mosh pit of love
house parties were bigger than just music
If my life were one of those cliche, high school movies, I know exactly what the first scene would be. It’s senior year, and my friends and I have left my car in some neighborhood in Boston, a few blocks over from our destination: a new music venue where our friend is performing. We dutifully follow Google Maps to the address, but we probably could have figured out the way from the trails of cigarette smoke and the clumps of teenagers moving through the streets. Soon enough, we’re at the door. Knocking is futile, so we let ourselves in and find a barren house swarming with teens and a heavy bass pounding at our feet. Momentarily, it seems like the space’s heartbeat.
Tossed words from concertgoers inform us that our friend’s set is starting soon. We rush through a whirlwind of greetings as we’re pulled towards the basement, to the party’s engine. Like any good underground show, the odd emptiness of the venue soon gives way to an unfurnished, sweltering basement decorated with colorful lights and random fabrics. This sort of absurd location is a staple of our lives by this point: a rotating set of basements, attics, and so on, each transformed, for a night, into a house show. People accumulate to create an underground scene composed of familiar faces. A hush is pushed aside by loud guitar, overwhelming percussion, and ringing eardrums. The entire house quakes with the pulse of rock music.
For a set, bodies against bodies create a continuous push that never quite knocks anyone off their feet. What begins as clumped huddles of waiting friends becomes tossed up and messy as the mosh begins and the sweat gathering in everyone’s hair is flung onto everyone else. Objectively, this is gross, but it seems less gross when you realize you’re part of the problem, and even less gross still when you realize that this facilitated aggression might have been exactly what you needed.
When the set ends, my bangs have glued themselves to my forehead and two of my friends have ditched their sweaters in some corner never to be seen again. I remark that it’s impossible to hear, and everyone around me confirms this is true. Someone else remarks that it’s impossible to hear, and everyone agrees again as if the thought were new. We move back upstairs and out onto the patio where a bonfire has been lit. Everyone begins to talk and smoke (with the near constant reminder to keep quiet outside being yelled from inside the house—as if that changes anything). I meet people who know of me, and I meet people who I know of. I leave with having promised to tell someone I met so-and-so and an assurance I’ll see a number-I-didn’t-save at the next house show; the map of relationships expands further around me.
If this were a plot rather than my life, I’d drive into the night with my friends and the scene would pick up again days later by a locker or in a car. Things would go onward as an aesthetic project or a single, movie-length experience captured eternally. Time wouldn’t keep rushing on and I would have stayed entangled in this scene forever. But, my life isn’t a high school movie—I know, surprising twist. The tragic reality of the situation is that I’m not even in high school anymore. I’m like, a good year and a half away from that whole era. So, I guess it doesn’t make sense to reflect on a dead music scene now. Or, maybe it does. Or, I’m going to do it anyway.
What I’m struggling with now is what to do with all that past that keeps finding its way into a present state of missing. I may have moved on from a network of house shows and underground music, but that scene goes on in my absence. I made myself a past tense, and now I’m starting to think a bit more about what that means.
At the house shows I went to, everyone knew everyone, but not in a way that was scary or overwhelming. After a couple shows, you knew the people you moshed with and you knew to stay away from those two guys with the extra long hair who always pushed too hard. They became people you’d follow on Instagram and exchange eye-contact with on the street, whose songs you would give a listen to on Spotify even if you didn’t know them personally. In these networks, some names got bigger than others, some musicians went on to play show after show while others slowly faded after their Spotify debuts. Yet, achieving success outside our scene wasn’t the point even if it was a goal; what really mattered to everyone was the continuation of the entire moment. People came out to listen to music that would let their bodies thrash around or to support the faces that had been in the community for years. Shows gave us a gathering point to share a lot more than the same music taste.
Brown doesn’t make me feel like a part of something larger than myself because ultimately, I think, no one at Brown came here for that. We came here to learn and connect with some mighty intellectual “thing” that becomes hazier the longer I look at it. Brown is individualistic; it’s thousands of kids coming together to chase their own dreams. That’s okay. Brown is a good place to be, and it’s kind of cool, but in a way, it is objectively very uncool. It’s not moshing in a stranger’s basement on a Friday, and it’s not watching a community centered around music grow, strengthen, and engulf so much more than rock. That, on the other hand, is about a collective experience where I–and everyone–don’t matter or try to matter any more than the next person.
At Brown, the present is often actually about the future—life after college, what job I’ll get. I look back to my underground scene to remember what now can feel like. Sometimes, I like to remember that it can all just be about thrashing your body around, supporting the people you love, and experiencing a network for nothing more than existing in the midst of it. I might be boring now and study most of the time, but I try to make sure that this doesn’t trap me.
I guess, as I’m looking back at what my life has been, I’m just trying to live somewhere a bit closer to the in-between of what I came here to become and what I left behind. So many of the faces in that underground network have stayed there. A week hardly goes by when someone doesn’t announce a single or a show or drop some new project. I try to go back when I can. I try to bring them here too, when I can. I write about them. I play their songs and remember their accomplishments. I’m trying to remember what it feels like to be a part of accomplishments that are not my own and moments that don’t only belong to me. While life rushes forward, it’s nice to let things stand still and lose focus for a moment. By playing a specific song filled with the energy of those moments, I can let go of everything about “here” for a second and let nostalgia become the present tense. It’s not the same thing, and it never will be. Yet, it’s still something more than nothing. There are still songs, still connections, and still memories that keep me grounded in so much more than just this very moment. On a cold day at Brown, I’m starting to feel the warmth of a packed basement again and the heartbeat of the bass through my headphones instead of in the room around me.