Comprised of Violent J and Shaggy, Insane Clown Posse are classed as “hardcore rap”. Many see them as aggressive, misogynistic, offensive. We don’t get it. With profound, tender lyrics such as “Your son’s on crack, your daughter’s got nut stains on her back, and they both fucking smell like shit”, we’re struggling to see what everyone’s problem is. Dig a little into ICP’s past and you come up with all sorts – violent crime, arrests, prison, a bizarre obsession with a drink called Faygo and a horrifically uncomfortable clip of Violent J teasing a rape victim on radio until she cries. Perhaps the strangest thing, however, is the fact that ICP are evangelical Christians (although hearing the soundbite makes that extremely hard to believe.) Well, we’re confused.
One thing we do know for sure is Insane Clown Posse have some die-hard fans – juggalos. Living by the motto “Down with the clown til you’re dead in the ground”, juggalos (and jugalettes) seem to love ICP in the way that I can only honestly say I love my mother. And perhaps cheese. I fucking love cheese. Painting their faces like their heroes, and referring to themselves as a “family”, Juggalos seem to receive even worse press than ICP themselves, and having recently been classified as a gang by the FBI, it’s probably not going to get any better. In an attempt to understand Juggalos further, Sean Dunne has produced a documentary short, American Juggalo, filmed at the annual four day ICP festival, Gathering of the Juggalos. Beautifully shot and bizarre, it’s twenty two minutes of fascinating viewing. We spoke to Sean to get his take on one of America’s weirdest fanbases.
First things first - are you an ICP fan?
No, I actually haven't really heard them besides the hits. One day I'll have to sit down and really celebrate their catalogue so I can have an informed answer when people ask me this question.
What made you decide to film the documentary?
I think I had the same curiosity about the Juggalos that most people did but everything I had ever seen/read about them was through the eyes of the media and seemed very sensationalized. I figured I would go and let them have a voice. I realized after the whole Tila Tequila incident at last year’s Gathering that I hadn't actually heard a Juggalo’s perspective. So I decided to make the film. If they were normal it would dispel what most of the media had been reporting and if they weren't, well, I would still have a pretty compelling film on my hands. Turned out it was a mixture of the two.
Was there anything that really surprised you when filming at GOTJ?
The diversity kind of surprised me. People of all ages and races were there. Lots of pregnant girls and young kids, that was a little shocking.
Honestly, the more surprising things were what we didn't see. No violence or controversy or destruction of property. They even cleaned up after themselves after the bands played and left a sea of empty Faygo bottles in their wake. I have a shot of that in the film. It was surprising and kind of heartwarming.
It made us quite uncomfortable to watch the pregnant girl smoking at GOTJ - were there any really awkward moments for you to film?
I think we became desensitized after the first hour or so of being there. Stuff that normally would really take me out of my comfort zone wasn't even blip on my radar anymore. The most haunting/awkward thing we saw we didn't shoot. It was a 12 year-old kid getting a straight up totally naked hardcore lapdance from some chick. He seemed traumatized and unwilling, his drunken father was watching like he was really proud of his boy. Fucking totally disturbed me. I'm glad we didn't roll on that, the image stuck with me enough, I would have had a really hard time seeing that everyday in the edit room.
You describe Juggalos as "misunderstood" - in what sense do you think this is true? Why is this so?
The reason I originally wrote that in the description was because in my opinion all the media about them had overlooked the reasons why people become Juggalos. Most of the time they are homeless or from awful families, they have been outcasts their entire lives and turned to this for a sense of acceptance, community and family. Instead the media tended to depict them as violent and threatening. I'm sure there are Juggalos who embody those characteristic but the vast majority of the Juggalos we spoke to were pretty normal.
Since I put the film out a lot of people have taken issue with me calling them misunderstood, so maybe I'm wrong, maybe they're not misunderstood but they certainly hadn't been given a chance to be heard.
The FBI recently classified Juggalos as a "gang" - does this ring true at all?
I don't think so, but I'm not familiar with what qualifies people as a "gang". In the four days I spent amongst the Juggalos I saw no violence or any threat of violence. Just a bunch of people having a goddamn great fucking time. The FBI surely has more information than me about it but when I heard that I thought it was pretty far fetched. The way I see it if Juggalos can be classified as a "gang" then why aren't sports fanatics classified as gang members? They have the same qualities if you really think about it.
If I had to classify them I would say they fit more under the category of cult. But who am I to say?
Conversely, the people you filmed at GOTJ gave a very idealised view of Juggalos as just one big, loving
family - is this true?
I only spent four days with them so it's hard to say for sure, but they certainly practiced what they preach in terms of being one big family. There were about 20,000 people and not one fight. It amazed me. I challenge you to find another four day music festival that could say the same.