NEW YORK – Hundreds of party-goers gyrate to techno music. On the club’s stage is a Brooklyn duo, The Golden Pony, who deejay energetically. Three swimsuit-clad girls twirl hula-hoops around their waists.
Nothing about this scene would surprise anyone familiar with the busy summertime routine of life in Williamsburg, with its seemingly endless array of parties in clubs, on roofs and in parks. But this particular rave is very different. To begin with, you won’t find liquor, drugs or any other mind-bending substance here. More exotic, though, is the fact that this event is in full swing at 7:05 A.M. Like others organized in the framework of the popular new Daybreaker series, this party starts at the crack of dawn and ends at 9 A.M. – just before busy New Yorkers report for another day on the job.
Dubbed by the Business Insider website “Silicon Alley’s hottest new party,” Daybreaker is based on an idea that’s hard to grasp: monthly midweek techno parties held (usually on Wednesday) each time at a different location, revealed by email to those who signed up a few days earlier.
At first the parties were closely guarded secrets, intended only for those who registered – most of them from the high-tech and media industries, along with veterans of such alternative events as Burning Man and other enthusiastic revelers. But last month Daybreaker was outed in a series of media articles, with the result that the event held on June 4 at Verboten was open to everyone who was willing to pay $25 and show up at the club on Wythe Street in Williamsburg before 7 A.M.
Following the success of the latest parties, the idea is now spreading to other cities, including London, San Francisco and even Tel Aviv, where it will make its debut this summer.
7 A.M.: Yoga and dancing
If seven o’clock in the morning isn’t early enough for you, for another $10 and an extra hour of sleep deprivation, you can attend a pre-party 6 A.M. yoga class at the Verboten club.
“I got to the club at 5:50 A.M. so I could do yoga,” says Tyler, a high-tech guy in a partly open shirt and a bandana. “I thought it would be too sharp a change to move from the warm bed straight into a dance party. There were about 30 of us, and we did vinyasa [also known as “flow yoga”] and meditation together. It was a very special, relaxing experience, and now I feel ready to jump and dance.”
Aren’t you afraid you’ll be late for work?
“I told my boss I have a dentist appointment and will come in at 10. I have a tie in my bag, and I’ll button my shirt all the way up before I get on the subway,” he says with a smile.
This new trend, which also encompasses other “morning raves,” such as London’s Morning Gloryville – whose New York version kicked off in the Kinfolk club last month – and the Get Down, held monthly at a Manhattan club, is aimed primarily at young professionals, people of 20 to 35 who work around the clock and like to pamper themselves. Because most of them don’t yet have children who have to be hustled off to school, it’s easy to understand why the big challenge of getting up at 5:30 or 6 in the morning involves overcoming the urge to curl up in bed for another couple of hours.
Like any self-respecting trend, the morning raves are part of a larger world view that Daybreaker’s founders – the entrepreneurs Matthew Brimer, 27, and Radha Agrawal, 26 – want to promote. Brimer is a Yale grad whom Forbes calls one of the 30 most promising under-30 “edupreneurs” – people engaged in educational technology – in the United States. He’s cofounder of General Assembly which, in the words of Forbes, “offers classes, workshops, full-time immersive programs and online education on the most relevant skills of the 21st-century economy.”
Founded in New York in 2011, GA has established centers and offers classes in 10 cities, among them San Francisco, London, Hong Kong and Berlin.
Agrawal’s company, Super Sprowtz, is equally successful: It’s “an ‘edutainment’ brand for kids whose aim is to create a culture around healthy eating habits,” according to its LinkedIn site. In February, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama officially adopted Agrawal’s brand as part of her campaign against the fast-food epidemic in the country and danced with its vegetable mascots – Colby Carrot, Brian Broccoli and Erica Eggplant – on a network television morning show.
Given their background, it’s clear why Brimer and Agrawal are able to attract quite a few high-techies and young entrepreneurs to their raves. Brimer told me that at some parties, there had been a substantial presence of employees from leading firms like SoundCloud and Flavorpill.
“We started to organize the parties last December,” he said, “after Radha and I went to a party that ended at 3 A.M., and found ourselves eating falafel in the middle of the night and wanting to go on dancing but not knowing where to go.”
Necessity is the mother of invention, and in this case the need to burn off the falafel calories and not go to sleep generated a new and successful line of raves.
Where did the idea of importing Daybreaker to Tel Aviv come from?
Brimer: “It’s part of an overall expansion plan. After the success of the first parties in New York, we started to get requests to organize similar events in places like London, San Francisco and also Tel Aviv. We get in touch with producers in each city and set up a kind of local branch of Daybreaker. We decided to organize an event in Tel Aviv this summer, and as always, the venue will be posted on our official site (www.dybrkr.com), on Facebook (facebook.com/dybrker) and via the mailing list a few days ahead of time.”
There’s a purpose behind Brimer’s expansion plan. From his perspective, the morning raves are a combination of a social experiment, a community movement and a certain world view.
“These parties can speak to everyone, irrespective of language or location,” he explained. “There’s a fusion of several attractions here. It’s a form of exercise and a terrific way to start the day in a healthy, liberating way, a distinctive opportunity to meet creative, open people, and it’s part of a broader community that’s started to coalesce around Daybreaker events. At the same time, we are trying to promote the community in which we are active and to provide a platform for artists, musicians and local creative people. The latest parties had local indie groups, an opera singer and an artist who painted the crowd during a whole party.”
Why did you decide to ban mind-altering substances?
“Because the general idea is to start the day as healthfully as possible. We want to create an inspirational event, something that will stay with people for the rest of the day. Once you remove alcohol from the picture, you get a completely different vibe. It’s also part of our effort to promote a healthy way of life. Radha was a spinning instructor for many years, and she manages an organization that promotes proper nutrition for children.”
8 A.M.: Coconut water & haiku
The atmosphere at the Daybreaker rave was undeniably very different from the usual high-passion, liquor-drenched New York club scene. In addition to the veggie mascots (eggplant and carrot) that burst in around eight o’clock and started to dance on the stage, the 400 people who bought tickets to the event enjoyed an atypical party-goers’ menu. Instead of beer or gin-and-tonics, the well-stocked bar served coconut water, organic fruit juice and iced tea (lemongrass, guava or hibiscus). At the entrance were three coffee samovars that worked nonstop, next to bowls of sliced tropical fruit. Another attraction was a freebie massage area where you could get your shoulders and neck loosened ahead of a day of sitting, most of it probably in front of a computer screen.
At the other end of the hall, Eric and Daniel, two wannabe poets, improvised haiku on old typewriters. An instant after they finished poeticizing in a “The moon has disappeared / The day has not yet begun” style, three dancers clutching glowing jellyfish balloons mingled with the crowd, eliciting sighs of nostalgia from Burning Man refugees.
As Brimer continually emphasized, “We are creating a community here, and everyone is invited to join. The party on June 4th was the biggest to date, with about 400 people.” That scale really pleased him, he said when asked whether he’s concerned that the morning raves, which until now were secret, would become commercialized and draw thousands of participants.
“At the first events,” he noted, “when there were just a few dozen of us, we were able to use unconventional spaces, like a greenhouse in Chelsea or the roof of a building. But as our crowd increased, the venues changed accordingly.”
The absence of alcohol provides at least a partial explanation for the surprising success of these morning raves. Instead of dancing on a floor sticky from beer and waking up with a crippling half-day hangover, you can get your kicks in what Daybreaker’s founders view as “aerobics”: a liberating, fun way to burn calories and get into shape without having to resort to the treadmill in the gym. In fact, looking at the crowd raises the suspicion that for many of them a party is work, too. When you have to get up at 5:30, do yoga and then dance for two hours, the transition from rave to routine doesn’t look so sharp anymore.
R.J. Parker, 27, who describes himself as “a gourmet chef who works with private clients,” is a regular at these parties.
“I heard about them through friends a few months ago,” he told me. “It’s a group that tries to connect people in a very unique way. This is an original attempt to create a community of young people who work in similar fields, so it’s really more than a party.”
As a chef, what’s your opinion of the culinary choices?
“I’m really supportive of the decision to ban alcohol. The idea is not to flood the senses with external influences, but to stimulate them by natural means. Through the music and body movement. All the senses are engaged.”
8:30 A.M.: Opera, rap, poetry
Ben Walker, a Verboten club soundman, stood on the sidelines and watched the dancers with palpable astonishment. Later, he told me, “I thought it was a very special party. It’s a different crowd from the regular swingers I see here every night. They smile a lot more. Yesterday, when the boss called and asked if I could do a shift from 5 to 9 A.M., I thought he was confused. I’ve never done a sound check for a band at 5:30 A.M.!”
The band Walker was referring to is Great Caesar, an indie group that went on about 8:30, before the opera singer Lilla Heinrich and the rapper Salomon Faye came onstage. After their gig, Agrawal took the mic and asked everyone to sit on the floor.
Like well-disciplined primary-school children at an Israel Scouts camp, everyone fell silent and listened to Agrawal’s monologue. She explained how her Japanese mother and her father, from India, had met in Canada. Having grown up in a multicultural home and as a second-generation migrant, she said, she derives great satisfaction from the Daybreaker events, in which so many cultures and nationalities are represented.
Brimer, who couldn’t completely wipe the smile off his face, said afterward that previous parties had ended with “laughter yoga,” improvised poetry readings and other activities geared to inject the dawn revelers with “positive energy” for the tough workday ahead.
It was 8:55. As I left the club, my eyes, still used to the dark, the glowing lights of the disco ball and the shining jellyfish, at first resisted attempts to adjust to the glaring June sun. In the distance, the famous skyline of southern Manhattan loomed.
Tyler, now without the bandana, emerged with a brown briefcase, from which he took out a red tie. “I don’t have time for more questions right now, I’m already late for work,” he panted, and started to button up his shirt.