Earlier this year, a U.S. District Judge dismissed a lawsuit brought against the federal government by Joseph Bruce and Joseph Utsler, better known as Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope of horrorcore rap act Insane Clown Posse. At issue was a 2011 FBI report that described juggalos, fans of the band, as a “loosely organized hybrid gang.” With the backing of the ACLU, Insane Clown Posse plans to appeal the decision, claiming that the report provides justification for local police departments to harass their fans based upon tattoos, clothing, car decals or jewelry – basically any apparel with logos associated with the band and its label, Psychopathic Records.
So when ICP brought their Shockfest tour to town (Oct. 7, Firestone Live), we headed out to talk to some of these alleged “gang members.” We saw plenty of face paint and hatchet-man insignias and got more than a little Faygo on us, but we didn’t see any evidence that this group was any sort of criminal organization. Most importantly, we got to talk to several juggalos and find out what’s really under the paint.
Hoping to document Florida juggalo culture (more photos here), we walk along the line of fans outside of Firestone. We’re met with more than a little trepidation. “You guys might work for a hate blog. Thanks for the interest, but I’d rather not have my picture taken,” says one juggalo with particularly intricate makeup. Many juggalos joke about the FBI’s discrimination, asking us if we consider them gang members.
Once inside the venue, people warm up a little. We speak to Bezz Believe, a local rapper who performs on Firestone’s patio during Shockfest. “I was excited [to be on the bill] because it’s a market I really don’t see in Orlando a lot, so I was really excited to see something different that has like a cult following.” When asked if he considers himself a juggalo, Bezz Believe says, “I wouldn’t say I’m a juggalo, but I definitely have a lot of respect and support for it.”
Inside, Jelly Roll’s DJ has a technical problem, causing the backing beats to stop. The crowd starts chanting, “You fucked up! You fucked up!” Chants and call-and-response seem like an essential part of the juggalo experience. “Fa-mi-ly!” was spontaneously chanted by the whole crowd at random intervals, and, of course, the obligatory “Whoop whoop!” rang out countless times, inciting dozens of other juggalos to chime back without fail, “Whoop whoop!” It’s really hard to resist, and I find myself whooping in response more often than not.
We meet two juggalos, Paul and Carly, who are maybe the nicest people I’ve ever met at a show. Paul, who wears full clown makeup and a military-style jacket with nine stripes for the nine shows he’s been to, warns our photographer about how much Faygo ICP sprays into the audience during their set and offers him a plastic bag to keep his extra lenses in. Carly and Paul met at an ICP concert about five years ago and have been good friends ever since.
When I ask Carly and Paul what being a juggalo means to them, I get the same answer I’ve received all night: “Family.”
Later, Da Mafia 6ix takes the stage. You may remember them back when they were called Three 6 Mafia and won an Oscar for their song, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” from the movie Hustle and Flow. After Juicy J left the group to start a solo career, five of the guys reunited in 2013, but another original member, Gangsta Boo, dropped out before they joined Insane Clown Posse on tour. I look around the club and no one seems to care that there are Oscar-winners onstage, mostly because they’re having too much fun dancing and throwing their middle fingers in the air. Down the street at the Beacham, critical darling St. Vincent is probably taking the stage right about now, but Annie Clark ain’t got no Oscar.
The FBI classifies juggalos as a gang due to the cartoonish violence depicted in their music. Indeed, there have been incidents of violent crime performed by self-described juggalos, even against each other. But this show is almost disappointingly civil. There are a lot of laughs, a lot of hugs, a lot of greasepaint, but no one sets off any fireworks and gets the show shut down, like someone did at the Stitches show last month at Backbooth. I ask a younger juggalo, James from Orlando, whether or not he’s seen any of the violence that people associate with juggalo culture at shows. “No, man, no. It’s been pretty laid-back. All these people are family. Just get live with ’em, get loud.”
Outside, a man named Bubba clarifies the juggalo stance on their gang status. “Fuck that,” he says, “it’s not a gang. It’s a group of friends, people that group together.” Insane Clown Posse takes the stage shortly after, and honestly, it’s kind of a letdown. Sure, there’s a circus-themed set and tons of Diet Faygo dousing the audience, sprayed from two-liters or thrown from buckets into the crowd, but there’s no incitement to violence or organized crime. It’s almost like the fans are only there to wear some makeup, see a group they like and have a good time.
On my way out of Firestone, I tiptoe through deep pools of Faygo and edge around masses of juggalos hugging each other. I think back to something my new juggalo pal, Paul, said: “The first time I walked out of here, I heard ‘family’ echoing off the buildings. It still raises my fur.”