story + photos / Amanda Kaiser
It’s the crack of dawn and I’m sleeping in the back of a dust-covered Prius smooshed up against a family-size cooler, and the Juggalos are screaming.
More specifically, it’s a bare-chested Jugalette wearing a tutu and cloth dreads, and she is probably ninety pounds soaking wet. She’s lying in the medical tent writhing manically, screaming bloody murder while the medical attendants strap her down to the cot. Homegirl is definitely on one – or two or three.
The Juggalos hanging out by the car next to me chuckle through the cracked window. With every scream they bust out little one-liners like “This one’s definitely on some bath salts” and “We’ve got a live one!” My sentiment is similar – I want to feel badly for this broke-down chick but her nonstop screaming is just getting goddamn ridiculous. With one more bloodcurdling cry my hope for an extra hour of shuteye is completely lost. I open my bleary eyes (my contacts have been in for 3 days straight) and check my phone for my messages from the outside world – but oh right – no reception in Cave-In-Rock, IL. Welcome to Day 3 of the Gathering of the Juggalos.
If you’re like me, your Juggalo knowledge can be counted on three fingers at best: clown face paint, magnets, and Faygo may come to mind. The Gathering of the Juggalos is a “family” reunion for the loyal fans of rap icons The Insane Clown Posse (ICP), and when I got a ticket to the annual 4-day festival I had no idea what was in store. Carnival carnage and hip hop was the very least of it. Documentaries like Brooklyn filmmaker Sean Dunne’s “American Juggalo” have tried to document this subculture, but it’s still too easy to draw assumptions that all Juggalos are cornrowed, violent, gay-bashing gang whose primary interests are getting violent and getting fucked up. After a weekend at the Gathering I’m here to tell you that (despite the zombie Jugalette story), this is definitely not the case.
Being a Juggalo is a way of life, and these Family-approved steps will help you achieve enlightenment their way, so you too can be “down with the clown”.
1. Immerse yourself fully in the experience, staying mindfully present.
I admit that I judged the eff out of Juggalo culture before the festival. I imagined garishly face-painted goons maniacally laughing while throwing puppies into a bonfire, or something. It didn’t help matters that everyone I talked to wished me luck on getting back from the Gathering alive. The closer we neared on our 6-hour ride to Cave-In-Rock, IL, the less our 3LW Pandora playlist and roadies succeeded in calming our nerves. Night was falling, and everyone in the car fessed up fears of clowns lurking behind shadowy trees, creepy Faygo initiation rituals, and more John Wayne Gacy-esque situations. When we finally reached the campgrounds however, what emerged from behind the trees was surprisingly…normal. People walking around, talking excitedly. Juggalos eager to fill our cups with vodka. Barely a clown face in sight – the greasepaint actually became totally normal over the weekend, but given our fragile state the less clowns we saw that night the better.
2. Surround yourself with inspiring spiritual leaders.
ICP members Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope are studied hip hop geeks themselves,so the lineup was sheer rap fantasticness. The five days of nonstop music included the sharp-tongued Detroit rapper Danny Brown, 90s hip hop heavyweights like DMX, 36 Mafia and the Pharcyde, a ton of late-night metal bands as well as all the acts on Psychopathic Records, ICP’s horrorcore homebase. The Michigan-based label also brought out juggalo VP’s Twiztid (nom de plume of Michigan rappers Jamie Madrox and Monoxide), Blaze Ya Dead Homie, and more face-painted purveyors of white collar gangster rap. The rappers’ energy was infectious and we definitely got into it – by the time Twiztid performed we were turned up on Rock & Rye-flavored Faygo (it has a bubblegum taste that is not found in nature and is also strangely addictive) and we got into a serious discussion about which clown-faced member was hotter, the way some people might compare the likes of Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum. It was a weird scene, basically.
The culminating musical experience was the ICP set on Sunday night, which took extreme mental preparation on my part. Do I want to get doused in Faygo and get my world rocked or run for cover like an outsider zombie? Ultimately I chose the middle ground, leaving a safe distance between me and the stage. The show began with a circus ringleader MC’ing, introducing psycho clowns dancing maniacally around the stage and stiff, bloodied zombie-types that managed to stay in crippled character throughout the entire the theatrically gory two-hour set. Following two “Faygo Breaks” where the clowns came out and whipped exploding Faygo bottles into the faces of ecstatic fans, songs about chicken hunting, magnets and maniacal murder schemes, and an intense skit where a whip-thin, lollipop-wielding blonde Jugalette was frisked suggestively by a burly Juggalo in a cop uniform, the entire dark carnival was topped off by an epic fireworks show combined with a neverending Faygo shower. Fifty Juggalos and Jugalettes mobbed the stage and this point and threw Faygo into the audience for a good twenty minutes, which was taken to the next level by – I shit you not – a firehose connected to a tank of blue Faygo. The next day I emerged from the festival grounds back to civilization looking like a strung-out seapunk. So at least I had that going for me.
Dear Free People Fashion Blog, you got scooped on this one. The Gathering of the Juggalo Handbook calls out mainstream “zombies” who are slaves to trends, yet many a Jugalette – -and hell, even most Juggalos – have their own particular aesthetics. Several girls admitted to planning their fest outfits out weeks in advance, and nary a single one involved high-waisted shorts and/or a bandeau top (thank gawd). Instead, embroidered, crocheted, tie-dyed, ripped, splattercore, studded and worn DIY elements reigned supreme. Cornrowed hatchet men (ICP’s logo) danced on pirate-jagged hemlines, camo and 90’s B-Boy style was everywhere – sports bra tops, snapbacks, colorful kicks, baggy pants, and neon everything. Every Juggalo and Juggalette seemed to have their own take on festival style, from the ubiquitous toplessness to one guy who wore his puppy as a shawl.
4. Quiet the incessant chattering of your repetitive mind.
I know what you’re thinking: “Drugs? At a music festival? My word!” The actual presence of drugs wasn’t the baffling part, but rather the designated “Drug Bridge” where most festival commerce occured. Juggalos flaunted their wares by scrawling on torn Cheez-It boxes and showing salesmanlike charm that would put Sears and Roebuck to shame. One rather desperate Jugalette even tried to sell us tabs for a dollar – which sounded like a steal, until they turned out to be pop tabs. Like, of the freshly-ripped-from-the-Pepsi-can variety. This all seemed pretty fitting with the Juggalo lifestyle – don’t be something you’re not, don’t be afraid to let people know what you’re all about – and in the case of the drug bridge, that would be Ether! Oxcotin! MDMA! Xanax!
5. Free yourself from the illusion that you are separate from an infinite source of love and energy.
All the rumours are true: the Gathering is definitely the most controversial, out-there music festival of all time. The drugs, naked bodies, general disorder, and insane rap are not the main reasons for this though – it’s being in a music festival still untouched by judgement, trends, societal norms, and hipsters. The juggalos bitch-slapped my world in a weird and awesome way, and I’ve got the memories and the Faygo-splained backpack to prove it.
For more pictures click here.