The Gathering of the Juggalos

Milk Underground photographer Devin Doyle attended the prestigious Gathering of the Juggalos, a one of a kind event where the most die hard fans of the band Insane Clown Posse, who refer to themselves as "Juggalos" and "Juggalettes", come together for five straight days of debauchery and face paint. The event is not for the faint hearted and neither are the photos Devin captured. Milk Made’s Kalvin Lazarte sat with Devin to wrap his head around exactly what takes place at the Gathering of the Juggalos.

Kalvin Lazarte: So before you went out to the Gathering of the Juggalos, what were your expectations of the festival? What did you imagine you would see?

Devin Doyle: I went purely on aesthetics. I was taken by shots of dusty mayhem – check out photographer Dan Cronin’s work – lit up only by carnival ride lights, wild animals in elaborate makeup standing alone on barren ground. Menacing, tattoo-riddled, blood-spattered youths – but with the softest eyes you ever did see. Had a hunch this thing was special.

I knew nothing of the culture, little of the music, and only the sensational parts of the history (See Also: Tila Tequila attacked by Juggalos). The chance to shoot this real life "Mad Max" landscape was enough to buy a plane ticket, rent a car and drive a couple hundred miles into the woods. I didn’t even know what was exactly going to go on when I got there, I just knew I wanted to be shooting it.

I watched five or six minutes of the documentary American Juggalo before turning it off. Beautiful as it was, the tone was mocking. I couldn’t go onto someone else’s turf with something like that in the back of my brain. So I was sequestered – reading nothing, zero background research so I could walk in with eyes wide open.

KL: How did it live up to your expectations?

DD: Fully. No way is there anything like this in the world; a perfect confluence of desperate madness, vivid color, light and landscape.

KL: Did you purchase any ICP paraphernalia for the trip?

DD: Like, as a disguise? I bought a hat midway through. But it was because I became a fan! Before I left NYC people kept asking if I was going to paint my face like a Juggalo, but that seemed so disingenuous. I’m learning as I start to do more documentary work that the moment your subjects sense any deception or manipulation on the part of the photographer, that’s when everything falls. Resentment sets in, you loose eye contact, movements get mechanical. Especially with those who are a little suspicious to begin with.

There were constant rumors of FBI presence at "The Gathering". Folks we spoke to in town reported unmarked vans and diner counters full of cops, but nothing ever surfaced. In fact, I didn’t spy a single policeman the whole time. It’s held on private property very much by design. Police are kept out. My hair is buzzed military short on the sides, I got called ‘narc’ a few times – but only after I started wearing the hat.

KL: Why are all these chicks naked?

Obviously this is a wet t-shirt contest.

KL: Strange, the girls aren’t really wearing anything at all (so I guess that means they probably lost the contest). What’s the grossest thing you saw while you were out there?

DD: WolfPac radio has this eyeball-eating contest… just like bobbing for apples, except the bowls are filled with cow’s eyes in habanero-and-barbecue sauce. No hands allowed – only face and teeth. Whoever gobbles up all the eyes first wins a gift bag. The winner told me how tough eyes are to chew through…

KL: Yeah, thank God I’ll probably never know. What about the picture of these dudes wrestling with roller-skates on?

DD: They’re in the midst of a gin-funnelled bareknuckle boxing match. Each had strapped to his head, a bucket full of blood, animal organs, and candy. The guys with the riot shields are on stage to keep the battle from crashing into the broadcast equipment, but it happened anyway. Everything got wrecked, which only got the hosts more amped up.

The absolute best moment of the whole festival was when I saw one of the Wolfpac girls – the hard working stripper mascots who ride the poles from sunup to sundown – reach into a pool of blood on stage and snatch herself a yellow Laffy Taffy.

KL: What do you think the drug of choice was at the festival?

DD: Nitrous oxide. You’ll see Juggalos lugging dusty industrial tanks of NO2 all over. The crack-and-swell sound of balloons filling is pretty much incessant.

KL: Where did you sleep each night?

DD: We camped out on the grounds. It’s a willy-nilly, camp-where-you-like proposition. I had a little stove and made the most beautiful coffee each morning. It kept me sane in a land where turkey legs and fried pickles were the norm for 3 meals a day.

KL: So we’ve obviously heard the rumors that Juggalos are basically a gang – but the Juggalos themselves refer to it as a family. What is your take on the sense of community?

DD: On one of the final days, a thief was caught with loads of missing cellphones in the trunk of his car. He was set upon by the group, who beat him to shit and chased him to the edge of the grounds, where security held back the mob. He escaped on foot into the scrub of central Illinois – nobody knows where he ended up. But over the next few hours, hundreds of Juggalos decended on his car and tore it to shreds with rocks, hammers, whatever they could find. The twisted hulk – unrecognizable as a car – was loaded onto a trailer and slowly driven through the crowd at the main stage as a wicked parade float, like a head on a pike. The crowd, swollen with pride, chanted “DEATH TO THIEVES!”

It was majestic and terrifying. The ultimate irony: his car, it turned out, was also stolen.

KL: I don’t know if that answers my question at all… or maybe it does. I dunno. But you told me once right when you got back from the festival that you will be defending Juggalos for years to come, why is that?

DD: As scary as this mob could be, it’s pretty well grounded in right and wrong. The Juggalos were completely self-policing. I saw a couple of fights diffused with chants of “FAM-I-LY! FAM-I-LY!” from the crowd – and ending with the brawlers hugging it out. There was enough mosh pit comraderie to give you shivers. Sweaty bodies helter-skelter, crashing into one another over and over hard as they can – and someone always gets trampled, just for a second, before they’re swarmed with hands trying to hoist them back up.

These are disaffected Midwestern kids from parts of the country where there’s not a lot going on. From blandness and chaos, they’ve built themselves this strange community, with its own iconography and rituals. You put on your makeup and take on these personas and get to claim ownership of something. At "The Gathering" you get to amp up these characters way beyond what you can get away with in civilization. Finally in the right company, you see a wild release of pent-up madness.

And they couldn’t have been warmer to an obvious outsider. Actually – there never was the sense that I was an outsider (apart from the narc comments about me purchasing that silly hat). I think they knew the effort it took me to get myself out to Bumfuck, Illinois and there was respect for that. Coming from NYC where nobody makes eye contact on the street, and a single smile on the subway can make your day – to have complete strangers swing from your neck like monkeys and grab you in music (and drug) filled rapture… it was kind of heart-warming.

Insane Clown Posse themselves gives back to their fans like nobody I’ve ever seen. In 2011 they established a legal defense foundation for Juggalos that are hassled by the FBI – and this year announced they’d be suing the FBI directly because of their ‘gang’ classification. And their live set ended in a fireworks display as big as what we have in NYC. I mean, millions of dollars of fireworks – going off right in your face, for ages – just for a crowd of 10,000 people. The love was palpable.

KL: Stop – I’m starting to tear up. Haha. So, after it’s all said and done… would you go back to another Juggalo gathering?

DD: I think it’s pretty much inevitable from this point forward.

KL: Cool, see you there. Maybe.

*To see more of Devin Doyle’s work check out

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