Published Apr 09, 2017Whether it's Amazon streaming video, cases of La Croix or Taco Bell's fried chicken taco shell, there's no shortage of cultural artefacts that take their sweet time to show up in Canada. As a result, we often find ourselves enjoying things long after the hype has died down.
This could not be truer of the Insane Clown Posse. Since their meteoric rise, the Detroit-based clown rap duo inspired a worldwide spectacle that we've mostly had to watch from the sidelines. The juggalo movement they birthed ran the full thinkpiece gamut in America, from wiseass critics gawking at their Gathering festivities to eggheads pontificating about what the subculture really means. Along the way, ICP sold millions of records, fought in lawsuits with the FBI and linked up with fellow Michigan stalwarts like Jack White and Danny Brown.
Then, last year, ICP finally worked out their paperwork and embarked on a significant Canadian tour. The trek must've gone off without a hitch, because they entered this year with the news that they were launching a sort of Canuck Gathering with the inaugural Canadian Juggalo Weekend.
But what's it like to hang out with juggalos in 2017, long after the hype has died down? Put simply, the answer is that it's some low-stakes fun with plenty of pleasant surprises.
It's reductive and generally incorrect to compare Calgary's recent economic downturn to the plight of Detroit, but the city still felt like an ideal location for the Canadian Juggalo Weekend. Had the promoters stuck with their original venue on Calgary's Stampede grounds, the event would've channelled ICP's cowboy movie Big Money Rustlas, with its iconic Cowtown setting. Perhaps due to a dearth of ticket sales, though, the event touched down on a slightly seedier portion of Calgary culture, at the notorious Marquee Bar & Stage.
Formerly the infamous Back Alley, the Marquee has had its share of PR issues in recent years. Aside from its pages upon pages of bad Yelp and Zomato reviews (a personal favourite details a man having diarrhea on MacLeod Trail in -38 weather after being served a burger with an "odd smell"), the nightclub was also the setting for a shooting that saw the death of 23-year-old Calgary Stampeder Mylan Hicks last year.
Despite their reputation, the Marquee relaxed their strict dress code to allow for extravagant costumes, and the venue was transformed into something of a juggalo market, complete with face-painting, jewellery and apparel booths and the intoxicating smell of cotton candy and fried food. It may have been located within the confines of a sketchy nightclub, but the Canadian Juggalo Weekend still felt like a carnival.
As such, the juggalos were absolutely in their element. That was abundantly clear with the wide-eyed grins from the back of the club through its cramped smoke pit (full of every smoke-able or vape-able substance you can name). Between acts, a wide variety of three-syllable phrases were turned into thunderous chants, from "Family!" to "Fuck That Shit!" At one point, I'm pretty sure I saw some middle-aged parents share a bag of magic mushrooms with their children.
A tent in the parking lot hosted matches from Juggalo Championship Wrestling (formerly "Juggalo Championshit Wrestling") and, as a man named Mosh Pit Mike beat his opponent to a bloody pulp with a bat wrapped in barbed wire, the massive crowd broke into an impromptu rendition of the Canadian national anthem. It was strangely patriotic.
Ultimately, however, the juggalos had assembled for the music, and they were treated to two full days of microphone acrobatics from a wide array of performers. Plenty of juggalo music favourites are certainly not suited for mass audiences — the gallows humour found on songs like Kung Fu Vampire's "Dead Girls Don't Say No" could fuel enough online outrage to theoretically warrant its own social media service — but from a distance, it was abundantly clear that, content aside, these people were rapping like their lives depended on it.
Though many remember them as radio rap of yesteryear, Vancouver hip-hop duo Swollen Members are reigning champs in the juggalo context. The duo of Madchild and Prevail absolutely dominated the stage in their joint performance, with Madchild resurfacing for another high-energy set on Day Two. Despite their usual penchant for face-paint and theatrics, the aforementioned Kung Fu Vampire also turned in a straightforward rap set that was high on energy and raw talent.
Still, at its core, juggalo music is struggle music, and Big Hoodoo detailed his own tragic life story in the stark and confessional "Neva Had Shit." It was a sobering highlight of his solid set as the rapper, covered in voodoo-themed face-paint, detailed surviving molestation and being rejected by his own mother as a child. The palpable melancholy cut through any jokey context and demonstrated the visceral storytelling power of hip-hop.
That sober song made it all the more jarring when Ice-T used some of his stage time to make pedophile jokes — jokes that even the juggalo edgelords found groan-worthy. That small misstep aside, however, the veteran rapper absolutely destroyed with his hour-long set, touching on highlights from his entire career and hyping up the crowd to lose their minds. He even called on a mega-fan he'd met on Twitter to join him onstage as a hype man — a fun bit that got hilariously awkward when the man opted to stay on stage for most of the set. Though he was one of the retro acts booked alongside Onyx and 2 Live Crew, Ice-T's killer set made a strong case for his continued cultural relevance.
Of course, it wouldn't have been Canadian Juggalo Weekend without headlining performances from the Insane Clown Posse themselves. On the first night, ICP played their seminal Riddle Box album in full, then delivered a standard set on the second night.
Whether or not you've listened to their albums doesn't really matter, however, as ICP's live show is a compelling and undeniably fantastic spectacle. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope never let up onstage, rapping their hearts out as they shower the crowd in Diet Faygo and dance around with terrifying backup clowns. In fact, it's safe to say that I left the weekend as a fan of the band and their subculture.
True to their online reviews, the Marquee bouncers were surly and incredibly rude at each juncture, but that only served to solidify just how welcoming juggalos are in comparison. They might be walking around in terrifying face-paint while wearing intimidating clothes with X-rated horrorcore lyrics sprawled throughout, but juggalos display a communal warmth.
It was hard to take a photo in the club without having a juggalo playfully photobomb it, harder still to get through the night without being introduced to a kind stranger. Sure, their lyrical content can be questionable at times, but in its own fucked up way, Insane Clown Posse have developed an inclusive safe space. Even their character Super Balls is strangely body positive, with a slogan that reads, "Ain't no bitch too fat / Ain't no bitch too wack / Ain't no bitch too ugly / For Super Balls!"
Throughout the weekend, nearly all of the performers emphasized that they weren't interested in modern mainstream hip-hop, a statement that almost explains the juggalo mentality — these are people who have rejected trends in favour of technical prowess and rapping speed.
As a result, they've founded a subculture that, by design, could never possibly be hip. They've found solace in an authentic community that's truly their own. While similar subcultures can be insular and unwelcome to outsiders, juggalos are absolutely non-judgemental. Sure, Insane Clown Posse fans might be fun to send up, but they're no funnier than hardcore fans of the Black Keys, the 1975 or Father John Misty.
In other words, it's easy to join in and chant the word "Family!"