers have nothing on the sounds of Slipknot or Limp Bizkit for inciting a riot. I’m not ashamed, it’s powerful music. That’s the bottom line: Energy. If music is a tool, either practically or emotionally, here is a genre with the power to galvanize. Works for me, and that was long before I’d ever heard of the SWARM that is Mars Volta. Christ. Gigi was actually there to hear the first set with us… Don’t think the sound sat to well with her grandmotherly stomach. Nor the stoned leadman’s crawlings and thrashings on stage. But what the hell, it’s still damn good music. Actually recorded some, sent it to a friend down South.

Sonisphere has always been outrageous. I was there two years back, in the early days of my self-designed ejection from the South, from the Southern society where I grew up. No offense towards Alabama, the home of much of my family and many dear friends. It is said that every man owes something to the society that brought him up. Yet, all people have the capacity for wondering and wide-wandering, naturally so. And a little bit of localized discontent can go a long way, both for the internal rebellion and the external escape. Finally, wherever there is an imposing system of heavy conservative norms, there will be a backlash. And so. My message is, Go. Play. Explore the wide world. Go as soon as you can, gather up your gall and courage, streamline your intent; no matter if the goal is yet unknown, just be smart about your money, be light about possessions, and Go. And good on ya’ if you happen to stumble upon a three day long music festival full of glimmering models of alternative Life, loud music, collective ritual, sex and drugs. Take it in, take it in. Ride that thin edge of discomfort, watch yourself, observe and come to know yourself well, and where you sense that deadly Hesitancy stemming from Fear or the Unknown, have a little scoff and push the envelope. Not dangerously, just enough to test. We’re in no hurry. You’ve got all the time in the world, just like everybody else. Be your goal joy, Force or awareness; speed, Grace or Liberation, make it so. Realize, and Act. Carpe Diem: Seize the Day.

Anyway, Sonisphere. Sometime during the first night, during Megadeth possibly, I ricocheted off the body of a troll, boulder of a man named Heine. What a fitting name, Shit! If we were still Vikings for a living, I’d want Heine to be my wingman. Kid was colossal, just looked like a round, robust five year old grown up twenty years, and two hundred pounds more. In the center of it all, smiling and invincible, thick-browed. I climbed back through the fisting bodies to him, clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Hey, were you here in the mosh two years ago?!” He fixed me a stare and shouted over the din, “Which show?” I said, “All of them!” I said, “I remember you, I’m Boone!”  His troll smile erupted, he said, “Hell yeah, man! I’m Heine!”

Friendsies! And just about then some doof struck me in the middle back from behind with the flats of both forearms, himself just the victim of the same shit from the four next guys in line behind, all of us lurching forward like metal balls on string of some miserably wealthy executive desk, and with that shove the magic was secured. I’d made a friend on the battle field. I was very happy about this, I thought to myself while grabbing the shoulder of the guy still pushing me from behind and slinging him into the crowd. I’ve got a Heine on my side, I mumbled internal while mounting an uphill counter-attack into the crowd of pushers, putting my head down and just plowing through the discordant bodies. I made it about twenty feet into the sweatstink carwreck of pogoing children and looked up at the empty trail I’d left, and there was Heine smiling big at me from the other side of the Mosh. Yay! The Grench’s heart grew three sizes that day.

We churned the turf to mush and mud. It wasn’t like that the first night, Thursday night before the music started when dear cousin Ed and friends and I all had a wander ‘round the grounds, but after the gates had opened and the carnival had kicked off the terrain was soon to slurry. Edward is my aunt Martha and uncle Henry’s son. He’s twenty now, I believe? Going to music school in the Southern English stonebeach town of Brighton. He’s a damn good guitarist, having started at fifteen and quickly rocketing to academic and touring levels. He’s lead guitar in Glass City Vice, a four man band composed of his fellow students at Brighton. There is Josh, tall, blonde-haired model type on guitar and vocals, pasty-skinned dark-eyed Lawrie on drums, and tinymouse cool kid QJ on bass. Lawrie’s real name is Lawrence, so that’s what I called him, favoring long, elaborate names in a mildly teasing way. QJ’s real name is Quentin James Mortimer something something, in that epic long fashion of the historied English, so I called him Mortimer cause it’s fucking badass.

We made good friends, they all cool kids and sounding solid together; actually they played a show at a youth club called Club 85 in the nearby village of Hitchin earlier that evening. Got to see ‘em play live, sounded good and tight, well-practiced. Everyone was excited for that, Henry gathering personal friends and friends of the family to come out and support; Gigi was there, Martha, Henry’s parents and brother’s family, second-cousins that I hadn’t seen in a couple years. I sat and chatted with Geegers between the warm-up acts, sharing a Stella and feeling very like we were back around the dinner table on the thirteenth floor on 55th street, splitting a beer and telling stories like we used to, together. Love her. Hung out with my girl-cousin Morwenna and her boyfriend Phil, both wise in the ways of the fashionable Jet Set, living loud and, of late, in LA, and London before that, DJing together in posh clubs and working in the fields of modeling, fashion and photography. Well dressed, Mo always long in something strange and avant garde, Phil often in black, skinny designed jeans of someone I should be ashamed not to have heard of, pencil moustache, styled to the nines. Mo’s hair is blond and comes to her waist, the long English damsel of a modern age. I like them both; the Family at large is delightfully bizarre and convoluted, what a treat.

Hung out with Glass City Vice and had a sneaky beer at their merch table waiting for their time to come, chatting with the crew and meeting their friends. Leaning on a table where their black and white print tee-shirts sat stacked, bundles of circular stickers and pins, squares of disks of music. I took a pin and put it through the front collar of my shirt that night, then wore it all weekend (the same shirt, and pin amazingly still attached throughout the field of battle.) Little publicity never hurts. Although I don’t know how receptive the bleeders in the Mosh would be if they actually took notice and remembered (which is more of a stretch) to look them up. Psyche of the Bruiser’s breed.

Just as they were getting ready to go onstage, Henry took my ear and asked my help: to lead the pogo and motion up front, knowing my thrill in vigor and wanting a rowdy crowd for the show. I agreed immediately, of course, and heartily, although I must say, I was still entertaining doubt about what my knee was capable of. I had (thanks gods) been well enough to manage the epic day-plus transit from Central America, bouncing off the Dominican Republic and Frankfurt before landing in London, but there was still swelling and sensitivity with the exertion, especially with standing still. Blood pooling around the lingering internal scar tissue. It’d been a constant mind-fuck for over a week, two by the time I wanted to dance in Hitchin, but I went about it consciously, with care and attention. Waking the next day, the first day of the festival, and discovering that the exertion and effort of the previous night had actually helped the knee, I was stoked, elated. Oh, when Play is Solution…

The festival! Friday evening found me in the forefront of the mainstage press, awaiting the much promoted “Big Four”: Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica. They played one after the other, consecutively, and on the same stage, “for the first time all together in England.” Each a good show in their own stead, but the much whispered and hoped-for culmination was in the final minutes of the evening, when members from each of these classic metal groups gathered mainstage to play together. Such a pileup of golden manes, spiky black guitars and rancid testosterone I’ve never seen before. The sight was much more impressive than the sound. Not exactly my cup of tea, but impressive in more of a historical context; epic in the sense that you regard the moving and rollings of political figures, or the scandals of your parent’s friends; something that must be recognized as important and consequential, but not for you specifically.

Was there for the full entirety of the show, bound out of a guttural need to experience every single bit possible, like the queen teach, never quitter. There was a promotional group on site buying empty cups back from the crowd for ten pence per, and after watching and slicing thin and precise the aspects of the deal, I realized that I could gather the necessary forty cups in a matter of five minutes or so, and while taking the same path from primary stage to secondary stage as usual. So I did it, my speed aided by the fact that, being in the mosh, you are surrounded by the contained: those drinkers who come in double-fisting, muscle up close as they can, slam ‘em both and throw down the empties. I just pull a shuffle step while being washed away from stage with the masses, and whala: four pounds, the exact price of the next Tuburg from the bar. Drank for free all afternoon. Then, after the final epic Four, actually went all out about it, gathered up muddy cups like “a filthy peasant” or “scum,” as two passers-by exclaimed. Walked to the redemption point with two stacks of cups taller than I could easily manage, braced back and arching over my shoulder like flag-masts. It took me maybe a half-hour, maybe only twenty minutes to do the collecting, but almost double that waiting in line with like-minded opportunists. Got front, got something like twenty five pounds in return from the cute cutie working hard to count my rims all a-stacked. That’s like thirty-five bucks. Add the four four-pound pints during the day and the change, round fifty pounds. Good I was a filthy peasant on the first day while it was still dry(ish), cause it started raining Saturday and didn’t stop for the rest of the weekend, enough to liquefy any paper left to be trampled underfoot. Ran back to the house with a pocketful and found scraps of the family lounging out in the kitchen. Such luxury, to jog in from Metallica, wet and worn out, dehydrated and famished, to step into a kitchen warm with the heat of a giant Aga stove; shed to socks, whip up a sandwich and put the kettle on. Yes. Then the kidsize ratpack rolled in with Nora in tow, all present and accounted for. She brought me kisses, congratulations, all ready for weekend’s rampage. Dressed so gypsy, packing her hoolahoop, Nora back at Knebworth, reunion in the kitchen. She brought me traffic, teeny jam jar shaking with adoration. Thanks for friends and friends of theirs.

A hive of activity, the Cobbold Kitchen any night of the weekend. At first day, I found the lineup of shows just too solid to knock a chink in, so I was out there moshing and shouting for the full extent of it, an all-out intensive. Miss nothing. Every bone thrown. But wearing on in the whalloping weekend, I got into a stop-start rhythm of recognizing physical fatigue and shouldering a gap into the lineup, just big enough to allow a half hour speedwalk back to the house to grub and gabble with the other merrygoers. Developed a kind of intuition for the musical sentiments and attactments of our Clan; got where I could guess the likely gaps, returning to find the kitchen filling, the family reconvening. Everyone would come back in waves, travelling in groups depending on their interest. For example: Ed and his brohans, Mo Phil and Co., Parents and Geegers; seems leadership or fellowship determines the parties, as much as ears do.

Nora and I spent all Saturday together. Got lost from everyone, but not from each other. At one point early in the afternoon I find myself dancing with her on my shoulders. Lawrie was there too, we were all watching You Me At Six, the band for which his big hair big brother squeals lead guitar, his blonding cousin on rhythm guitars too. Crazy family of musicians. Crazy successful, by the looks of it. The lead singer saw the flashed breasts like everyone else, shining fangirls riding their boyfriend’s shoulders in the crowd. He saw them just like the camera man, and thus everyone else of the thirty thousand assembled.. A rush cheer each time she smiles, huge in the screens, and flashes her cheek. But the lead voice for Six, he kept at it, egging it on, “Hey you! Yeah, you on the screen. Show us your tits.” Spotlight girl smiles and flashes, crowd roars, singer says, “Yeh, do it again.” Heads snap to screen, same girl same game anew, the rising “AYE!” of thousands of adolescent throats united in singular conviction. Singer, “Yeh, do it again.” Same girl, same thrice! Hysterics ensue. How’s that for a warmup? Everyone in the crowd is smiling ear to ear before the music even starts. Brilliant.

Sprinted to Weezer on Sunday. Knew it was coming, an early enough show in the day; all the guys were there in the kitchen making pickle and cheese sandwiches, drinking lemon currant squash, elderberry, or else downing Stellas. Watching the minutes drop off the clock on the wall, biding the seconds and then, suddenly all assuming one and together the Mission; rushing into the foyer hallway and throwing on sodden shoes, boots and wellies all in a rush, out the door and rounding the eastern turrent. It was there at the shady field gate that the melancholy opening chords of Say it Ain’t So came echoing across the heavens. We’re all bunched up at the bottleneck of the small metal gate, fumbling keys and scrabbling at each other, then bursting through and off at a sprint, running down the gravel lane away from the great black gates, ominous and gothic at our back. “Somebody’s Heinie, is crowding my icebox…” crooned in sonic waves over the tenttops and treetops, the only other sound your own loud breath in the ears at a gallop to the entrance. Through, a rough splash into the Mass of people, eyes everywhere on the myriad faces, tattoos and colorful hairdos till those you ran with show up, all training into a running tail like a snake of Braves sweeping through the crowd. Left side, always along the leftedge wall, past the sitters and the wallflowers, then a hard angle right, cutting into the loosely-packed flank. Into the underbelly. With a few pushs we break through into a bubble ‘mongst the press, stare round at each other’s gawking happy faces, still red and winded as the Indiepop sound of the Weez takes frontstage, along with our attention. Singalong.

Was standing back a ways with Mortimer at my side, preparing to go for a beer when all of a sudden there dropped a few eerie impossible notes and they began a cover of Paranoid Android. We’re all going crazy, people all around freaking out like a car crash. Excellence, it made the show for me, although I heard plenty of criticism later, ‘bringing the energy of the set down’ and whatnot. Rubbish. Few groups have the respect or skill to cover Radiohead. And cleanly, sounded just like the album. Midst of that blue shock, whilst the grinding bounce “Kicking, Screaming, Hush little Piggy?” Nora bursts onto our side, grabbing my hands and facing me smiling, her scruntched impish grin coming up at me from below. “Gigi’s here!” she tells me, and sure ‘nuf up comes Lady Gray herself, striding through the busy sun. Hey! Kisses exchanged on either cheeks all round, and after a moment we two’re sent off for a round of Tuburgs, the only beer sold at the massive dual bars stationed either side of the field. Line for a while, (actually, I learned the first day to bypass the wait, simply walking to the edge and making friends with the nextmost guy in line. It’s no hard favor to ask, simply to order a few more beers than you were gonna’ in the first place, press the bill into his hand. Friendly, no worry. Save you fifteen minutes, and that’s a lot when the driving bassline of Hash Pipe starts climbing into the sky.) Hugged Nora when Gigi eventually bowed out and retired to the Production tent, some halfway through The Mars Volta (it wasn’t really her make or flavor, she assured us). She had jumped me just in the nick of time back at the Weezer stage, Nora had. We three laughing, I climbing up the gap between their shoulders, Volta climbing across the stage, ragged and blackened. Their sound was anarchic, unsquareable, difficult to categorize. A livid voice amongst a fever of sound. Straight pushin’. I recorded fifteen minutes of it on somebody’s phone, ‘cause I got a special friend down South who wants to hear, and I told her I’d catch her some anyway.

That was before I lost my camera (and sound recorder) in the massive circle pit of Gallows the second day, but what the hell, it’s just stuff. Actually had uploaded everything the night before, so nothing too dear lost. Moral of that story: Lash down your shit like there’s gonna be a storm at sea, before you go into the Mosh. And really, expect everything to be broken in battle, unless you’re guarding it with your own clenched fists. I walked around the festival with a black Sharpie’d sign, “200 pounds for the camera you found in Gallows pit” bolded on both sides of a scrap of cardboard. Figured it have to be a pretty temptation to lure out the Finder. Never came to nothing, even though I kept it raised for hours, got in the eyes of thousands. Guy who caught it up wanted it for keeps, ‘cause I didn’t find any scraps in the turf. Though I made a pretty good show of it, still flipping folks in the core of the mosh with my sign still raised in one hand. Made some good conversation with sympathetic demons too. Always surprising, the jux between a person’s character and their costume.

Sometime in Sunday’s early afternoon, the in-between-shows-time when everyone wanders around stunned, bumping into each other on their way to alternately buy more beer or piss it out; a single man walks out on stage and a voice rings out over the whole of the festival. I can’t quite quote the massage, it was brief, rude even; a sharp call to silence for something unexplained. Unexplained, but respected nevertheless: the entire fifty thousand assembled fell into total silence. Looking around, almost frozen in place, almost no one was even moving, just standing, arms crossed, silent as the grave, like a vast zombie army. It was the only quiet that weekend ever knew, and just two minutes of it. A thanks, then, like nothing had happened, like the play button had been toggled from pause, the mobscene resumed. Eerie, that’s what it was, off-setting. Found out later, it was orchestrated by the members of Slipknot, who were headlining for that night. One of their band members, Paul Gray, had recently died, (overdose I think, something narcotic) and they asked two minutes of silence to honor his passing to the void. Hours later, after the nostalgic hype-up jump-around of House of Pain and Limp Bizkit, Slipknot’s lead singer, fully decked in his signature deathmask and dayglow orange jumpsuit, took up the mike at the climax of their show. He said, “This music isn’t about negativity. This is about positivity, this is about celebration, and WHOTHEFUCKWANTSTOCELEBRATEWITHSLIPKNOTTONIGHT!?” People were screaming and crying in the crowd even during the deafening roar that rose up from the gathered sea, while the other bandmembers brought the suit and mask of Paul Gray up to forestage, hung long and empty on a mic stand in front, like an empty skin. A powerful feeling, the unexpected sense of empathy in such a seemingly harsh, blunt environment. Like a flower in the rubble, but the respect was there anyway. The living masked men picked up their instruments and hammered into the music, and by the time the final encore came around it was complete and total pandemonium.

In the end, in the big wet exhale after it all, I came away bent with exhaustion, dripping sweat and exhilarated. Met up with cousin Freddy as we walked back to the house, weaving through the trickling crowds, shouts and laughter lifting sporadically in the wet night. It was raining and my body was tight after three days of abuse, but my knee was whole and well, my blood steeped in serotonin from such rough play, and thoughts of stretching out on the surface of the warm pool latenight carried my spirits further. Hell of a romp, the whole of it. ‘D come away undoubtedly healthier than beforehand, product and promise of the great uniting ritual of battle and Cain.

 

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