Club Soda—Studio 54 For The Millennials

By Neville Elder 07/21/14

A new movement is bringing nightclubs into the daytime with 7am pre-work raves complete with zero drugs and alcohol.


In a gloomy nightclub in New York City’s meat packing district, 360 young men and women are dancing like it’s 1999. The dance floor is packed shoulder to shoulder; it’s that busy. House music is pumping as huge jellyfish, held aloft on poles, glow as they float above the crowd in the dim light. Musicians with trumpets and saxophones punctuate the powerful dance music with an improvised reveille. A lithe young woman shining with sweat is doing yoga poses upside down balanced on the feet of a remarkably athletic looking young man.

The DJ calls out over the thumping noise.

“Hydrate yourself – drink some water!”

Everyone is dancing, everyone is smiling, nobody is boozing, nobody is using drugs, it feels safe.

“Reach out and touch somebody!” shouts the DJ, adding quickly: “Respectfully!”

The crowd roars.

It’s 7 o’clock on a Tuesday morning and the party’s only just begun. Up on the street in Manhattan’s most schizophrenic of neighborhoods, butcher’s delivery trucks are reflected in the windows of swanky design stores yet to open for the fashionista tourists visiting from the boutique hotels of Gansevoort and Soho House nearby.

This is Daybreaker, a 2-hour early morning dance party that’s becoming the biggest thing in nightclubs since Ecstasy. Young people, sick of surly bouncers, unwelcome drunken harassment, and toxic alcoholic beverages are participating in an experiment to reinvent the nightclub. For $25, in the cold light of day without drugs or alcohol they’re doing what clubs were invented for—dancing and having fun.

The underground disco is throbbing. Dressed in workout clothes and yoga attire, the early morning ravers are blissfully unaware of the waking city’s staggered start. Some are sweating happily through their oxford button down shirts and suit pants. When they leave here they will go straight to their jobs.

Up in the lobby David, 31, from NY is still out of breath from the dance floor. He’s squinting into the bright New York City daylight preparing to leave for his job at an advertising agency.

“I got up extra early before work to come here,” he says. “It’s a happy dance floor! Nobody’s spilling drinks on me! If this was 4 am it would be a shit show!"

Sophie, 24, from the UK and Vicki, 27, from Ukraine are chatting, flushed and excited. Vicki says: “It’s the epitome of real fun! Everyone’s dancing! If this was at night all the cool kids would be sat at the side. Here all the cool kids are dancing! It’s a cult of joy!” She beams.

Back downstairs it does have a vaguely cult-like feel. This definitely ain’t no Sunday School. The room is buzzing with an almost tribal energy. It’s like Burning Man without the sunstroke or the drugs.

There’s free coffee and tea if anyone wants it and green juice and oat-powered smoothies. The bar’s closed but nobody cares, after all, they’ve all got to be in their offices, or their co-working lofts downtown or their hipster studios back in Brooklyn soon. An eclectic bunch of lawyers, musicians, yoga instructors, web developers and they all love to party.

“We’re the sober version of Studio 54!” Daybreaker’s Co-founder Rahda Agrawal claims.

“It’s a new generation, a new era of people who want to express themselves and connect with others [and] not just live their digital lives. The perfect Daybreakers [are in equal numbers] male [and] female, 20’s and 30’s, socially conscious, open [minded], creative, entrepreneurial—a mix of industries.”

There’s a certain amount of instagramming going on but for a generation brought up on Facebook and Twitter, this room is full of people making real connections. They’re dancing and touching each other; making friends.

This event at the Gilded Lily sold out. They always do. Rahda and Matthew Brimer, 27, the other founder of the event, are two young social entrepreneurs who say they both have a passion for bringing people together. The rest of their day will be spent working in their successful start-ups. The 35-year-old Montreal native, Rahda, is the founder of Supersproutz, a multi-media program to educate kids about nutrition and wellness. Matthew is the co-founder of General Assembly, the guerrilla education center for the post-collegiate start-up crowd.

Daybreaker is now twice a month in NYC. It’s opening in San Francisco and any day now in Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Berlin and Tel Aviv.  

“People just come up to us at Daybreaker and say I know just the person to help you open this in Berlin, Tel Aviv, wherever,” says Rahda.

She’s talking a mile a minute, still buzzing from the triumph of another full-on breakfast boogie. She explains their success:

“We’ve been going to clubs for like, forever. We call it ‘zombieland’. Everyone is drunk, everyone’s fucked up, high, stoned, whatever, they’re just not really there, right? People [here today] are present and lucid, it’s a sober experience.”

Matthew chips in: ”When was the last time you were at a nightclub where everybody was smiling? Traditional nightlife—it’s much darker. It’s not as energetic, not as positive. It can be cynical. [Our] intention is to be optimistic, to create joy and love and openness which is the opposite of cynicism.”

After two hours of non-stop dancing, Rahda and Matthew bring everything back down to Earth. The music stops and people sit down on and around the circular dance floor campfire style. They’re happy and expectant. Clearly some are repeat customers.

Rahda introduces a tall long-haired young man. Robert Leslie is a self-described ‘young bohemian troubadour from the UK’. He slings an acoustic guitar over his head and without any amplification strums a witty, quiet song. Surprisingly everyone listens—the crowd is completely focused. When he finishes he’s given a huge cheer. Then a second singer gets up and asks for help to fund his new album. He sings one of his songs acapella and without very much prompting the gathered revelers launch into the chorus of his song as if they’ve sung it all their lives. You get the impression this community thing is really important to Rahda and Matthew.

The crowd is dwindling a little. People are rushing off to early morning meetings, tightening their necktie nooses and buttoning shirts as they go. But still about 200 Daybreakers remain seated cross-legged on the dance floor and around the club that moments before reverberated to the pounding of their dancing feet. Rahda encourages the crowd to recite from postcards passed around the group:

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”

It’s a quote from the Dalai Lama.

“We start out with high energy, where everyone is giving and feeling, loving and energetic and open and then [we] bring it right down [and] have everyone set an intention by reading the postcard.” Says Rahda.

Matthew adds:

“It’s elation followed by mindfulness and you take that out into the day. [That’s what’s cool about] Daybreaker. It’s 9am, I have the whole day in front of me! And I feel phenomenal. I’m going to go share that with other people.”

There’s other ways to start the day, of course. Many people go to the gym, some take a yoga class but these things are all done in relative isolation. Rahda claims Daybreaker punctures that bubble.

“I want to turn the fitness industry on its head!” She says.“I was a spin instructor for 8 years at a gym doing the same thing over and over. [It] just gets boring after a while. [Here] we can interact [and] have new ideas; meet new friends - amazing new people you wouldn’t get to meet. You go to the gym, you work out and you leave. [At Daybreaker] you’re mingling, having tea and coffee, you’re also sweating and working out. It’s a 2-hour experience where you come not just for the workout, you come for the community.”

If you’re in New York, San Francisco, or Chicago and you’re on the way to work; If you’re on a subway platform or in line at Starbucks or waiting for the bus, turn to the person next to you. Are they glowing with a secret cheer? When they turn to you and they smile at you with genuine warmth, smile back, they’re probably a Daybreaker.

Neville Elder is a regular contributor to The Fix. He last wrote about the farce of death penalty drugs and rock 'n roll recovery.

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British born Neville Elder is a writer,photographer and filmmaker. He's been sober since 2006, lived in New York since 2001 and is in no hurry to move back to a Brexited Britain. He writes the odd murder ballad with his band Thee Shambels and teaches photography at the New York Institute of photography. Find him on Linkedin and Twitter.