The Globe and Mail: Send In The Clowns

Author Nathan Rabin has published yet another article about Insane Clown Posse.

This article takes a look at last weekends Canadian Juggalo Weekend.

You can read the full article below.


Detroit hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse represent starkly different things to different people.

To an army of detractors, ICP is the worst group alive – walking shorthand for white trash – and their fans, known as “Juggalos,” the world’s most obnoxious devotees, representing the worst assumptions the world holds of the American underclass.

To Juggalos, ICP is, of course, the best group alive. To leftist writers such as myself who have seized upon the anti-rich, anti-authoritarian, acutely class-conscious nature of ICP’s lyrics and ideas, they are the misunderstood leaders of an unfairly maligned subculture, as well as an act whose stagecraft, resilience and ingratiating weirdness have been underrated or overlooked by a culture quick to mock but slow to understand or appreciate. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, meanwhile, has decided that ICP is also the sinister inspiration for a violent criminal gang. And I’m guessing they’re probably not crazy about their music either.

Later this year, ICP will be marching on Washington to protest the FBI legally designating ICP fans a gang, and for its first Canadian Juggalo Weekend this past weekend in Calgary, the duo brought along a pair of fellow unlikely free-speech icons: 2 Live Crew, whose 1989 record Nasty As They Wanna Be was the first American album to be deemed legally obscene, and Ice-T, whose 1992 song Cop Killer ignited a firestorm of controversy and condemnation.

The Canadian event was the first north-of-the-border mashup of two eagerly anticipated events in the Juggalo social calendar: the Gathering of the Juggalos, a notorious festival of ICP-centric culture that has been attracting big crowds and even bigger media attention since 2000, and the Juggalo Day/Juggalo Weekend, which ICP’s Violent J (Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph William Utsler) concocted more recently as yet another excuse to pay tribute to their devoted fan base. (For a pair of high-school dropouts regularly denigrated as the worst of the worst, these “clowntrepreneurs” sure have a lot of business initiative.)

But ICP did not come to Calgary’s Marquee Beer Market – a giant, soulless bar and performance venue surrounded by currency exchanges and pawnshops – in their capacity as free-speech activists. No, the venerable duo came to Calgary in their oft-forgotten role as entertainers.

Life for ICP and its fans is perpetually full of drama, but this is a particularly fascinating and complicated moment for the group. While Donald Trump’s presidency has politicized much of the North American population, particularly young people, the members of ICP have gone out of their way to depict themselves as either apolitical or solely interested in protecting the civil rights of their fans. The group professes to be too oblivious and uninformed to know anything about politics, let alone take a political stand beyond “Stop letting law enforcement profile and target our fans based on their appearance,” but that position is inherently political whether ICP acknowledges it or not. It also aligns ICP with other groups that are being targeted by law enforcement not on the basis of what they’ve done but rather on what they look like.

In that respect, Trump remained the elephant in the room this past weekend – his presence haunted the proceedings but was seldom, if ever, acknowledged. Hell, Ice-T didn’t even perform Cop Killer – and for an audience predisposed to hate law enforcement, particularly at this moment, that would seem to be an automatic hit. Instead, the Canadian Juggalo Weekend was almost perversely apolitical.

It is possible that ICP is reluctant to take too public a stand because, as I discovered when I covered the previous Gathering of the Juggalos and the Republican National Convention in the same week (they were held mere hours away from each other in Ohio), Juggalos tend to fit the profile of the people who swept Trump into office: widely mocked yet full of defiant pride, working class or poorer, angry at elites and disenfranchised with the status quo. ICP’s lyrics are only slightly less class-conscious than Billy Bragg’s, but because the group plays down the political nature of its work, it’s easy to overlook and misunderstand the nature of a fiercely moralistic worldview they’ve been expressing and refining for decades. For Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, however, ideology will forever come second behind showmanship.

ICP’s concept of spectacle owes a large debt to P.T. Barnum. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope greet crowds with the ubiquitous Juggalo greeting/exclamation “Whoop, whoop,” sport the face paint of wicked clowns and, as a fixture of their explosive stage shows, spray fans with an off-brand American soda called Faygo in a glorious benediction as sticky as it is unexpectedly spiritual.For two surreal days and nights, Calgary’s Marquee Beer Market became an adorably small-scale version of the “Dark Carnival” central to the duo’s surprisingly elaborate mythology, complete with freak shows, professional face painting, gothic burlesque, circus food, suspiciously cheap massages and wrestling matches.

It’s appropriate that Canadian Juggalo Weekend is named after the duo’s fans rather than ICP itself. The weekend was about Juggalos as much as it was about ICP. More specifically, it’s about a certain type of music fan: the Canadian Juggalo. While the core elements of ICP’s aesthetic (sex, horror, vaudeville, Faygo) were the same as in the United States, it’s safe to assume that this is the only Juggalo event where a spontaneous sing-along of O Canada broke out.

Canadian Juggalo Weekend further revealed an unlikely truth: Despite their reputations as gang members and cretins, Juggalos are nice. And Canadian Juggalos are even nicer (or at least their accents make them seem nicer – or perhaps more polite). There was a lot of Canadian pride at the event, but the crowd was at least Canadian enough to feel abashed and self-conscious about that pride.

Pandering to the audience, as both Juggalos and Canadians, is an essential component of every ICP event. Openers Onyx elevated this shamelessness to a new level by telling the crowd that 2Pac would be a Juggalo if he were still alive, an assertion as bold as it is almost assuredly false. Later, Ice-T jokingly said he was too afraid to stage dive into the fearsome crowd – although at this point he shouldn’t stage dive anywhere lest he break a hip. The trip down memory lane continued with the next act, 2 Live Crew, whose members aren’t that much older than Onyx but are so poorly preserved that they could pass for their fathers. Like ICP and Ice-T, 2 Live Crew once represented the apex of shock, but that was a lifetime ago. These days, they are elder statesmen of musical transgression.

These vulgar ambassadors of American culture were followed by the most Canadian element of the weekend: Swollen Members, the Canadian hip-hop group who had not performed on a stage together for two years but chose to reunite for what they considered a special occasion. The group’s Madchild also did a surprise solo set and brought up the march on Washington to a fairly tepid response.

It’ll be tough for many American Juggalos to make it to the march – poverty and geography will keep them away. It will be even harder for Canadians to make the trek. Despite the presence of three improbable free-speech activists on the bill, there was little to no talk of politics onstage. This was a weekend devoted to fun, and these days, nothing spoils fun quite like discussing the waking nightmare that is U.S. politics.

ICP has always alternated between escapism and macabre, indirect social commentary. Its shows are a place for fans to escape their often grim existences and lose themselves in music and excitement.

Accordingly, on Canadian Juggalo Weekend, the scale was tipped unmistakably toward escapism. Juggalos don’t need to be reminded that the world can be a scary and unfair place, and it also might have seemed incongruous for Ice-T, 2 Live Crew and ICP to talk U.S. politics outside the United States. After all, the Dixie Chicks became pariahs to much of their fan base for having the unmitigated gall to suggest, in a show outside the United States, that George W. Bush may not be the best leader ever. Why risk that kind of a hit to popularity unless it’s absolutely necessary?

For Canadian Juggalos, the weekend was the fulfilment of a fantasy: their favourite group journeying north of the border solely to put on one of their trademark outsized extravaganzas just for them.

It was at once a continuation and a new beginning. The event represented the culmination of decades of loyalty but also presented the possibility that this could be the start of a series of Canadian Juggalo Weekends.

ICP’s two sets – the first night devoted to a performance of 1995’s Riddle Box, one of the duo’s earliest, crudest and most beloved albums, and a “greatest hits” set the second night – were profoundly visceral experiences, explosions of light and sound and colour and body heat and sticky substances flying in every direction. Accordingly, many in attendance placed their cellphones in plastic bags before the show to ensure that Faygo didn’t destroy their essential technology.

To the crowd, it did not matter that by almost any definition ICP doesn’t really have any hits – though in the gold rush days of the 1990s, the duo scored a gold album for Riddle Box and a pair of platinum albums for The Great Milenko and The Amazing Jeckel Brothers with next to no radio spins or MTV love. No matter how silly or ridiculous or goofy or macabre, these songs mattered to the crowd, but what mattered more was the grand gestalt, the overall experience, which is overwhelming and exhausting in the best way.

On Friday afternoon, it seemed as if the first annual Canadian Juggalo Weekend might also be the last, but the energy and excitement built until the duo’s vow to return next year felt as if it was a promise they’d be able to keep (especially if Canada legalizes marijuana).

The duo’s popularity in Canada will continue to spread the way it did in its native land: through word of mouth, as a form of working-class mythology, as kids who’ve found not just a group but a whole weird, welcoming world tell their friends about a show that’s always much more than a show – it’s an experience that transcends borders and countries and political divisions and, in a time of fear and uncertainty, unites Juggalos of all colours and ethnicities and age groups under one big banner of “Mad Clown Love.”

Nathan Rabin is the author of You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me: Phish, Insane Clown Posse, and My Misadventures with Two of Music’s Most Maligned Tribes (Scribner).

from Faygoluvers


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