No Way Back

Michelle Lhooq

Independent researcher


There are raves that remind you what it is to be alive, and then there are the rest. You never know when a party will crack you open, but the secret sauce often includes these ingredients: DJs who weave ideas into tapestries of sound, hours long enough to bend the space-time continuum (12 hours is often the sweet spot); substances that encourage mind-expansion over tunnel vision; a collective desire to go deep. Raves aren’t easy. Sometimes they rip you up, spit you out, conjure demons. The muck lodged in your psyche gets unstuck, worked out and purged through the body. But then you break into the great beyond.

There is one party renowned in the dance music underground for reliably bestowing this deliverance. It is a party with a cult following so strong that we think of it as Techno Thanksgiving, a family reunion for the American rave scene. This party is also the contemporary torchbearer of the Detroit rave continuum, which stretches back to the very roots of rave history. This party is called No Way Back.

No Way Back is a heavy acid zone. The DJs who throw it are associated with the esteemed music labels Interdimensional Transmissions in Detroit and The Bunker in New York, and the tight-knit crew are acid house and techno freaks. The burbling squelch of the 303 is like a layer of oil that oozes out of the speakers from the moment the party begins at midnight and winds down in the afternoon. Wonky synthesizers that sound like the metallic wails of spaceships landing, the gurgling of machines being burped, the sizzle of brains frying. Slide around and hear it hiss.

At some point over its 16-year lifespan, it became a crucial part of No Way Back’s lore that it is an LSD party. Nobody talks about this explicitly; the organizers don’t go around dosing the punch or anything silly. It’s just a thing that is understood implicitly, and this unspoken endeavor to dive down the wormhole collectively creates a sort of psychedelic safe space to get really weird and wig out. “When you roll in, you can expect to be immersed into a world with one purpose”, explained The Bunker DJ and producer Jasen Loveland, who passed away in 2021 but whose spirit remains embedded in the party. “To make you lose your fucking mind”.

I have been attending No Way Back since 2016, and at the last one, I worried that the cultural forces currently turning global rave culture into a boring version of social media-saturated entertainment would not spare this party, despite everyone’s best intentions. Thankfully, I was wrong, and once again left with a sense of total spiritual realignment. So I reached out to the DJ crew to understand how No Way Back manages to reach a dancefloor consciousness of the highest order. There are almost no interviews or press about this party online, but after much cajoling, emailing and rescheduling, I finally got Bryan Kasenic, Brendan M Gillen (AKA BMG) and Erika—several key DJs in the No Way Back crew—on the phone.

The first thing they did was point me towards the flier for the very First No Way Back (see Fig. 1) in Detroit in December 2007. Stated right there, in plain text against a mossy green background, was the party’s manifesto—a statement of intent that still holds true:

Join us for a rave celebration, where we return to the source, to what inspired us in the first place. Our home is in the underground. Long before the years of nerf rave, before our music moved into nightclubs, before you had to go see your favorite DJ play a trance club or sushi bar, there was an underground. Warehouse and gallery parties that were about an environment, a full immersion in the experience of sound. For NO WAY BACK this is our goal. We shun nostalgia, but welcome a return to the original essence.

Figure 1. No Way Back, first flier, 1997. Courtesy of No Way Back.

Detroit’s electronic music scene in the 2000s was experiencing a nadir, Gillen explained. In the late’90s, a media-fueled moral panic over ecstasy use had resulted in a nationwide crackdown on rave culture—and Detroit “clamped down hard”, according to a Red Bull Music Academy’s report, “Breaking up parties, writing tickets and occasionally even brutalizing ravers” (Glazer 2014). The actions of the police had a chilling effect on illegal warehouse party organizers, but new clubs, bars and other legal nightlife establishments began to take their place. These venues, however, had 2:00 AM closing times and revenue models based around alcohol sales.

“I was sick of going to parties and seeing the DJs right in front of a pool table, and looking at my reflection in a Coors sign. I just found that offensive”, said Gillen. “The Detroit rave scene in the’90s was anti-alcohol. We didn’t like what happened to people who drink all the time.” At now-legendary acid house parties at the Music Institute, or by legendary Detroit promoters like Dean Major and Analog Systems, punters danced all night to druggy anthems like “Jesus Loves the Acid” by Ecstasy Club and Garden of Eden’s “The Garden Of Eden”, often on just a $5 hit of LSD. “There was an open culture around it”, Gillen said. “People were transforming their lives, and this was a tool to get out of their normal boring jobs and become a really amazing creative person. It was a really fascinating time”.

No Way Back was thus conceived as a return to the source: the original ’90s Midwestern rave culture and its anarchic, psychedelic roots. Accordingly, the music played at the party reflects the soul of the city. “You can ask someone to play ‘psychedelic,’ and they might come in and play a really fast psytrance set”,Kasenic said. “I don’t know if there’s an objective way to define psychedelic music, but because the party is from Detroit, there’s so much emphasis on funk”.

“If you ask any Detroit house or techno artist what their inspirations are, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic are going to come up”, added Gillen, noting that Maggot Brain, Funkadelic’s third studio album, was allegedly recorded while the band was heavily dosed on acid. This strain of Detroit psychedelia connects George Clinton to Richie Hawtin, a seminal figure of ’90s Detroit rave culture who, under his Plastikman moniker, released an album called Sheet 1 in a perforated cover that looked so much like acid tabs that a fan was arrested just for owning the release (see Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Cover of Plastikman, Sheet 1, 1993 (Novamute).

Aesthetically, one of the most distinctive features of No Way Back is the draping of beige parachutes over the dancefloor—a visual design that is especially friendly to trippers. “I wanted it to feel like a hug for the audience, with arms coming out towards you. When you lower the ceiling, people feel less exposed, like it’s a cave environment”, explained Amber Gillen, who designs the decor for the party. At established techno clubs like Berghain or Tresor, your visual experience is often predetermined by the in-house system of expensive lights and lasers—and these strobing, high-intensity configurations, as the No Way Back crew points out, can make you feel like you’re stuck in the heart-palpitating, anticipatory come-up phase of a trip.

The lighting at No Way Back is much gentler, thereby allowing psychedelics to provide individualized visual content instead. “The concept is a steady glowing and pulsing light that your frontal cortex can relax to, so you can zone out and feel comfortable in the space”, explained Amber. “It’s not flashing or moving too much. There’s also a lot of softer textures like drapery and netting to diffuse the lighting, and just symbols and shapes—no words or texts”.

All of these elements thus percolate into a perfectly calibrated psychedelic rave, and these are the reasons why No Way Back feels so alive. It is a party connected to both its local history and broader lineage: an acid-fueled Detroit rave tradition that harkens back to legendary clubs like New York’s Paradise Garage or the Muzic Box in Chicago—in other words, places where pleasures of the highest sense were attained through dancing out of your fucking mind on LSD. These experiences are harder to find these days. Parties get blown up on TikTok and meme’d into simulations of hedonism. The algorithm flattens and sucks out the dancefloor’s soul. But at least for now, there is a parachute-draped rave cave in Detroit that opens once a year, where you can walk out into the sunrise covered in sweat and dust, and feel like you’re touching the infinite.

Author Biography

Michelle Lhooq is a music and drugs journalist, and author of the stoner cult classic, WEED: Everything You Want to Know But Are Always Too Stoned to Ask (Penguin Random House). She writes a Substack newsletter called Rave New World, and throws a party called Weed Rave. After studying Comparative Literature at Columbia University, Lhooq was a music editor at VICE in NYC from 2014-2017, covering electronic music and global nightlife. Since moving to Los Angeles, her writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg, New York Magazine, GQ, and others.


Glazer, Joshua. 2014. “Craving the Rave: Detroit’s Electronic Music Scene in the ’90s”. Red Bull Music Academy, May 21, <> (accessed 16 October 2023).


Plastikman. 1993. Sheet 1. Novamute (CD, Album): NMCD 3015.