Moshing is an art form. Like the heavy metal music it was intended to accompany, it's a brutal, punishing art form, one built on the deliberate collision of bodies and the sweat, blood and bruises of concertgoers. And it's an art form that gets celebrated each year here in North Texas at the Mosh Off where aggressive and defensive moshers are judged for their style, stamina and brutality in the pit.
The most brutal among them are awarded with a silver cup trophy named after David Compose, one of the original founders of the Pit Bulls, a local moshing organization whose roots reach into the early '80s when the pit was upchucking people suffering from a broken leg, a black eye and a knife wound or two.
The "offensive mosher" is an aggressive personality who will get you involved in the pit at a metal show despite your reservations. He's able to keep the energy of the pit raging, often pushing him or herself past the point of human endurance. Some look angry as they lower their shoulders and slam into the person next to them. It looks violent, but the participants of the mosh pit claim it's not.
Some of them are well known like Juan Herrera, Gabriel "Tank" Ramos and Thor Devlin, but the offensive mosher could also be the skinny kid who freaks out to the metal, taking his head banging past the limits of slam dancing.
The Pit Bulls have spent years picking out and honoring the best of these moshers. On December 10, Compose and the Pit Bulls will be celebrating 25 years as an organization, and they plan to hold a concert with a national act in the spring as a way to say thank you to the North Texas metal community for the continued support.
"The band will be someone the community can really sink their teeth into," says Carlos Casillas, a member of the Pit Bulls and lead guitarist for Demonseed, a death metal band. "It'll be like a gift; something to celebrate."
Compose is known as the "the mosh father" in the scene. He first entered the pit at Joe's Garage, one of the only clubs in Fort Worth showcasing metal shows in the mid-80s. "It's addicting man," Compos says. "It's like a drug for me."
But it was a hard addiction to feed because fights would erupt inside the pit at Joe's Garage. There were too many factions of different people whose differences would ignite whenever they slammed into one another.
Compose was no stranger to violence. He grew up in south Oak Cliff during a time when danger lurked in the open. "Next door was a crack house," he says, "and across the street was a crack house. I grew up trying to survive."
Compose got the idea to start the Pit Bulls from a song entitled "Pit Bulls" that a friend, Steve Russell, had written about a mosher whom nobody in the pit liked because he had style. They would sucker punch him, but he found the strength somehow to rise up and overtake them with his moshing ability.
Inspired by his friend's song, Compose found a black T-shirt, took it to a local print shop and paid to have "Pit Bulls" embroidered in white Old English lettering across the front. He showed it to his friend who asked if he could have one, too. Soon other friends were clamoring for a Pit Bulls T-shirt. They wore them to metal shows, displaying the name of their new organization, which people would later call "The Pit Police."
The idea behind the Pit Bulls was to provide a safe pit for moshers to express their art without fear of hospitalization. Structured similar to a motorcycle club, the organization began to grow as more and more people asked to become "Prospects." Age isn't a factor. Only the passion for moshing safely is required.
But they can't control every pit.
"It's all about respect," Compose says. "You have to earn that respect [in the pit]."
The Pit Bulls have earned respect from the North Texas metal scene not only by protecting people in the pit but also by hosting benefits and metal shows at places like the Liquid Lounge, Three Links and Reno's Chop Shop, showcasing bands like Exploder, Meathook and D.R.I.
Shawn "Joker" Slatouski is Compose's right-hand man in the Pit Bulls and a lifelong friend. They met in high school in south Oak Cliff, and he helped keep the organization alive when Compose fell into the darkness of addiction for a time.
Joker also helped Compose create the annual Mosh Off, an event that they hoped might take moshing to the next level as an extreme sport. "It brings to light moshing as an art," says Joker.
Members Allen and Kimberly Culmo joined the organization because of their shared love of the pit. For them, being a Pit Bull means not only doing something they love, but being a part of something bigger than themselves.
"What does it mean to be a Pit Bull?" asks Mrs. Culmo, rhetorically. "It's respect. Respect for yourselves, others and the pit. It's respect all around."
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