“What was supposed to be the party of the season for almost 1,000 people hoping for a clandestine Halloween costume party turned into the biggest raid in Milwaukee history Sunday morning.”

So intoned a lengthy Milwaukee Journal report from November 1992. The headline was even more eye-catching: “‘Rave’ party raid. $300,000 fines possible for party planners. More than 900 who attended Halloween bash fined $325.”

Not to be outdone, the then-competing Milwaukee Sentinel went with this headline: “950 arrested in raid on Halloween party. Police confiscate alcohol, marijuana and pills at south side warehouse.”

Yes, Milwaukee’s “Grave Rave” bust of Halloween 1992 is one of those ridiculous stories that, decades later, lives on in infamy. The Cryptosporidium outbreak of ’93. The Milwaukee Lion sightings of ’15. The time nearly 1,000 ravers tweaked on “smart drinks” got busted in a warehouse near where Great Lakes Distillery is today.

Of course, Milwaukee newspapers weren’t the only ones who covered the thrilling bust. Local TV news was ALL OVER that shit. Here’s an incredible compilation of TV news coverage put together by Dusty Medical Records. See if you recognize anyone getting arrested!

The so-called “Grave Rave” was emblematic of illicit parties thrown in the pre-internet days: you picked up a ticket at one location, called a phone number, picked up a map to the party at another location, etc. (For a hilarious “undercover” recreation of the process—which involves stops at Tie Me Down on Brady and the Avalon Theater in Bay View—go to the 6-minute mark in the video above.)

The Journal article explained the lead-up to “Grave”:

Before 5:30 p.m. Saturday, a taped message on a special rave hot line was telling callers that party information would be given after 5:30 p.m. The message also billed the evening as a “Grave,” and promised “oogly googly phantasmagroic” fun and frights.

After 5:30 p.m., the answering machine message gave instructions to the “map point”—XLC Hair salon.

The taped message warned partygoers not to form a line in front of the salon, or the map point would be closed down. Ravers also were told they would have to produce identification at the map point and at the rave. They would be searched for weapons and the party site, and gang colors would not be allowed.

“This is a peaceful rave,” the message ended. “Peace, love and we’re gonna Grave your world.”

Despite the message’s warning, by 10:30 p.m. a huge line stretched down Plankinton. Around 11 p.m., the salon opened, and a security guard let partygoers inside, in groups of six to eight at a time. In return for showing identification and handing over $10, participants got a bright red ticket with black and gold lettering, and a white sheet of paper with directions to the party, police said.

The fallout from “Grave” had some unique wrinkles: despite the presence of undercover police and an entire police force clearly prepared for the big bust, nearly all the tickets issued that night were dismissed. Oh, and police didn’t find a whole lot of alcohol. Again, from the Journal story:

Sunday’s party featured faucets that poured out Kool-Aid, Halloween decorations, throbbing music and a light show. “Smart drinks”—mixtures of amino acids and other natural ingredients, usually in a fruit juice base—were served for $3 a glass. Touted as energy enhancers or mind clarifiers, the drinks’ powers are debatable.

Police confiscated alcoholic beverages, along with more than half-pound of marijuana, 44 marijuana pipes, 81 small cylinders of nitrous oxide (laughing gas), assorted pills and admission tickets. There was less alcohol on the premises than police expected. None was being sold.

“Police don’t think kids will be raving again in Milwaukee warehouses for a very long time,” said a local TV news reporter in ’92. A 2016 Midwest rave retrospective article from Red Bull Music Academy, which discusses the “Grave” bust and its legacy, disagrees:

Naturally, this emboldened the nascent Midwest rave scene. The crowds along Interstate 94, which stretches from Billings, Montana, to Detroit across the top middle third of the U.S.—covering, among other cities, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Madison, smaller but crucial hubs in the Midwest scene—began, in Grave’s wake, growing considerably younger and more fervent.

Rave on, Milwaukee. Expect an in-depth oral history of the “Grave Rave” next Halloween, for the event’s 30th (!) anniversary.

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About The Author

Co-Founder and Editor

Matt Wild weighs between 140 and 145 pounds. He lives on Milwaukee's east side.

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