I've been a concert photographer for years, and have seen my share of interesting subject matters to document, especially working in New York City. One thing about me is that I like to shoot subgenre/underground things to see what's happening beneath the surface of what we think we know. Sometimes the things you learn on a shoot will really surprise you. The craziest/most bizarre photo job I’ve ever done in my entire photography career was ICP--Insane Clown Posse. Everyone knows something outrageous about Insane Clown Posse. They've been in the media for a few decades now, and usually not for anything positive. I wanted to understand why they had such a rabid following.
A friend of mine is a promoter, and he does the Rocks Off Cruises for about ten years, which are basically rock bands on a boat. He somehow fell in love with the Insane Clown Posse, and decided to host them when they came into the city one year, and planned to promote a show for them at Hammerstein Ballroom. I said, "I have to go and shoot this!" He said, "Sure. Just make sure you wear a rain coat."
We'll come back to this point later.
Upon arrival on my big night, the first thing that I noticed was that everyone was wearing some sort of makeup. Folks were in the line, scantily clad, and dressed in all types of outfits. The thing that struck me as most bizarre was that there were people of all walks of life. Most of them were clearly not from New York. You can usually tell because of their accents and the way that they carry themselves. There were also a lot of hipster-type kids, who I assumed were just there to be ironic.
There were five opening acts that were all part of the ICP crew, and they too were all wearing makeup, with a really horribly cliché barrage of girls dancing around poles on the stage. In my opinion the rap was not very good, but everyone there seemed to be really excited about that.
In anticipation of ICP performing, they brought on stage gallons and gallons of Faygo (a popular root beer from the Midwest) in preparation of spraying the crowd. The initial conversation that I had with the promoter when he told me, “Just make sure that you wear your raincoat, otherwise you're going to get wet," crept back into my head. But I was prepared.
I came equipped with my raincoat. So did all of the security in the photo pit. As the sticky, sugary liquids projectiled into the crowd, we started shooting, and people just started going buckwild and moshing all over the place. A full Faygo bottle flew through the air and hit my friend. I saw it happening, and thought, "Oh no, she's going to get hit," but I didn't move her out of the way from a flying two-litter totally intact bottle of Faygo. She wasn't badly injured, but incurred a bump, and proceeded to hide under the stage for the rest of the set out of fear. She did catch a really cool shot of the front row from underneath the stage, which was good enough of a payoff.
I was mildly afraid for my equipment, but fortunately for me, I had been in other mosh pit experiences before. It was just the surgary aspect of it that would have fucked up my shit. You had to get that shot in the middle of the Faygo fight. That was the money shot, and the sole reason for going at the end of the day.
For all of the photographers out there, here's a tip for mosh pits (should you ever find yourselves in this situation): If there are flying limbs out there, keep the camera as high up as you can, or you just make sure that you're high enough where you're not actually in the mosh pit. There are photographers who do go in the pit and get bounced around, but do it at your own risk.
Side note: "I saw my first moshpit with my mom but we thought it was a riot so we ran the hell out of there. The first actual moshpit that I saw and didn’t run away in fear of was at a Nirvana show. I know I'm dating myself as I say that. That was the first proper moshpit that I had ever seen."
For ICP, I was on the outskirts. Contrary to popular believe, there are rules to a mosh pit. People are generally pretty aware of their bodies. That is of course, until I hit an ICP mosh pit. These people really didn't know what the hell they were doing. Maybe drugs? It definitely wasn’t just alcohol. And as a result, I too sustained an injury, and got punched by mistake. They were actually quite apologetic about it and picked me up because I was hit to the ground. It wasn’t all violence however; lest me not forget to mention that amidst all of this insanity, I got a few marriage proposals.
The interesting thing about that group of audience was that they were probably so ostracized from society that they are totally loyal to each other. There are surely ICP followers with conventional professions, such as doctors and lawyers, but for the most part that's not the case. I really think that these concerts, for the fans, are really gatherings where they can really be themselves. The notable sign of a true ICPer is the adornment of ICP-style make up--but there are many other ways to show your allegiance to the Posse.
I went to the bathroom and a black bathroom attendant lady looked at me and said, "Please tell me you are not here for this show." Granted, their music is incredibly misogynistic and violent, but when she went off on a tirade about how not only was the music terrible, but they were "bastardizing our music that we started." something about that statement just really irked me. The truth is that we often take different things from many different cultures and change them as we see fit. I actually ended up defending ICP. I strongly believe that by their expression of themselves, they are not hurting anybody, and shouldn't be so harshly criticized by anyone, let alone this lady. The interesting thing to note is that despite all of this violent music, not a single fight broke out at the show, or any inkling of violence—except for the accidental ones out of people’s clumsiness more so than from malice. There was, in all actuality, so much love in that room. I didn't feel any type of animosity, or even scared of anything that went on that night. I think it was one of the most comfortable situations, despite getting punched accidentally, that I've ever had at a gig.
I thought it was going to be a bunch of drugged up, angry, violent and aggressive people moshing. There were people getting out their aggression, but it was done in a really communal way. The music was not so great, and the rhyming skills were subpar at best, but it was a positive community. The most unfortunate aspect of the event was not being able to meet the members themselves.
Words by Deneka Peniston as told to Boyuan Gao