Class of ’99, Vol. 8

The classic rave venue was an empty warehouse, unassuming and seemingly abandoned during the day, which came alive, secretly, in the middle of the night. The ephemeral (and illegal) nature of these events made the rave party a kind of temporary autonomous zone, where teenagers met in an empty space, made it into an actual place — which then evaporated the next day.

Other than warehouses, raves typically occurred in three types of venues:

  • Civic centers in run-down municipalities that bordered Chicago. This would include the Harvey Expo Center, the Dolton Expo Center, and the Maywood Civic Center.
  • Roller rinks, or former roller rinks, e.g. Rainbo or Route 66;
  • Former ballrooms. Many of these were probably built in the ’30s or earlier, with dancefloors ideal for raving. Evergreen Ballroom and Grand Ballroom are two examples.

But there was one venue in a category all its own, the greatest rave venue of all time: Photon. Imagine lining up in a parking lot at 11pm, in the middle of nowhere, and then you walk in and see this:

Rave On!

Photon was a laser tag franchise that went bankrupt in 1989. In the mid-90s, an original arena sat just outside city limits, shuttered, surrounded by slumburbs, but preserved in its original state. Photon was discovered by party promoters and reinvented as the ultimate rave cave. It was already designed for lasers and fog machines, and the terrain included platforms, labyrinthine corridors, suspended cargo net hammocks, steep ramps, and tall balconies. It was a totally immersive experience. My first trip to Photon was for an alien-themed party called Unified, which I still count among my favorite parties ever.

Unified Flyer

Eventually, Photon got raved-out and fell into disrepair. Promoters kept renting the complex, but they’d have the party in this adjacent warehouse that wasn’t the same at all. The late 90s economic boom brought a lot of other warehouses back online, and the rest were converted into lofts. Once the rave scene died, there was a decent loft scene in Chicago that continued on for a few years. A bunch of friends would move into an unfinished loft, split the rent 6 ways, and throw parties to pay it down. Loft parties weren’t as good as actual raves, though, and no space would ever hold a candle to Photon.

Class of ’99, Volume 08: Keep On
Download the mix (MP3, 46 minutes, 107 MB)

About the cover

This month’s cover star is Justin Long, who I’ve mentioned before. Justin was one of the most popular DJs in the Chicago scene at that time.

Track List

Follow these links to read more about the selections:

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