“Dr. Juggalove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Insane Clown Posse”
By Landon Defever
Insane Clown Posse is an institution: 6 words I never thought I would have ever typed. In reality, though, it’s incredibly true.
For over 25 years now, the Detroit-based hip-hop rock duo has eternally cemented a place in the Faygo-drenched corner of American rock music. Through hard work and a devoted following, the band has sold nearly 7 million records worldwide, own their own record label and host an annual music festival, explore ventures into professional wrestling, and so, so much more. However, it seems that the success of the band is a unique one — being that ICP doesn’t seem to be growing in popularity, but instead have found a unique niche with their devoted Juggalo fanbase… a fanbase that is often scoffed at by most music listeners.
I’ll be the first to admit that, up until recently, I hadn’t exactly held the highest opinion of the Juggalo subculture. Like many in the alternative scene, Insane Clown Posse always seemed to me like a punchline and nothing more. And who could blame me, with my first impressions of the band came at the impressionable age of 10 years old, when rapper and noted ICP adversary, Eminem, threw barbs at the duo multiple times on his record the Marshall Mathers LP — a record I adored at the time, and an artist whose word I took as gospel.
For that reason, I never held a high opinion of the band, nor did I actively seek them out. Sure, I’d watch the video for “Miracles” when a friend would show it to me for a good laugh, or watch the band guest star on an episode of Tosh.0, but that’s about as far as my interest in the band went.
It wasn’t until about 2013 when my perception of Insane Clown Posse, and their devoted fans, known as “juggalos” began to change when the documentary American Juggalo was released. Filmmaker Sean Dune took on the task of attending the 2012 edition of the Gathering of the Juggalos — a yearly music festival in the Midwest (formerly Illinois, now Ohio) — to paint a portrait of its attendees in a thoughtful, introspective light. Interviewing hordes of devoted fans, the documentary gained mass attention and showed the softer side of the subculture — well as “soft” as one could really describe a juggalo. As one of those interested viewers, my opinion of the band and its fans started to change.
However, this opinion didn’t really begin to truly form until just last month, when, for the first time, I got the opportunity to see the self-proclaimed “wicked clowns” for myself. Fusion Shows, a concert promotion company who I’ve done work with for years, announced they’d be hosting two dates of the band’s “Riddle Box” anniversary tour at The Loft in Lansing, MI. Morbidly curious in seeing the band for myself, as well as wanting to use up a pair of tickets I had in exchange for flyering a show earlier in April for the company, I decided to go to the show with my friend Dillon (whose interest in the show was very similar to my own) and we headed down to the show. And the experience was one that I won’t soon forget.
Even the sheer act of waiting in line for an Insane Clown Posse show is an experience. Interacting and witnessing not only the many antics, but also raw connection, that the juggalo community had for each other, even while waiting in line to go into the show, was something special. Fans stood in line, smoking, drinking Faygo and makeshift gallons of homemade alcohol, laughing, talking and shouting the ever-popular “whoop-whoop” call to express excitement.
The energy only continued once the show began. Now, as someone who’s been to his fair share of concerts of many types of genres, situations and environments (casinos to festivals, punk shows to indie-rock gigs), I have a pretty respectable knowledge of show etiquette from a lot of different perspectives. With that, it was interesting to see the dynamics of what was acceptable behavior compared to any other type of show.
For example, no one claps after a song is finished at an ICP show, but instead, the crowd greets the band with a unanimous “whoop-whoop” in its place. And, consistently throughout the night until ICP actually went on, for most of the evening there seemed to be a longer line at the merch table (featuring everything from Zippo lighters to comic books, underwear to autographed 2 liters of Faygo) than actually watching either opening act. Despite these little differences, a lot of the love and connection was still apparent between the fans, many of which I noticed catching up and reminiscing over past times they saw the band.
When ICP took the stage around 10 PM that evening, I was immediately floored by the reaction. The sold out, 400-capacity venue immediately shifted their attention to the plastic covered stage, ready for the chaos about to take place. Within the first three minutes, the band had came out and unleashed no less than 24 full two-liter bottles of Faygo-brand pop into to the crowd, popping off the caps and jettisoning it into the audience like a military grade missile. And, to the sheer pleasure of the crowd, the band captivated the entire audience, unleashing a near 90-minute set, spanning the band’s entire “Riddle Box” record. Not to mention, in a venue where I’ve seen bands stop entire songs due to someone getting hit in the head by a crowdsurfer, the band didn’t stop their set once during the madness of being drenched in enough Faygo to fill Lake Michigan — an impressive feat for a band whose two members are pushing their early to mid forties.
Though the set did start to take an ugly turn once the plastic started to get ripped off the scaffolding, causing a metal fixture to fall from the ceiling, hitting a female attending in the forehead and causing a gash, the show went off without a hitch, making for one of the most interesting, soda-soaked experiences of my young, show-going life.
After finally experiencing the madness for myself, firsthand, being totally in the belly of the beast, immersing myself in an Insane Clown Posse show, I did have one thought to myself on my ride home….was that it? Was that what all of the fuss was about? Was this the band that was worth harassing, criticizing and throwing barbs at all these years? Were these the fans that so many internet trolls spend their time and efforts on destroying and ostracizing out of both hip-hop and rock communities…just because they like a hybrid band that dress in makeup and listen to weird music?
After so many years of being someone who never really understood why Insane Clown Posse had such a large following, successful career and permanent place in popular culture, my mindset has suddenly shifted towards the opposite end of the spectrum? Why does it bother so many that ICP had a large following and success in music when the fans are generally thoughtful people and a live show so thoroughly entertaining?
And, don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to admit that Insane Clown Posse is not a great band. Far from it. Not all of their records are flawless or timeless. They’re goofy. They’re misogynistic. A lot of their fans can be obnoxious and exhibit degenerate like behavior that can be off-putting. However…can’t you find fans like that in nearly every genre of music?
Country fans — are you going to tell me that there aren’t people at concerts that you wish would just sit down and stop drunkenly screaming when you’re just trying to watch an artist perform? Metal fans — sometimes, don’t you just want to watch the show without getting crowd killed on the sidelines? However, even with those people’s existence in music, don’t you still listen to the music and find a personal connection with it? Absolutely, you do, or those few bad apples would ruin the bunch for everyone, and music would incrementally cease to exist.
With that said, why do we mock juggalos so viciously? Because they wear face paint? Because they listen to music that we find different from our own? Because we find happiness in seeing others feel inadequate about themselves and their music tastes?
As someone who has grown closer and closer to the punk scene for years, it’s discouraging to see a small subset feel excluded and for more division being created because of this. Music, to me, should be about having fun. It should be about conversation. It should be about expressing ideas freely (to an extent, of course), even if they aren’t necessarily your own. It should be about finding your niche and passion and allowing the world to support your decisions without scrutiny.
I’m not saying that everyone who reads this should immediately devote themselves to Insane Clown Posse — in fact, I’m a firm believer that everyone reserves the right to like whatever they want, as well as dislike whatever they want, in turn. All I’m hoping for is that, given the proper conversation, Juggalos and non-Juggalos alike can help find common ground with one another, and that we can help heal whatever differences we all have to create a more united music scene.
That, to me, is the true definition of what it means to be a part of music…whatever music that may be.