Going to the Gathering

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.



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15 thoughts on “Going to the Gathering

  1. dan

    It is really sad how you have already written off even trying to enjoy yourself while at this venue. What ever happened to unbiased journalism? I would like to think that someone who is just starting out in the field would be a little more open minded about the stories they are going to cover.

    Surrounding yourself with people that are extremely passionate about something just to talk down on them is not a very wise decision. That would be like walking into a military base in Iraq or Afghanistan and telling OUR troops that them fighting for our freedom and way of life is just a ridiculous waste of time.

    In closing I would like to ask that you keep an open mind and take in the event for what it is (not what you assume or have heard that it MAY be) The more open you are to the subject matter, the better journalist you will become.

    I’ll keep my eye out for you at the Gathering. There are bad apples in every bunch. Please stop the labeling and stereotyping of not only Juggalos, but everyone.

  2. brebro

    If you manage to find out how magnets works, for the love of God, please let us know!!!

  3. James

    They do not in any way venerate rape. Please show an example of where they show a deep respect for rape. If anything they are fully against it. Songs that discuss consensual sex are most definitely part of their song collection but rape? No sir.
    It’s sad how many times I’ve read, or heard someone say, that they encourage or glorify rape.
    People all over refer to them as stupid yet those same “smart” people are unable to differentiate between something referring to rape and something that refers to consensual sex through raunchy humor.

  4. Steve Shanafelt

    [b]They do not rap about rape. Get your facts straight before you write nonsense.[/b]

    Really? Listen to “Insane Like” from their first album [i]Basement Cuts[/i] (1991). Pretty specifically talks about raping, killing and mutilating a woman — in gruesome detail — and SPECIFICALLY says this is coming from the ICP’s perspective in the closing verse.

    It’s hardly the only example. Their early music in particular is littered with such references. Being so provocative was a large part of how they became popular in the first place.

  5. Steve Shanafelt

    [b]Please show an example of where they show a deep respect for rape.[/b]

    Again, from just one example — “Insane Like” — but there are plenty of others.

    [i]Yea, go to the house and knock on the door
    Clench my fist and cold clocked the whore
    Rape the bitch, and tell a nasty lie
    Whip out my shank and cut her eye
    I’m down about liking to use handcuffs
    Cut off her titties and use them for earmuffs[/i]

    And just to clarify that this isn’t coming from a character, here’s the final verse …

    [i]Kill kill kill
    Voices tell me to kill, kill, kill accused I’m safe cause the voices are real
    Living on the shit in Zug Island, come across to Delray,
    oil burn like clay
    Dragged them back to my underground crawlspace
    cut off the head
    But I save the face and staple guts to the wall
    [b]And that’s all we know when ICP is on call[/b][/i]

    And this was from their very first recording. I’m not arguing that ICP isn’t — in their own way — trying to be funny or ironic with this stuff. I seriously doubt that they’re [i]really[/i] trying to get anyone to rape or murder anyone else. But to claim that they don’t go out of their way to say shocking things — including how “crazy” they are, and what they’ll do if you ever cross paths with them on a bad day, which includes murder, rape and any number of similar threats — is simply incorrect. I could pull up dozens of examples, but I think the point has been made.

    To be fair to ICP, they have tried to change their message a bit in the last 23 years. Good for them. You’ll rarely even see [i]Basement Cuts[/i] listed on official discographies these days, as they’ve tried to distance themselves from it. But let’s be honest about their style and content, please.

  6. dave jones

    before you bash a group that is one of the most hardest working,dedicated bands in the industry i suggest you learn how to spell.juggalette not jaggalette as you wrote.
    and you have the nerve to say they LEECHED.they tour the nation 300 dates a year and have done so for nearly 20 years.i am 49 and own 15 acres and a beautiful 3 bedroom house.i am not a uneducated idiot either.
    i HIGHLY SUGGEST you read a copy of violent j aka joe bruce’s book called BEHIND THE PAINT.maybe then you will give them a fair shake.they are not at all trolls or leaches sir.they are hardworking american artists in a world of biased media and crooked politicians.
    whoop whoop.much clown love,ddj

  7. kevin

    Ok first off i would like to say its entertainment people, you can’t take it at face value.
    There label is HORRORCORE thats what they do, its supposed to be shocking and scary like a horror movie. I’m not going to accuse Dennis lliadis of being pro rape for putting a rather lengthy rape scene in the movie(LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) he did it for shock value.
    ICP are not the most rythmic catchy performers out there but they do paint rather vivid portraits with there words, it just so happens that they are scary ones.
    but if you listened to there songs and not just a few lyrics you would realise that the really raunchy songs are made for fun, you can tell by the way they emote and any song that has a serious tone always carries a positive message like “don’t rape” “don’t be racist” and “don’t be a greedy rich f*** w/ evil in your heart” or the wicked clowns will kill you!

  8. Jonathan

    Steve, you actually found the only example. “Blacken Your Eyes” is similar but even more obvious humor… both tracks being from before 1992… nice stretch to “prove” your point buddy.

  9. amozillo

    Dear intern: If you’d rather be at Lilith Fair just say so and leave the petty mewling to the folks at Gawker Media LLC. Either you are playing up the “Deliverance” gags out of social preening or genuine fear; frankly either one makes for an unedifying display and tempts me to just ignore your eventual “reportage” on the topic, whatever shape it takes. Vice already did a longform piece that managed to describe the festival/carnival/whatever without excessive condescension. While I’ve never been able to listen to the clowns’ albums (which I believe were published by Disney at one point) I see a few names on the bill this year that wouldn’t be so intolerable, e.g. CKY or George Clinton. Try venturing outside of your parochial granola alt-weekly ego for a change. Sincerely, A. Mozillo

  10. bill smith

    [b]nice stretch to “prove” your point buddy. [/b]

    Yes, such a ‘stretch’ to provide a specific example countering the claims that there are no examples to be provided.

    Clearly, ICP wants to distance themselves from that album. Why?

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