In just five days, I will make an almost 500-mile trek to cover the most treacherous story I have faced in my young career as a music journalist: The Gathering of the Juggalos. There’s barely a local angle here. This is more of a chance to go gonzo on the most terrifying music festival in the world and prove to the Xpress, that as their A&E summer intern and faithful underling, there is nothing that I won’t do for this publication.
If you have somehow missed the cultural nadir that is the Gathering, it’s basically a Bonnaroo-style festival with music, wrestling, food vendors and carnival-themed attractions curated by the hip hop duo and career trolls, Insane Clown Posse. The band’s fans identify themselves as Juggalos and Jaggalettes, a denotation to the outfit’s iconic black-and-white stage makeup, spiked hair and painted goatees that have them looking a bit like grownup clowns. You might have seen Juggalos and their painted faces as the subject of ridicule on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Workaholics. Or in your nightmares.
If you’re asking yourself, “What the hell is a Juggalo?”, Insane Clown Posse has a rather astute answer for you:
“What is a Juggalo? / Well, he ain’t a phony / He’ll walk up and bust a nut in your macaroni / And watch you sit there / And finish up the last bit / Because you’re a stupid ass dumb f—king idiot.”
Abrasive. Aggressive. Derogatory. The band embraces a surrealist, dark humor with a constant and unpredictable disregard for social norms. They have songs that venerate rape, encourage violence and suggest a sort of paternal dominance over women. Like true internet trolls, the songs are meant to provoke an intense emotional response that leaves some with hurt feelings and others laughing. The band has built its career on the idea that “any press is good press,” and leeched off of the unavoidable attention that comes with being so downright offensive.
The band’s annual festival, 11 years running, has become a hub for bankrupt musicians and B-list comedians that have renounced their careers, but still carry an ironic or nostalgic fanbase that facilitates a large-scale performance every once in a while. Vanilla Ice, one of this year’s headliners, famously came out to halfheartedly apologize to the music world for “Ice Ice Baby.” Of course, he’ll still play the track when it comes time for his Gathering performance. Charlie Sheen seems like an appropriate fit for this year’s Gathering: the television actor revitalized his career by trashing his role on Two and a Half Men and creating a media firestorm with his unapologetic admission of drug use and fond memories of strippers.
And then there’s the Insane Clown Posse itself. A few years ago, members Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope revealed to the world through a song, “Thy Unveiling,” that their entire career had been a sort of Trojan Horse. That despite their hyper-violent, misogynist and sadistic lyrics and put-on, they had been evangelic Christians the whole time. Last year, Violent J explained to a Washington State newspaper that their horrorcore hip hop was an attempt to penetrate a certain demographic to spread the word of God:
“That’s the stuff that people are talking about on the streets. So in other words, to get attention, you have to speak their language,” he said. “You have to interest them, gain their trust, talk to them and show you’re one of them. You’re a person from the street and speak of your experiences. Then, at the end you can tell them God has helped me out like this, and it might transfer over, instead of just come straight out and just speak straight out of religion.”
Whether or not to take Insane Clown Posse seriously is hard to discern. Its fan base seems divided in thirds: those who enjoy the campy aspect of the belligerence and genuinely enjoy the music, those who think it’s hilariously ironic, and those who take it absolutely deadpan serious. I’m mainly worried about that last third.
What we will be taking seriously is safety. Accompanying me on this journey to capture the bizarre are two video-minded friends, Neil Blank and Clay Hansen. We’ll be pumping out photos, shooting video for a mini-doc and keeping those interested informed on what’s happening at the Gathering. No offense to them, but they certainly weren’t the first people I asked to come with me to the festival. Most people I asked were afraid, and understandably so – it takes a lot of convincing to get people onboard knowing that they’re risking their lives to die listening to bad music in hot weather. But now that our crew’s assembled, we’re ready to go deep into the heart of darkness.
We’ll be live-streaming on UStream, tweeting and blogging the entire ordeal, so if you bookmark this page, when the festival finally roles around on August 11, you can catch a glimpse of the festival for yourself and help the police find our bodies.