Packard Plant Rave

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The Packard Plant on East Grand Boulevard on the Eastside of Detroit was designed by Albert Kahn. The Packard plant was opened in 1903 and at the time was considered the most modern automobile manufacturing facility in the world with skilled craftsmen involved in over eighty trades. The factory complex closed in 1958, though other businesses operated on the premises or used it for storage until the 1990s.

That hulking factory space would become ground zero for Midwest rave culture (intersecting with scenes in the UK and Germany), led by Richie Hawtin’s Windsor-based acid crew, Syst3m, and Poor Boy. While the parties migrated week to week, the infamous Packard Plant, the long abandoned auto factory became the primary party space monument to urban decay and the illegal underground party scene. Soon “Suburban kids were became interested in the underground warehouse thing,” explained Adriel Thornton in a Thump interview. “It was very scary to go to Detroit. It meant you were a badass if you did.”

In the ’90s, the Packard wasn’t as decrepit as it is today, but it was still the epitome of raw urban spaces. With lights and turntables powered by generators generally around 500 people would show up and with the 40-50k watts of music knocking asbestos, grime, and dust from everything. If you spent a night at the Packard, you could be sure to be cleaning soot from ears and nostrils for days afterwards.

Postcard for a Rave at the Packard Plant

“We just cared about good music and top DJs,” says Brian Gillespie, a Polish-Irish DJ who threw the Poor Boy parties with his Vietnamese-American partner Dat. “It’s funny. All of the black club DJs heard about the famous DJ Godfather vs. Gary Chandler battle at the Packard Plant. Over 1,500 people showed up.”

Gary Chandler at the Packard Plant Photo by Brian Gillespie

With bigger parties came additional unwanted attention from outsiders. By the late 1990's, raves had come under police scrutiny nationwide. Detroit clamped down hard, breaking up parties, writing tickets and occasionally even brutalizing ravers. “You couldn’t go a month without something getting busted,” Dereck Plaslaiko recalls.