I Went to an ICP Show Last Night and I Think I Might Be a Juggalo Now



To be clear: I wasn't expecting this. When I told people I was going to an Insane Clown Posse show, it was always with that mixture of mock-sheepishness and eye-rolling dismissiveness we reserve for cultural events like this — cultural events that are populated by people that are, on some demographic or maybe existential level, different from us; cultural events that are really, really easy targets; cultural events that, you know, feature as prominent motifs murderous clowns and wanton misogyny and horrible, horrible music.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how a huge portion of both the fascination about and distaste for ICP is bound up in class: Juggalo culture has, for whatever reason, come to be pretty synonymous with a specifically blue-collar, white, male, often midwestern, archetype, one that's been pushed out of manufacturing jobs by recession and globalization and marginalized by lack of education — as Violent J told me on the phone a couple weeks ago, "we're not the college demographic," and as Cord Jefferson eloquently argued in a 2011 Good piece, making fun of Juggalos is one of the last acceptable forms of class bigotry. Which is significant generally, but also to the way I came into this show: I was fully expecting to be an elitist asshole about this, basically. I was going to tweet bitchy, condescending things and be somewhere disgusted by the whole affair. Because I'm a Berkeley-born, liberal-arts educated feminist with a somewhat-embarrassing-but-very-real-investment in the idea that I Am Defined by my Taste and That Said Taste is Generally Good. Because that's what people like me are supposed to make of ICP.

hi this is what I look like now
  • hi this is what I look like now
But a really weird thing happened, which is that sometime after the EIGHT THOUSAND opening acts (best name, btw: Kung Fu Vampire) but before I was showered head-to-toe with Faygo — ICP's soda/prop of choice, the spraying of which figures verrrry prominently into the show — I realized I was having an actually, unironically great time. The music is still horrible, just so we're all on the same page, and the whole thing is deeply strange, and I did manage a few bitchy tweets. But ICP are nothing if not great showmen. And everything I'd been led to believe about who and what Juggalos are — meaning that they're violent, and angry, and sexist, mostly — just wasn't really born out by my experience, even though that would've made for a better story (and even though the Bay Area Juggalo sample is probably skewed!). There was some moshing, and as a woman I was certainly in the minority, but by and large, the defining characteristic of all the Juggalos I met last night was that they were just really uncommonly nice, nicer than nearly every audience at every show I've been to. They painted my face! When I got clocked in the head with a two-liter of Faygo (seriously), they asked me if I was okay! When I accidentally semi-groped a guy who looked alarmingly like my boyfriend (from behind), not only did he not, like, attack this crazy woman grabbing his arm, he helped me find my actual boyfriend. They were without exception polite, warm, and enthusiastic. (It helps that "whoop whoop my ninjas" is apparently an appropriate response to literally anything anyone says at an ICP show.)

But I think the most interesting — and important — thing about the whole experience was the sheer degree to which everyone was completely, demonstrably overjoyed to be there, in a way that you almost never see at a concert. People don't even take smoke breaks, they're so enthralled. There is no apathetic foot-tapping at an ICP show. There is no idle iPhone scrolling or halfway head-bobbing or hipster posturing. There is no irony. Just a sea of grown men covered in off-brand soda and melted clown makeup who are positively losing their shit at the mere prospect of being in the same room with these guys. It was — and I mean this completely sincerely, even though I myself can't really believe it — an amazing, life-affirming thing to see. It did what music is, I guess, supposed to do but rarely ever really does: It took me out of myself. I'm not an ICP fan, and I'm certainly not their target demographic, but in some small, weird way, I sort of get the whole thing now: These aren't my people in any real or lasting sense, but for a couple hours, I was theirs. At this point, it's been about ten hours since I walked out of the Metro, covered head-to-toe in confetti and paint and Faygo. I'm hungover, and I'm pretty sure I still have soda in my hair, so this is the best I can muster, but: Next time ICP is in town, you really should go.

Whoop whoop, my ninjas.