From The New York Times
Alexander Perkins lost his legs after being hit by a train when he was 8. He describes himself, using expletives, as “a 260-pound black guy with a don’t-mess-with-me face.”
He is also a Juggalo.
This week, Mr. Perkins, 31, known to friends as Less Legs, and thousands of other Juggalos and Juggalettes have made the pilgrimage to Thornville, Ohio, to take part in the 17th Annual Gathering of the Juggalos. The nicknames, claimed by fans of the rap duo Insane Clown Posse, come from the group’s 1992 track “The Juggla.”
After arriving, many of the Juggalos paint their faces with heavy clown makeup, indulge in drugs and alcohol, attend concerts of Insane Clown Posse acolytes and hop on amusement park rides. The retreat started at 7 a.m. on Wednesday and will end Saturday night.
“It’s like a psycho-porn theme park,” says Camille Dodero, a journalist who attended four consecutive gatherings starting in 2010 and is attending this year. “It’s an intense sensory overload.”
The number 17 holds an important place in the iconography of Insane Clown Posse, which has elevated the significance of this year’s event. But news outlets and online gawkers have been gobbling up the spectacle for years, especially since since the release of “American Juggalo,” a short, lewd independent documentary from 2011 that captured the scene before much of the mainstream came calling.
“I saw that movie a hundred times,” Mr. Perkins said. “I showed my friends that movie to enlighten them on Juggalos.”
“American Juggalo” introduced many people to the humans behind the movement for the first time.
The documentary also helped to defang the image of the Juggalos, described by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in February 2011 as a “criminal street gang” but now widely regarded as a tribe of mostly harmless outcasts.
The director of “American Juggalo,” Sean Dunne, 35, a filmmaker who grew up in the suburbs of New York City, said that he was inspired to make the movie in 2010 after Tila Tequila, a Myspace celebrity who performed at the Gathering of the Juggalos that year, was pelted with rocks and beer bottles before being chased from the stage to her trailer.
“I remember sitting around and thinking that there was no way they could be that bad,” Mr. Dunne said of the Juggalos. “And I went to the gathering, and they really weren’t.”
Mr. Dunne’s film barely mentions Insane Clown Posse itself. It ignores the concerts and carnival events of the gathering. Instead, it features more than a dozen interviews with Juggalos enjoying each other’s company, many of them ingesting drugs or alcohol, and several of them at least partly nude.
The documentary also features a Juggalette nicknamed Maniac who claims to be sober, though Mr. Dunne clarifies: “Juggalo sober is a little different from what we would think of as sober.”
“Juggalo sober is like, you only had 10 beers, smoked some weed and did a little molly,” he said.
While Mr. Dunne’s film shows Juggalos at their most hedonic, it is often a sympathetic portrayal, showing his interview subjects to be friendly, tolerant and inclusive. In “American Juggalo,” the festival resembles what it is often promoted as by its attendees: an enormous family reunion.
Since it was posted to the video-sharing service Vimeo in September 2011, “American Juggalo” has been viewed more than 2 million times. Sam Morrill, a lead curator for the website, called the documentary “one of the most provocative and celebrated films” on Vimeo.
Not all Juggalos appreciate the film’s influence. Jason Shaltz, a photographer who has been a fan of Insane Clown posse since the mid-90s, will celebrate his 36th birthday at the Gathering of the Juggalos on Thursday. He said that while he admires Mr. Dunne’s talent, “American Juggalo” chose to turn the cameras away from Insane Clown Posse and the other musical artists at the festival, the central element that draws the Juggalos together every year.
“I think it catapulted into the public eye because of the freak show aspect of it,” Mr. Shaltz said. “People like to watch train wrecks.”
Mr. Perkins, who moonlights as a rapper himself, disagrees.
“We’re the story — we make up the community,” he said of the Juggalos. “I know people who go to the gathering that are deaf. That are blind.”
In 2012, the year after the film was released, the media presence at the event, as well as the percentage of non-Juggalos in attendance, increased. Several outlets made films similar to Mr. Dunne’s and many others featured articles and slide shows that took a mocking tone toward the group.
“Once the Gathering of the Juggalos wasn’t something to fear, people started going as an extreme adventure,” Ms. Dodero said.
Once the general public catches wind of a music festival, the event is often lamented as having changed for the worse. This summer, The Times’s music critics said that they would not cover the more mainstream events Coachella and Bonnaroo, writing that many festivals “look increasingly alike in their vision of a codified, consensual, safe and purchasable bohemia.”
But the Gathering of the Juggalos has remained outside the mainstream, fans say, and has not changed with the influx of tourists looking for a thrill. If anything, attendees say, the Juggalos have a way of converting the newcomers.
“They don’t like it when jerky hipsters come in,” Ms. Dodero said. “But even then, I’ve seen the biggest jerky hipster be transformed within 12 hours, saying, ‘These are the best people ever.’”