Say what you want about Insane Clown Posse: Never before in the history of popular music has a band created so complete a lifestyle for its fans. The Dead, Buffet, and Slipknot don't even come close. No, the Detroit-based rap duo's concert at Tempe's Marquee Theatre last night wasn't much of a "show" aside from some fun props and the de rigueur spraying of Faygo soda on the crowd. The songs themselves were largely done with playback, the bass turned up too high to hear the hooks -- ICP does have hooks with their cartoonishly profane and violent lyrics -- still, the scene, a glimpse into the peculiar world of Juggalos, was well worth my time, especially when the feyest of all indie-folkers, Bon Iver, fresh off his daybreak concert in an LA cemetery, was the other option.
Juggalos -- fans of the band sometimes mistaken for a gang, such is their fervor for all things ICP-- are everywhere in Arizona. In fact only the band's hometown, Utah and Colorado are in the same league with the Copper State, Juggalo-wise. Having hung out with Juggalos for a column awhile back (read it here) I can tell you they're definitely not a gang, though they are generally the sort of economically underprivileged and socially awkward kids society has little use for. These "scrubs," as they'll call themselves, are bound together by facepaint, their call of "woop woop" and a bizarre Apocalyptic mythology revealed in the band's first six albums then conveniently brushed aside so their careers could continue to present day.
Not only do Juggalos have a huge litany of symbols, song references and chants outsiders don't understand to pull from, they have a full-blown subculture complete with a clowned-up offshoot of Christianity. They also have more oblique forms of Groupthink, such as an intense loathing for George W. Bush, who they consider a "hillbilly" -- hillbillies being a stand-in for the Juggalo concept of pure evil, a character depicted in ICP songs as looking and acting something like a Hee Haw extra. It doesn't stop there: The opener, a reggae/hardcore/metal band called Hed PE was cheered for suggesting Facebook is a conspiracy by "old people" who want to drive half the kids away from MySpace to diminish their strength. Yes, in this world Facebook is a conspiracy, mixed martial arts are our national sport and story arcs from professional wrestling are our shared epic stories. It's more than that, though: Juggalos even have their own porn. No link, sorry.
Despite the fact that ICP's shows have gotten a little lamer over the years -- when I saw them on The Great Milenko tour it really was an incredible show, last night was so-so -- for many Juggalos, the semi-annual Arizona appearance by two white rappers in their late 30s wearing black and white facepaint is the Superbowl, Christmas and Halloween rolled in to one. You could tell that from the wild atmosphere at the Marquee, where Juggalos started tailgating by 5 p.m., litter started piling up before the openers were done and the first rowdy fans were tossed before I'd even made it through security. Inside the show didn't totally deliver: ICP took to a funhouse-themed stage introduced by a Carnival barker, with clowns in sequined suits tossing diet Faygo soda on the crowd while a backing track did most of the work for Shaggy 2 Dope and a bloated and unwell (even in facepaint) looking Violent J.
Juggalos have their own brand of ethics, too, which makes for an interesting concert going experience. As an innocent and respectful civilian I was treated to the finest Juggalo hospitality: Some kid stepped on my shoe then said "sorry, my bad, homie," looking back to make sure the apology was accepted before moving on. Meanwhile, some kids behind me were plotting their anti-security actions upon exit, deciding it would be best to spit their gum on someone in a black "Security" shirt as they left to avenge perceived wrongs. I decided to leave early at that point because I'm way too old to catch a case or end up with stitches because I was in the wrong place at a concert.
A girl who introduced herself to photographer Victor J. Palagano and I said she wanted to bring her 3-year-old son in facepaint, as some other Juggalos did, but "We like to get fucked up, and I didn't want to drive with him when we were fucked up." If she and her man crashed that was a different matter, she said: "I've got an insurance policy on him, so it's no big deal if I kill him." She was joking, sorta. This seems to be, to the mind of many Juggalos I've met, a reasonable way to look at the world.
I, for one, am fascinated. It's interesting to me that more people aren't. Hipsters are fascinated by Norwegian death metal but show so little regard for our American-grown brand of batshit superfans. These are the sort of devotees that might literally kill if so ordered by a guy in facepaint: Vice cares at least. This is going to change in a big, way though, I'd expect. It's only a matter of time until some major media-worthy incident catapults the phenomenon to respectable national publications the way Altamount did for the Hell's Angels.
And you went to Bon Iver?
Last Night: Insane Clown Posse at Marquee Theatre
Better Than: ASU tailgating or mot haunted houses in town.
Personal Bias: I unironically liked this band in high school, which I am not shamed to admit. It's a fun show! The cult-level of Arizona fans mystifies me though.
Random Detail: ICP's annual festival, the Gathering of the Juggalos in Illinois, actually attracts some big non-clown acts. Last year Three Six Mafia, Ice-T, Andrew W.K., 2 Live Crew, and Afroman played it.
Further Listening: "Hokus Pokus," the lone Milenko track from the beginning of last night's set, is probably the band's best song.