It started as a joke on Facebook when I first saw the press release about Juggalo Weekend come through my inbox. I, like many, have poked fun at Detroit rap group Insane Clown Posse and their legions of followers. They’re an easy target, proudly representing the fringes and outcasts of society. But, even though I was pretty sure I knew exactly what one of their events would play out like, I wanted to experience it for myself, I am a journalist, after all.
I admit I relied on the sensational media portrayals of Juggalos–the nickname for fans of ICP and Psychopathic Records– for my development of expectations. I’ve read and watched the coverage of the Gathering of the Juggalos, a four-day, annual melee celebrating the culture. I’ve seen the images of the scantily clad, face-painted women as they strut across the stage for the seemingly misogynistic Miss Juggalette Pageant. As a self-proclaimed hip-hop head and longtime music critic, I’ve listened to ICP’s music with a smirk of elitism. But, none of this, save my musical opinion, was based on any of any actual experience.
Some of the stereotypes that surround the subculture stem from the music that ICP is known for. With lyrics such as “I put poop in a hotdog bun and ate it for the thrill,” to “Gimme that bitch, in a couple of weeks/I’d have her hooked on crack rock workin’ the streets,” it’s obvious that shock-value, misogyny and encouraged ignorance (think “Miracles”) heavily shapes the culture. But that’s not unlike much of rap music, why are Juggalos pushed even further to the peripheries?
In 2011 the FBI classified Juggalos as a “loosely organized hybrid gang,” due to some isolated incidents of violence by self-identified members. The clothing they wore soon became a method of identification. Psychopathic Records gear adorned with the “Hatchetman” logo and the well-known face paint now prompted harassment. In some reported cases resulting in lost jobs or refused service. This discrimination even prompted an ACLU lawsuit in 2014 and a Juggalo March on Washington last fall.
It’s easy to take all of that, alongside the trash strewn festival grounds, aggressive mosh pits and Faygo-drenched shenanigans to make a seemingly educated decision about who Juggalos are. But, does that make it true?
It took acknowledgment of my own biases for me to shift my perception. If I were to properly document the Juggalo and Juggalette experience, I couldn’t be separate from them. I had to be one of them.
I enlisted help of my editor, Zoneil Maharaj, who knew how we could fit in. Cierra Pedro, a designer for Vegas Seven, needed only a few YouTube tutorials to learn how to apply face paint, Juggalo style. I chose an adorable blue haired vixen with sexy, clown-like makeup as the muse. Although Cierra executed the look perfectly, when I wore it, the outcome leaned more toward Pennywise than Harley Quinn. Zoneil wore Violent J’s iconic look. We all had a good laugh as staff photographer, Krystal, snapped our “after” photos.
I was nervous about hitting the streets with face paint. I even brought makeup remover wipes to ensure a quick transformation if my self-consciousness grew too great. I wasn’t the only one that was uneasy about the situation. The others in our party without face paint walked a few steps in front of us. Even in Las Vegas—an anything goes kind of city—we still stood out as people hollered at us from moving vehicles. But once we went inside the Juggalo Weekend festival grounds at Backstage Bar & Billiards, we simply became part of the scene.
The crowd fit the expected demographic, comprised of mostly white dudes with a few women and people of color peppered in. Many were wearing Psychopathic Records branded clothing, some had colorful hair posed by gravity defying methods. Some wore various styles of face paint. All seemed genuinely happy to be there.
Although The Gathering of the Juggalos is the biggest event of the year, Juggalo Weekend also draws people from all over the country–mostly the Midwest. Beyond the performers, there were some familiar faces that I remembered from my research, including Big LA, the man from the infamous video, “lap band dance” who vibed out on stage through one of the openers’ sets, and Crazy P. Thang, a Juggalo with Coolio-esq multi-colored hair.
Upon entering the Beer Garden, I was immediately approached by a man who asked for my picture, because “Jugalettes are beautiful.” I would pose for several more photos like that throughout the night.
As crowded and intoxicated as any other given show happening around town, there was one notable difference: overarching respect. Not once was I bumped into without an apology, or my feet trod on. In fact, one man who tripped over a tent pole went out of his way to avoid making contact with me. When I failed to lock the port-a-potty bathroom properly and someone walked in, he was so ashamed that I had to reassure him that no damage was done. Nothing like the rowdy, tit-groping mayhem I had been told to expect.
The Juggalos consider themselves a family, and it shows. From the call and response of “whoop whoop” throughout the night to the Faygo cheers, they warmly included us outsiders, even when informed that we were on assignment. We learned about a fairly new phenomenon of declaring “Jugg Love” by intertwining pinky fingers and holding up a J and an L. We were given plastic baggies to protect our phones from the forthcoming deluge of Faygo. And everyone we met was happy to share their story.
When ICP finally hit the stage and the bottles started flying we really got to see what they were here for. The bliss was contagious, as the crowd swaying uniformly. But, much like the sickly sweet Faygo, the music remains a taste I simply cannot stomach.
After leaving the venue and rejoining the usual Fremont Street crowd, I was reminded of my appearance. Met with jeers, we hit a few local bars. They served us, but the fellow bar goers weren’t so friendly. Some opted to leave rather than sharing the bar with Juggalos, others made jokes just loud enough for us to hear. As someone who is genuinely either draped in my inherited privilege or apt at blending in, it offered a rare glimpse of discomfort. Thanks to the Juggalos, in one night I was not only forced to look beyond my own biases and assumptions, I was allowed to feel how heavy those stereotypes hold (even if on such a minute scale).
So, I may not have transformed into an ICP fan, but I now hold a newfound respect for a community that is given so very little of it.