No one that I talked to had heard of Insane Clown Posse ever playing Brooklyn before, but in many ways this was a homecoming for the horrorcore duo, who command the most well-known fanbase (really) since Deadheads. And Juggalos aren’t as far off from Deadheads as you’d think, although one chief difference is that it wasn’t a Deadhead who bragged to this reporter outside the Well yesterday that he and a bunch of ‘Los once blew up a few Port-O-Sans at one of those fabled Gatherings they make mini-documentaries about.
Having attended one of those Gatherings myself in 2015, I can tell you 1.) I’ve never been to another festival where a stranger just handed me a cold bottle of water because I “looked like I could use one,” and 2.) it was honestly some of the most fun I’ve ever had, though I feel superstitious about returning, like I cheated death or something. (I was hit in the head with a full beer can during my first hour at the festival, and during the same set — Tech N9ne — watched someone throw an empty glass vodka bottle into the air. It didn’t come down.)
But I digress. Last night, I spoke to a painted-up Juggalette named Linda, 28, who brought along her friend Paloma, 26, and neither had ever attended an ICP show or a Juggalo event before. They were wondering the same thing the Stereogum staff was: Does Brooklyn have Juggalos? Linda was a relatively recent convert, after going for Halloween last year as a Juggalette and then getting sucked into the culture itself; she’s the only ‘Lo I’ve ever met to use the term “romanticized” in conversation. Any hipster appeal for the duo is firmly established, though no one I saw was obviously mocking or attending ironically.
There is a fair amount of romanticization that Brooklyn places on Juggalo culture, starting with Camille Dodero’s sui generis 2010’s Village Voice profile “Live From Insane Clown Posse’s Gathering Of The Juggalos” and plenty of VICE coverage. Dodero and some friends from VICE indeed came out for this stint on the 20th anniversary tour of The Great Milenko, a 1997 hip-hop album more iconic than anything DMX or Jay-Z released that year. Songs like “What Is A Juggalo?” and “Down With The Clown” were writing an entire subculture, we just didn’t know it yet.
When Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope rapped things like “Trunk full of Faygo / Car full of fat chicks” 20 years ago, it was utterly bizarre enough that they could be read as going either way, which is probably how the duo won themselves an audience of proudly ignorant white men raised on frat-boy humor and also a fair number of alienated people who don’t meet those characteristics, even avowed feminists. It’s also probably no surprise at this point that ICP have real empathy for their fellow outcasts; their breakthrough MTV staple “Halls Of Illusions” was a revenge fantasy on abusers, however convoluted its evil-amusement-park schtick may scan.
But their slapstick is infamously, elementary-school unsubtle: “He’ll walk up and bust a nut in your macaroni / And watch you sit there and finish up the last bit / ‘Cause you’re a stupid-ass dumb fucking idiot.” This is stuff that made peripheral bad-boy music from 1997 like Rage Against the Machine, Marilyn Manson, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard look vastly more layered in meaning and artifice. But that was the idea, and ICP get off on it as much as anyone, so the appeal of their festivals and last night’s shindig was as a safe space for getting very, very stupid.
Celebrated boom-bap phantom R.A. The Rugged Man ushered in the night (which had been moved three times, from Villain to Brooklyn Bazaar to the Well due to underestimated demand) as a fellow major-label exile with plenty of party-heart Wu-Tang karaoke and government screeds and the best verse of the night allotted to his DJ, a woman who flowed more viciously than anyone onstage even really tried.
The atmosphere was more subdued than my only other ICP live experience, probably because it wasn’t on private property, but also Brooklyn remains a little more demure; no one was flashed, and the audience behavior was probably par with, say, a U-God show. And honestly, maybe several attendees realized that’s what they were getting. When J and Shaggy finally took the stage to the strains of “Great Milenko,” they went through their “classic” album in succession in its amelodic third-string Wu-Tang or Mobb Deep creaky boom-bap with the occasional Slash guitar or ersatz calliope riff dotting the “i”s.
“What Is A Juggalo?” and “Piggy Pie” and a few other songs stood out as “fun” rebukes to society’s stodginess, a ton of Brooklynites got sprayed with Faygo, and the boys onstage didn’t have much to say between songs beyond “You wanna hear a really, really scary story?” They’re expert showmen at this point, bolstering each other’s rickety rhymes or dousing each other with soda during the infamous “Neden Game” where they play rival dating show contestants. But even the diehards there knew music is besides the point with these guys. They’ve opened up a portal to another dimension, call it the Dark Carnival or classify it as a gang or whatever. It’s not going away, and nothing this hated stays unsexy for long. Catching up with Linda and Paloma afterwards, both said it was the best show they’d ever seen, and Linda now had on her arm a shirtless dude with a Hatchet Man tattoo on his chest. Giving yourself to an alternate reality does seem a lot more fun than the one we exist in these days.