We're a couple of years removed now from the height of Insane Clown Posse mania, when SNL parodies and Nightline interviews were coming fast and furious, but the face-painted, Faygo-loving, rapping jesters are still a source of fascination. And all this late-breaking mainstream attention — they'd been at it for almost two decades when "Miracles" made them a national obsession — has been pretty good for their careers. They've still got the built-in, cultishly devoted Juggalo following; now they've got some actual crossover recognition, too. That unlikely swirl has led to a peculiar lineup for the 13th-annual Gathering of the Juggalos, going down in August at Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, and announced today via a 23-minute infomercial.
I actually watched the whole thing (for you people, I would do anything), and it's not quite the shit-show you might expect. The bands are announced by a string of muddied-up soldier types, ostensibly fighting off a zombie invasion simultaneously as they tick off the names. This is a torturously slow process, as each new face — Chop, Corporal Robinson, Sugar Slam — has to introduce themselves even though they were just introduced by the previous person ("Whadup, this your boy ..." etc.), and then has to reiterate how crazy dope fresh the Gathering is going to be. Also, a significant amount of time is devoted to outlining the central metaphor: non-Juggalos are "zombies," slaves to whatever is popular on the radio; true Juggalos are free thinkers who reject commercialism and will find fellow rebels at Cave-In-Rock, if they make sure to buy a $175 Gathering ticket. (Also, as a news ticker points out, the new ICP album will be available for purchase on the grounds, in three collectors-must-have formats.)
For the most part, though, the whole thing comes off as endearingly earnest. At one point Sugar Slam yells out, "You wanna get hype right now? I got you, bitch. This year one of our main goals was to improve the comedy stage," and you can imagine Sugar looking dismayed as she pores over the Juggalo forums reading complaints about last year's apparently lackluster comedy offerings. Also, the afternoon BBQ, which will have "thousands of free cheesEburgers, hot dogs, and ice cold Faygo raining from the stage” is being soundtracked by a Michael Jackson tribute band. Most importantly, there's this lineup. The Psychopathic Records family might not do much for you non-Jugga-laga-los, and the epic collection of white rappers — from Rittz to Haystak to Kottonmouth Kings to, yep, Lil Wyte — on hand might not, either. But how about a reunited Geto Boys? The Game? Pharcyde? George Clinton? Raekwon? Danny Brown? DMX?
You could scoff and say, "That's just who ICP was able to afford." But the thing is, ICP could probably throw this Gathering with nothing but themselves and their friends and their Faygo. That's how loyal their fans are. (And it's also mostly what they did for the first few years of the Gathering.) But as their mainstream recognition has popped, ICP has been pulling more acts you know into their orbit, getting them paid and getting them exposure among the ICP demographic. It feels, at least a little bit, like ICP is using their pull to put together a festival full of acts they personally are fans of and would like to see live. The commercial presence of a guy like DMX isn't quite what it used to be. At most big music festivals, he'd probably have a hard time getting a booking. But at the Gathering? Why, he fits right in.