Guest columnist, social anthropologist and EE buddy Joe Carona (seen holding the sign in the pic below) has forgotten more about rock than you'll ever know. As the editor of the uncompromising zine The Used Bin, Joe chronicles prog-rock concerts, Sunset Strip shenanigans, albums new and old, and every other goat-throwingly important issue you'd care to name. We're grateful to him for filing this report, an in-depth study of curious rock-related rites among the indigenous peoples of Arcadia, Calif.
There's an unspoken but widely understood rule at rock and roll shows: NO DANCING ALLOWED.
Now, I'm not talking about bumpin' n' grindin' to phat beats, or takin' trancy twirls while tweakin' to techno. That all falls safely within live-show dance guidelines. Even the bearded, granola-chomping contingent at jam-band rituals can get away with the occasional tie-dyed rug-cutting without fear of public ridicule. But at serious, fist-thrusting rock shows – the kind featuring ferocious, metallic lunacy and veins bursting from growling vocalists' necks – well, I believe a fella could get his ass kicked for smiling, much less shakin' his groove thing.
Okay, maybe there have been a few notable exceptions. The first time a spiky-haired punk hopped up and down in some urine-splotched London club, the result may initially have been giggles, but clearly someone followed suit. Thus was the pogo born. Or what of the first front-row scuffle that spurred retaliatory shoves to the beat of the music? Slam-dancing surely evolved that way. Eventually, as the music got louder (and the collective I.Q. lower), the ever-more-sinister mosh pit became a familiar site down front; concert violence had somehow morphed into a swirling ballet of brutality.
But that ain't really dancing anyway.
So when I got the call from my brother Pete (a rock legend in his own right as frontman for Arcadia's favorite rock and roll sons, The Insultors) to check out the Arcadia High School Battle of the Bands, dancing was certainly not on the agenda. As a hometown luminary, he'd been tapped as a "celebrity" judge for the school-yard rock-off, so I turned up to show my civic pride and support. We fully expected to encounter the requisite train wreck of amateur garage bands sloppily trudging through tired covers. What we got instead was a jaw-dropping discovery: a new musical phenomenon.
After a couple of forgettable acts and their futile attempts to conjure anything remotely approaching a melody, local hardcore unit Confide exploded into a manic set of furious scream therapy. The crowd went nuts. As we glanced at the punters nearest the stage, then did a double take, and even a triple take, we still couldn't fathom the insanity we were witnessing. For as the young band's metallic onslaught filled the air with palpable density, kids down front, in a blur of flailing limbs, were doing the unthinkable: They were dancing!
This was not any kind of dancing we'd ever witnessed before, however. No, this was something wholly perplexing and deeply diabolical. We stared in awe as a dozen or so seemingly typical, T-shirted young rockers engaged in an inexplicable kung-fu routine, followed by a kind of synchronized metal line dancing. Were our eyes deceiving us? Was this some kind of fluke, a random accident, pure coincidence of similar movements? Then we watched the crowd mount the punk-aerobic display again. And then again. This was no accident; this was ... (gulp) ... a new dance craze?
Later that afternoon, as a small group of us recounted our utter shock at the spectacle of the fans' wacky routine, another group took the stage, prompting a similar crowd reaction. From the first blood-curdling screech to the end of their set, The Knife Party fueled the same maniacal, foot-stomping frenzy.
"It's like a mix of moshing and karate," the band member explained.The young lads of this vociferous ensemble unleashed a genuinely unsettling cacophony of high-speed vocal vitriol. All the while, arms and legs lunged, whipped and kicked with savage force. Kids in the pit seemed to windmill their arms at airplane-propeller speeds while shuffling from side to side. Then, during the chorus – as if on cue – the entire troupe segued into their uncannily synchronized jig-cum-shuffle. There were backflips, faux-breakdance spins, handstands. It was a sight to behold. And as we watched, slackjawed, unable to look away, we gasped until we smiled, then laughed until we cried. We had glimpsed the future, my friends – and the future is called "hardcore dancing."
So profound was the sight of this mysterious choreographed exhibition that we were compelled to go to the source for answers. Knife Party guitarist William Ramos, 16, was no newcomer to the hardcore dancing phenomenon. "Kids have been doing it at our shows since we started this band," declared the teen axeman. That historic period of origin would be December 2004; since then, Arcadia's latest torch-bearers have served up their relentless neo-hardcore – notably fan favorites "I Gave It My Ass," "Four-Hour Erection" and "Dropping the F-Bomb." Inspired by the likes of hardcore stalwarts Norma Jean and The Blood, this young ensemble seems pleased to provide the soundtrack for enthusiastic hardcore dancers. "These guys at the shows, they're in constant motion during our songs," marvels Ramos. "And it's not random, either. They've got it all planned out. Definitely not random."
Honors for best overall performance at the Arcadia Battle of the Bands were bestowed upon Knife Party's fellow hardcore enthusiasts Confide. Billy Pruden, 18, plays bass with the self-proclaimed Christian hardcore act, which formed in La Crescenta, Calif., in August of 2004. Despite the bombastic volatility of their live show, Pruden confesses, "Our band's message, Confide's mission, is to celebrate our faith and let the kids know that they are loved."
Citing Norma Jean, The Chariot and "all those Solid State bands" as their influences, Pruden says he and his bandmates are also no strangers to the new mosh-pit shuffle. "Yeah, they call it hardcore dancing; it's like a mix of moshing and karate," Pruden approximates. "It probably started around 2001; the hardcore scene sorta factioned off from traditional metal. I think hardcore dancing first started to kinda make fun of moshing. It's just meant to be a bit of fun." Beneath the coarse aggression of Confide's sonic assault, as on "Love Paid by Death," Pruden emphasizes, "Our songs are about our faith in Christ."
The unique hybrid that is hardcore dancing seems to mesh well with Confide's dovish message. "Moshing is all about random motion, violence and thrashing," Pruden asserts. "If you look real closely at hardcore dancing, though, you notice there's actually no contact. Even though everyone's moving and arms are flying, it's not invasive."
Following the accolades of their Arcadia set, Confide will begin a brief hiatus to break in a new percussionist. "Our drummer is leaving to become a firefighter," the bassist explains, "but we'll be playing out again soon."
When Confide returns to a hardcore stage near you, the dancers will likely be ready to strut their stuff. "Some of the guys work out entire routines, complex moves – it's all pretty intricate," Pruden adds. "The main thing is that the kids get to release some energy, but without killing each other. There's a kind of respect among the people in the dance. It's not about hurting; it's about respect."
And so the dance goes on.