Juggalo Civil War and Some Wes Anderson Twee Bullshit: Day Two at the Gathering of the Juggalos

The appeal of the Gathering is the lure of total freedom. The Gathering has historically been a place where outcasts can cast off the rules and restrictions of everyday life and be their wildest, craziest, truest selves. They can frolic about naked to their heart’s content. They can use as many drugs as they think their frazzled brains and nervous systems can handle. They can dance joyously and unselfconsciously to music respectable people find deplorable.

Well, that was before. Last year Insane Clown Posse announced at the seminar stage that the next Gathering would be held in Colorado, where Juggalos could finally be able to smoke marijuana freely, on account of it being legal. I scoffed. In what crazy universe would Juggalos not be able to openly buy, sell or use drugs at their own damn festival?

It turns out that crazy universe isn’t so crazy at all, and that all it really takes is a venue and a city enforcing laws regarding public nudity and the open sale and use of illegal drugs to transform the Gathering from a place of seemingly total, infinite freedom to a place where festival-goers whisper darkly about undercover cops in their midsts, and twenty thousand dollar fines for people busted with pot. 

Not only is the legendary Drug Bridge gone but the open sale of drugs has all but disappeared, replaced by widespread paranoia about getting busted by the cops for doing Juggalo shit at the motherfucking Gathering of the Juggalos. 

How crazy have things gotten? Jugallettes are actually afraid of promenading about topless out of fear of getting arrested or ticketed. We truly are in the darkest timeline. 

The bewildering absence of drugs and the new, ferociously unpopular Oklahoma City setting aren’t the only changes. At the same time that Insane Clown Posse is preparing to fly the flag of Juggalo unity and Juggalo pride in Washington D.C for their historic march, a Civil War between Insane Clown Posse and proteges Twiztid has created a rift in Juggalo nation. 

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Twiztid’s popularity nearly matches Insane Clown Posse. In previous years, they were nearly a big a draw as the wicked clowns but they are nowhere to be seen this year, nor are other former Psychopathic Records artists like Blaze Ya Dead Homie and Boondox. It’s not just former label mates who are missing in action. 

Juggalo-adjacent cult artists like Kottonmouth Kings and Tech 9nine, fixtures at every Gathering I’ve ever been to, were similarly absent, and it wasn’t as if there were a bunch of big names to make up for all of the absences. When I attended Canadian Juggalo Weekend (that’s how real of a Juggalo I am: I’ve gone to shows in whole other countries!), the absence of Twiztid and Blaze Ya Dead Homie meant that I got to see Ice-T, 2 Live Crew, Swollen Members and Onyx open for the clowns, so I did not mind a bit. 

On the plus side, The Gathering has booked the occasional wild card like Cage, who was introduced by Keegan the Creep Ass as a legendary horrorcore rapper, which may be true in the same sense that Eminem flirts with horrorcore by rapping about violent, outlandish and ghoulish scenarios but seem reductive and not entirely accurate.

How long has Cage been around? Eminem dissed the rapper on The Slim Shady LP's “Role Models”, boasting, “I bought Cage’s tape, opened it, and dubbed over it.” Cage has such a compelling story that for a while Shia LeBouef wanted to star in a biopic about the rapper’s life, chronicling his early abuse, institutionalization and development as an artist. That never happened, but Labeouf did end up directing as well as appearing in a music video for the cult hero. 

Cage began a relatively sparsely attended set by saying that performing at the Gathering of the Juggalos was a dream come true. That could be true, given his eccentricities, but like seemingly all of the stage banter of every performer, it ran the gamut from perfunctory to hollow. 

A good rule of thumb when playing the Gathering, is that if you have songs about drugs, perform them because there’s few things people on drugs enjoy more than drug-themed entertainment. Cage heeded this rule, and filled his set with vivid, nightmarish imagery set to El-P’s apocalyptic, desolate hellscapes. 

I haven’t followed Cage since Hell’s Winter, his 2005 breakthrough album on El-P’s Definitive Jux, but his performance made me think maybe I’d made a mistake. Cage played to relative indifference to a crowd seemingly conserving their energy for the main event, but that did not keep him from putting on a hell of a show.

Speaking of showmanship, the comedy tent has been the most perplexing element of a sometimes bewildering Gathering. On Wednesday night, I was nowhere near high enough for the corporate-gig ventriloquism stylings of Marc Rubben but last night’s performer is so unrelentingly trippy that I’m not even sure how I would characterize his act beyond, “Some precious, French Amelie type bullshit” or, alternately, the kinds of things that dazzle the judges at America’s Got Talent while seemingly no market outside the popular reality competition. 

Like the ventriloquist who headlined Wednesday man, the strange man professionally known as DandyPunk’s routine was defined by jaw-dropping technical virtuosity and a set-up so complicated and involved it literally took hours upon hours to set up, rather than, you know, jokes. I could be wrong, but despite being booked in the comedy tent, there is nothing particularly comic about Dandypunk. Whimsical? Sure. Quirky? Yes? Precious? Of course? Funny? Christ no. 

 Look for this in my soon-to-be-famous "Dogs of the Gathering" Tumblr page.

Look for this in my soon-to-be-famous "Dogs of the Gathering" Tumblr page.

Juggalo Keegan the Creep Ass opened with a Juggalo-friendly set where he relayed an anecdote about being angrily confronted by someone insisting he’s not a Juggalo because he doesn’t have any Hatchet Man tattoos or crazy hair. When he passionately insisted that there’s no rule book to determine who’s a Juggalo and who isn’t, and that a Juggalo is anyone with the courage to stand up tall and proclaim to the rest of the world that you’re a Juggalo, an audience remember heckled, “You said that last year!” 

The rejoinder got a bigger laugh than anything in Keegan’s set. It was yet another reminder that while Juggalos are all about peace and love and family, they can be cranky and irritable and dissatisfied when staleness creeps into a situation. And on the real, ninja, I’m not going to lie: there has been a certain amount of staleness in this year’s festival. I’m just going to throw it out there. This is a Gathering of the Juggalos but also of the Crankalos and the Complainalos.

They were cranky for a couple of reasons. The lack of drugs did not help. But Juggalos were feeling more than a little salty because instead of seeing familiar faces like Kottonmouth Kings or Blaze Ya Dead Homie they were unexpectedly confronted with mind-fucks like Dandypunk. Who is Dandypunk? Let’s return again to the exquisite, child-like hyperbole of the Gathering program spiel: “Seeing is believing. Enter a magical word of lights, colors and sound, where the unreal comes to life in a dazzling display of otherworld enchantment. The show is unbelievable, indescribable, super tripped out and unlike anything you have ever experienced before.” 

 What in the ever-loving motherfuck?

What in the ever-loving motherfuck?

That is a nice way of saying that Dandypunk, looking and acting like a cross between a silent movie hero and a mime, interacts with elaborate projections behind him to create a free-associative, kaleidoscopic dream world that feels like it belongs in a short film on PBS that would run in the afternoon, or even a silent short film that might debut at Cannes, rather than “comedy” entertainment at the Gathering of the Juggalos. 

Like the ventriloquist’s set the night before, the sheer technical virtuosity of Dandypunk’s performance was remarkable but I did wonder what the hell this Wes Anderson precious, vaguely French highbrow shit was doing in the comedy tent of the motherfucking Gathering of the Juggalos. Besides, it seems perverse, cruel and counter-intuitive to book an act you pretty much need to be on drugs to appreciate and then not make all drugs readily available. 

The other crazy thing about Dandypunk’s act? It seemed to last less than ten minutes. I’m not exaggerating. So “what the fuck?” was inevitably followed by “That’s it? Just that seven minutes or so?” 

 No, seriously, what the fuck?

No, seriously, what the fuck?

The comedy tent is much more of a freak show this years than in past years, but the main attraction is always Insane Clown Posse. On Thursday night, they enlivened a relatively sleepy Gathering with a climactic performance of Shangri-La. 

Insane Clown Posse are intuitive geniuses at branding and marketing. That makes their seeming reluctance to sell the March to their fans, either at the Gathering or outside of it, all the more confusing. As with the Canadian Juggalo Weekend, the March on Washington is conspicuous largely in its absence in the rhetoric and banter and iconography of this year’s Gathering. Rallying cries to gather again to party for your rights are all but non-existent. 

The closest I’ve head was when Edsel Dope, the dope-smoking dope who fronts the band Dope, stumblingly said that he wasn’t sure if it was even okay to talk about it, but that he’d heard about Juggalos being a gang and he thought that was really bad-ass and showed that the FBI was afraid of Juggalos because, like a gang, they stick together. 

True, these comments were nestled inside a whole lot of banter about how fucking high he was, and how great it was to get high, and how he can’t wait to party while high for the next few days, but they were seriously off-message. 

The whole point of the March isn't that it’s awesome that the FBI considers Juggalos a badass gang and are afraid of them. No, the point is that the gang designation is wrong and unfair and illegal and unconstitutional and a grievous violation of civil rights and the right to assembly and the right to self-expression. That is true. The FBI being terrified of Juggalos because they’re so badass and dangerous? Not so much. 

The Dope singer’s misguided spiel underlined what a tough sell the March is to Juggalos. Juggalos come to the Gathering to get away from the oppressive bullshit of everyday life and any mention of the March, or the issues at play, would serve as a dispiriting reminder that the world remains a whole lot closer to Hell’s Pit than Shangri-La. 

So it was fitting that Insane Clown Posse’s first set of the festival would involve covering The Wraith: Shangri-La, the seminal album where Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope first revealed their covert agenda to help save their fans souls by sending them on a righteous path while merely pretending to be debauched, nihilistic entertainers.

Last year, Insane Clown Posse closed their set with “Thy Unveiling”, possibly its most emotional and important song, and, overcome with emotions more than a little related to reconnecting with my long-lost brother and also our country to going shit, I wept openly at the song's openness, sincerity and moral conviction. 

It is probably worth noting that I was on a lot of drugs last year. This year, however, I haven’t used anything stronger than God’s green herb so my response to both the Gathering in general and Insane Clown Posse’s set in particular was a lot more muted and tired. 

Insane Clown Posse’s performance of Shangri-La accidentally ended up highlighting the troubling contradictions within Insane Clown Posse in 2017, and their strange, lurching evolution as men and as artists. The album is a call for moral clarity and moral purpose at a time when everything involving Insane Clown Posse’s world seems a little swampy and confused. 

 This is my motel room. It's not as nice as it looks. 

This is my motel room. It's not as nice as it looks. 

There’s a whole lot going on in “Thy Unveiling.” It is the climax to the six Joker’s Cards and the culmination of the whole Dark Carnival saga so perhaps it should not be surprising that there are enough ideas, musically and lyrically, within it for an entire sprawling concept album.

“We’re not sorry that we tricked you!” Insane Clown Posse announces in “Thy Unveiling.” The line is fascinating to me because the duo is acknowledging that the entire Joker’s Cards and Dark Carnival mythology is an elaborate, years-long misdirection act of misdirection. 

With “Thy Unveiling”, the duo pivoted from being widely, if not universally derided schlock entertainers notorious for the decadence and debauchery of their fans to being moralists with a clear-cut agenda to Trojan-horse message music about living a moral life inside proudly ridiculous songs and goofy, fantastical conceits. 

It’s tough to go from being party clowns to evangelists on behalf of conventional morality. It’s even tougher to go from being party clowns to being political activists and political organizers. The March on Washington is a tough sell to Juggalos but Insane Clown Posse doesn’t seem to be making that case at all. 

Insane Clown Posse’s performance of Shangri-La was appropriately epic and theatrical but filled with moments of werd cognitive dissonance. The song “Juggalo Homies”, for example, is a classic Twiztid/Insane Clown Posse posse cut/anthemic affirmation of Juggalo unity so there was something more than a little ironic and sad about Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope having to perform the Twiztid parts because, to the outside eye at the least, it sure seems like some of the Juggalos homies pledging eternal solidarity on the songs aren’t homies anymore. 

The moment seemed like the Oklahoma City Gathering in miniature: entertainers doing the best they can with the resources available, but largely missing the elements that would make everything feel satisfying and whole. 

Up next: Wacka Flocka Flame, Vanilla Ice, a hypnotist and maybe Piranha 3-D

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