How to dance at a heavy metal music festival

Danish photojournalist Jacob Ehrbahn has covered a range of complex and challenging subject matter, from his award-winning Daily Life series – which followed the humdrum poverty of the American Rust Belt community of Youngstown, Ohio – to the Earthquake Aftermath, Kashmir collection, documenting the devastated towns and cities of the disputed Indian territory.

For his latest book however, Ehrbahn has taken on a very different challenge: capturing the intensity of headbanging – a style of dancing associated with heavy metal music.

Headbanging involves the violent shaking of the head in time with the down-beat of rock songs. Dancers thrust their heads back and forth, in circular motions, and side to side (the ‘Demon’s Whip’), making their (usually, long) hair flow wildly and chaotically.

Variations within the style are numerous. The ‘Hammer of Thor’ technique involves the bashing of one’s fist on the knee in time with the cranial thrust itself, whilst the ‘Whiplash’ – one of the most hazardous moves – dispenses with musical timing, favouring a frenetic, fit-like shudder.

The ‘Arschloch’ headbang, which involves the regular full-body bang accompanied by a monkey-like leaping around; bashing into people, spilling beer etc, is only really acceptable in a mosh-pit. Headbanging should not be confused with moshing, crowd surfing, or performing air guitar – for which there is a World Championship. Though these activities may be welcome at heavy metal gigs, they have their own distinct techniques, philosophies and musical heuristics.

Long hair is not essential but the overall effect is optimised if hair is shoulder, or at the very least, mullet-length. Beards are less important, especially as headbanging is a gender-neutral discipline. Indeed, as many metallers will attest, such is the disparity of males to females at gigs and festivals, that encouragement of female headbangers is occasionally frenzied.

Headbangers covers a rich milieu of fans, all united by a love for heavy metal music and the cathartic escape of headbanging. The book suggests that the style is most active in the muddy festivals of Northern Europe, with Ehrbahn traveling to Denmark’s Copenhell, Germany’s Wacken Open Air, and Sweden’s Metaltown for some of his most kinetic shots.

Ehrbahn says on the process: “I wanted to photograph states of mind – the feelings that the music provokes in people [and] not just the people themselves. To do so I needed simple frames.

“Furthermore, it was important to me to choose a photographic approach that would give the pictures a uniform look, so choosing full flash and the sky as a backdrop was a way to achieve that. You get the feeling that people seem to be weightless in the pictures and I think that corresponds great with people being on an inner journey; abandoning themselves to the music.”

Headbangers, by Jacob Ehrbahn is published through Powerhouse books on 29th September 2015 and is available for pre-order through


Want to get your work seen by the most influential people in the industry? Enter the BJP International Photography Awards 2016. For more details and to enter,