Punk, metal, and hardcore shows are tribal rites unto themselves. The margin between performer and audience is razor thin, with both parties engaging in cathartic symbiosis through sonic and physical communion. Music has always inspired exuberance, and audiences have always felt compelled to dance. As music itself has grown more extreme, so has dancing. Given the risks associated with the practice, it’s no surprise that moshing continues to be a passionately contested debate.
For many years, Brooklyn club L’Amour was the go-to venue for metal and hardcore in the outer boroughs of New York City. The good times came to an abrupt end on December 18th, 1994 when an 18-year-old from Long Island named Christopher Mitchell landed on his head while stage diving at a Life Of Agony concert.
Looking to place the blame wherever they could, a 41-year-old security guard named James Gheida was arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. According to prosecutors, Gheida grabbed Mitchell as he was about to jump, instead tossing the teenager headfirst into an unoccupied area of the floor.
During the course of the investigation and subsequent trial, Mitchell’s parents took to the talk show circuit to speak on the dangers of moshing and the lack of accountability on the part of venues and security in cases of injury and death. As publicity ballooned around the case, moshing-related incidents began taking center stage in the press, such as one concert-goer being rendered quadriplegic at a Lollapalooza tour stop in Chicago that summer and another at a Pantera show in Maryland.
In late 1996, James Ghedia was cleared of all charges after witnesses testified that the security guard was nowhere near the area at the time of the incident. At the same time, an autopsy proved that Mitchell was under the influence of alcohol, barbiturates, and cocaine when he died.
History repeats itself, with the case against Randy Blythe of Lamb Of God in the death of a fan at a Czech Republic concert bearing eerie similarities to the Life Of Agony incident.