The party is in full swing at V Lounge in Santa Monica. Twenty-somethings in animal-print jumpsuits and glow-in-the-dark face paint form a circle around a break-dancer in a furry dragon costume. When he jumps out of the circle, a tiny woman in a formfitting storm-trooper bodysuit glides in and executes a perfect robot dance. The crowd erupts.
It is 8 a.m. And none of the attendees, who paid $20 to arrive at the ungodly hour of 6:30 a.m. and dance for two hours before work, is drinking or on drugs — not noticeably, at least. This party is called Daybreaker, and the idea is to re-create the energy of a nightclub, sans booze. Everyone here is just high on life.
In fact, the dance floor feels something like an audition for So You Think You Can Dance, or maybe a music-video shoot. Even the DJ, who's performed everywhere from Sound nightclub in Hollywood to Marquee nightclub at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, thinks maybe she's been punked.
"From the moment I walked in the door, the first few people who walked in, it almost felt, like, is this a setup? Is this one of those candid camera shows where they have people dressed up in ridiculous costumes?" DJ Tara Brooks asks. But there are no hidden cameras — just the faux–photo booth in the corner of the bar, where clubgoers pose for pictures atop white pleather benches, which are flooded by massive white lights.
Maybe some of the attendees started the party by "having a drink or two in the car to get it going," Brooks speculates. But ultimately, she figures, "It doesn't really matter at the end of the day" — or the morning, for that matter. "I feel like a lot of the people were probably just excited for the first time: Can we go out without drinking?"
It was still pitch-black outside when the first wave of clubbers (Daybreaker co-producer Katie Maute refers to them as "dancing trendmakers") arrived at today's Wednesday-morning rager. It's the second event held in L.A. following a September launch at Wurstküche Venice, and Maute hopes the parties will be ramped up to twice monthly in 2015.
Billed as a "morning movement," Daybreaker combines the anything-goes self-expression of Burning Man with the socially conscious didacticism of a Silicon Beach tech conference. The idea was launched in New York late last year by two tech gurus based there.
Matthew Brimer co-founded a computer programming school called General Assembly; its Santa Monica outpost hosts workshops like "Power of Branding," and "Growth Hacking: Get Noticed Now!" His co-founder, Radha Agrawal, is the brains behind Super Sprowtz, which brands itself as a "story-driven nutrition program," and THINX, whose slogan is "thoughtful underwear with hidden powers": each purchase of a pair of stain-resistant, antimicrobial panties (for $24 to $47 apiece) funds seven washable, reusable menstrual pads for a girl in Africa.
It's no wonder that Daybreaker, which has since expanded to San Francisco and London, is thoroughly branded and thoughtfully designed, right down to the simple diamond-shaped logo that depicts an abstract sun rising from the horizon.
The party is slow going at first, like a high school dance where everyone huddles around the punch bowl — only here, the punch bowl is an iced coffee bar tended by a bearded, tattooed Groundwork barista. There's also complimentary yogurt parfaits and KIND bars, Clearly Kombucha and Amazon coconut water.
Brooks is onstage spinning deep and pulsing electronic music, which she describes as "underground" — it's not Top 40 and it's not commercial EDM. She's been up all night making music and only slept an hour before her 6 a.m. gig.
The last time she'd DJed this early in the morning was during a San Francisco "after-after-hours" that bled into the twilight after a night of partying. "It's a similar experience [to Daybreaker] in that people are there for the music." But in a more typical after-hours experience, "99.99 percent of them you know are already up from the night before."
Not so at Daybreaker, where devotees like Christina Chan woke up before dawn specifically for this prework workout.
Chan, 29, is the girl in the storm trooper suit, which she pairs with a black trucker hat that says "Hustler" in gold letters. The UX designer bought a ticket to Daybreaker the night before (by then the price had increased to $25), on the recommendation of a friend in New York.
"We're just not morning people, in general," she says of her group, which includes rapper and sock designer Maceo Paisley, an app co-founder/fashion stylist who goes by "Punodostres," and professional choreographer Shaun Evaristo, who runs a North Hollywood dance studio.
And that wasn't the only drawback: "We're in downtown and it's all the way on the Westside." Still, she says, "We were, like, 'Screw it, let's just go.'?"
Once they hit the dance floor, Chan and her crew (all are dressed in furry dragon onesies) ramp up the energy until any lingering awkwardness vanishes. That fast-paced, otherworldly vibe only accelerates when costumed Daybreaker volunteers, some of whom sport gaudy gold chains and tracksuits that evoke a Salt N' Pepa music video, introduce a fleet of jellyfish puppets that glow like lanterns over the sea of bouncing bodies. The three-piece brass band The Downtown Horns drifts from the stage down to the crowd, their smooth saxophone solos mixing with the bass of Brooks' pulsing techno music.
But just when the party turns into a full-on kombucha-fueled rager, it stops. Brooks pulls the needle off the record and Daybreaker's two L.A. producers instruct everyone to sit down. The slam poet In-Q takes the stage.
"This is some fucking bananas shit," In-Q says. He's staring out at the storm trooper, her dragon-costumed friends and more than 200 others sitting cross-legged on the nightclub floor.
"Have you ever been excited for now?" he asks. He hops from one foot to the other, and then asks again: "Well how about now?" It's part of his poem, but it sounds as if it were written just for this event.
"I used to save my new clothes for special occasions that never came. Right now is always special occasion enough," In-Q declares.
Equal parts rapper and motivational speaker, he preaches to the choir, and they whoop back at him, a crowd of dance-crazed dragons high on iced coffee and endorphins.
Finally, after a pep talk from a "laughter coach," who asks everyone to shake hands and laugh at a stranger, the party ends at 8:30 a.m. But not before Daybreaker volunteers pass out notecards printed with a quote from Steve Jobs. Everyone recites the passage in unison, ending with the advice: "Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it. Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again."
Chan and her friends run through the crowd giving hugs. Evaristo, the professional dancer, runs up to a stranger, shrugs and then hugs her anyway before heading out the door.
"Did I just come out of a strip club?" Chan says, stumbling out into the brightness of Wilshire Boulevard. "It's like daylight already, I had no idea." The five of them pile into her Mini Cooper and she's suddenly all business, taking a work-related call.
Still dressed in costume bodysuits, the group does what any clubbers would do after closing time: go out for breakfast. Since there's no booze to soak up, they opt for organic vegan food at Café Gratitude. It's hardly a wild after-hours spot, but they're all dressed up and this morning is special occasion enough.
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