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Published: Wednesday, 5/4/2011

Insane Clown Posse, fans revel in their identity

BY DAVE ITZKOF
NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE
The rap duo Insane Clown Posse, Shaggy 2 Dope, left, and Violent J. The rap duo Insane Clown Posse, Shaggy 2 Dope, left, and Violent J.
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When Violent J, the alter ego assumed by the husky Detroit native Joseph Bruce when he performs in the rap duo Insane Clown Posse, arrived at the Skyport Marina in Manhattan, it was just after midnight Saturday morning, and he still was wearing the greasepaint that makes him look like a demented distant relative of Emmett Kelly.

Dozens of fans, some with faces similarly decorated, were lined up to join him on a chartered ship called the Jewel, and they knew exactly how to react when they saw him and his musical partner, Shaggy 2 Dope, the nom de clown of Joseph Utsler: At maximum volume they began chanting, "Fam-i-ly! Fam-i-ly!"

"We're going on a cruise!" Violent J shouted back.

For Insane Clown Posse, this three-hour tour of the East River was an occasion to celebrate a recently concluded concert at Gramercy Theater, the group's first New York show in roughly a decade, and to unwind before a planned performance Sunday at the Bamboozle Festival in East Rutherford, N.J.

For the 200 or so of the group's devotees, who call themselves Juggalos (and Juggalettes), the party was not just a chance to hang out with their favorite musicians and trade makeup tips; it was also a time for reconnecting with a larger community, from up and down the East Coast and around the country, and reminding themselves that no matter how they are viewed by the world outside, they will always have a place to belong.

Beneath the face paint, and in spite of the band's cartoonishly gory lyrics, the followers of Insane Clown Posse are striving to transcend negative stereotypes and show that they are not the murderous reprobates depicted in these songs. But further beneath those impulses, some fans wonder what this self-selected tribe of misfits and outcasts stands for.

"We're the most hated band in the world," Violent J said in a preconcert interview in his dressing room. "If we were loved by everybody, it wouldn't be as special."

Shortly afterward he and Shaggy 2 Dope stepped into a theater that looked like a scene from CSI, whose every exposed surface was covered with protective tarpaulin. For the next hour they rapped several of their best-loved tracks from their 1990s-era breakthrough, like "I Stab People" and the pro-cannibalism ode "Dead Body Man," while they and backup performers dressed as sinister buffoons doused the crowd with Faygo soda.

Though the rap subgenre that includes Insane Clown Posse, known as horrorcore, has existed for about 20 years, the band has lately found itself on an unlikely merry-go-round where mainstream acceptance keeps narrowly eluding its grasp.

In 2009 an online advertisement for the Gathering of the Juggalos, the annual summer festival for Insane Clown Posse and its Psychopathic Records label at Cave-In-Rock, Ill., became an inadvertent viral sensation, propelled by its over-the-top bravado ("The most controversial music festival in the world!") and its seemingly endless list of bands and attractions.

That commercial spawned a series of Saturday Night Live parodies, as did the Insane Clown Posse's video for "Miracles," a song in which Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope describe their fascination with everyday phenomena such as giraffes, rainbows, and magnets.

But any good will generated in that moment was largely squandered by an ugly incident at the 2010 Gathering of the Juggalos, at which the singer and reality star Tila Tequila was attacked during a performance by audience members who bombarded her with rocks, firecrackers, glass bottles, and human waste.

Speaking before the Gramercy Theater concert Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope played down this incident and a separate stabbing that had occurred at the festival.

''It was a stabbing between two vendors," Violent J said. "Juggalos don't stab each other."

While Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope mingled throughout the Jewel, the boat's downstairs deck offered a disc jockey booth, a dance floor, and a buffet dinner of hot dogs, chicken wings, and pasta; and a chilly, outdoor deck upstairs provided occasional glimpses of the Statue of Liberty (besides the T-shirts worn by fans showing her pointing a pistol to the sky).

Sitting upstairs Mike Martin, a 28-year-old fan from Connecticut, was wearing a hat that looked as if it had a bloody meat cleaver embedded in it. He explained, however, that his choice of apparel, like the music of Insane Clown Posse, "has nothing to do with violence -- it's the goofiness of it."

Comparing Insane Clown Posse to Lady Gaga, Martin said that though both acts used gimmickry and shock value to appeal to their fan bases, they were surely not the same people in their offstage lives.

''When she goes home to her family," Martin said of Lady Gaga, "she's not wearing those crazy costumes. She's not even really a blonde. She's a brunette."

Serena Botelho, 21, a friend of Martin's with delicate eyes, short green hair, and striped stockings, said she was concerned about how Juggalos were becoming increasingly associated with acts of violence and vandalism, and disappointed that Insane Clown Posse was abandoning its grass-roots origins to play alongside Lil Wayne and Motley Crue at the "very mainstream" Bamboozle festival.

Still, Botelho said that in a recent encounter with Violent J, she had told him: "I want to thank you for everything. I think my life is perfect."

"Not that I wouldn't have friends without this," she said, indicating the party going on around her. "But I found the people who are most similar to me."

By 3 a.m. the long night had taken a toll on many revelers, and sleepy clown faces could be seen throughout the lower deck as partygoers fell asleep in their seats. Other guests dived into a last-minute mosh pit initiated by a DJ's high-energy set list and boogied to an Insane Clown Posse song called "Chop Chop Slide," which variously instructs listeners to mimic firing guns and bump fists with the people standing next to them.

After coming ashore at 4 a.m. Alex Christodoulou, a 24-year-old Juggalo wearing a Michael Jackson-inspired sequined glove on one hand, surely spoke for a lot of happy fans when he said of the cruise: "Everybody thought there would probably be a horrible tragedy, or someone would drown. But this worked out really well."



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