At 6 a.m. on a recent Thursday, I boarded a giant white yacht with about 1,000 other ravers and an empty stomach. After dodging a hug from a stranger in a sailor hat and colorful leggings on the ramp, I went straight for the bar. This was partially out of professional obligation, though primarily out of habit; grabbing a drink is one of the few ways I know how to make myself feel less awkward about dancing in a sweaty mass of people. Everyone else seemed to have the same instinct, which was surprising not just because it was 6 a.m. on a weekday, but also because this cruise around New York City’s harbor was strictly, emphatically booze-less. Not only were we there to party at an hour when most people haven’t even hit the snooze button, we were also there to do it stone cold sober.
The trip was hosted by Daybreaker, which bills itself as an early morning dance party that’s part-workout, part-movement. You might’ve read about this sober and humane raving option for reformed club kids and techie millennials who also love Burning Man, and really, the concept is simple. Wake up at 5 a.m. to hit the club by 6 a.m., do some yoga, dance to EDM, build community with like-minded early birds, and make it to work by 9:30 a.m. The parties, now in a handful of cities from Los Angeles to Berlin, usually take place on land. This yacht cruise, a semi-annual event, is the the crown jewel of Daybreaker’s schedule, though I still was surprised by the scale. At one point, Daybreaker co-founder Matt Brimer proudly announced the crowd that had boarded the Hornblower International that morning was big enough to draw the attention of local news helicopters.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the seriousness of the spread, the boat’s bar overflowing with healthy beverages, including the promised Califia Black & White Cold Brew Coffee with Almond Milk and juices from BluePrint Cleanse. Everything was free for the taking, and the thirsty crowd took full advantage as the music from French deep house duo FDVM started to pound. We hadn’t even left the dock but it was already starting to feel like the opening of The Hunger Games, with crowds grabbing the obviously caffeinated beverages first, leaving behind bottles of Organic Valley protein shakes, ZICO coconut waters, and Wtrmln Wtr (even though, come on, that’s Beyoncé’s drink).
One woman, who told me her name was Carina, exited the fray looking triumphant, arms loaded with every drink from the spread along with her own stainless steel S’well bottle full of iced coffee, just in case. “There’s a strategy,” she explained. “I don’t know how much they have of this, so I’m going to stock up on everything now.” Liz, a Daybreaker volunteer working behind the bar agreed with that game plan. “A $9 drink for free? I mean, snatch that up,” she laughed.
Most people were fine with the liquid offerings; raging after eating a hearty breakfast doesn’t always end well. But there was some solid food, specifically Exo Bars, a protein bar made with cricket flour that was perfect for grab-and-go energy on your way to the dance floor. The manufacturers maintain that crickets have a greater percentage of protein than beef jerky or salmon, and they’re way more environmentally friendly, though the list of ingredients still raised some eyebrows. “I’ve had crickets before, so I’m down,” said one man in a bright blue bobbed wig with a BluePrint juice in his hand.
Anu, a first-year banker who was checking his email on his Blackberry on the boat’s deck loved the Exo Bars—“I had a little protein shake, a protein bar, felt great”—until I told him about the crickets. His face dropped as his early morning rave companion and fellow young banker Brendon started laughing, “That’s why they were talking about crickets! Are you kidding?” Anu shook it off. “I mean, it’s approved by food authorities, so it’s fine.”
Another group of girls sat in a circle and drank Mamma Chia Chia Energy Beverage, one of the only caffeinated options left once the Califia was gone. One of the girls described it as, “a playful sludge in your mouth,” coming to the conclusion that she didn’t hate it exactly. “I think I’m doing something right for my body, and if I’m not,” she shrugged, “I probably wouldn’t drink it.”
That commitment to health and doing something good for yourself, be it physically or emotionally, is a major driver of this dance party. It’d be impossible to convince people to wake up before dawn to make it to a rave on a boat if they didn’t think it would be beneficial in some way. Even as people were giddily yelling “I’m on a boat!” off the bow, the attendees seemed to take the sobriety seriously. It was something that everyone I spoke with brought up in conversation at some point, entirely unprompted. “People ask me all the time if this is after-hours thing,” one bearded man on the deck told me, declining to give his name. “I used to be the guy going to after-hours, all tweaked out, and this is not that.” He’s sober now and also a fan of the Exo Bars, happy to spend part of the party analyzing the merits of their nutritional content with his female companion with a view of the Statue of Liberty in the background.
Really, the Daybreaker boat party felt more like a spin class than a rave, with the MC giving directions for aerobic activity to the crowd, like “Jump!” or “Put your feet on the railings and twerk!” That sense of consciousness, both of one’s own body and all of those around you, is probably why there’s not a lot of overlap between the traditional EDM scene and those who are into Daybreaker, contrary to how the event is usually described. Tricia, 28, was devoted enough to Daybreaker to work behind the bar as a volunteer but maintains that EDM isn’t for her. “I don’t like nightclubs, actually. I haven’t really been to a concert. I do like this. The people are different here. You’re here to dance, which is what I really like.”
The appeal of a place like Daybreaker is obvious for those who have ever tired of the nightlife scene or feel like they’ve grown out of their peak EDM years. “I used to go clubbing when I was younger, all the time. But then it gets boring,” said Kate, 28. “And then you burn out,” added her friend Allie, 30. “This is, like, we could go dancing four or five nights a week—or mornings—and be totally fine. Where if you try doing that while drinking and staying out until 4 a.m.? It’s totally different vibes.” Daybreaker provides the sense of community that only comes when everyone’s throwing down their sweatiest, ugliest dance moves, minus the regret and hangover and the occasional predatory creeps who hang out by the bar.
But unlike at a traditional rave, everything at Daybreaker feels intentional, from the woman crowd-surfing on an inflatable flamingo raft while playing a hot pink electric violin to the beverage choices. This consciousness—a word that was bandied about endlessly on the cruise—is why the green juices, almond milk, and protein bars are an essential part of the Daybreaker experience, as much as bottles of vodka, shots of tequila, and pills are a part of nightclub culture.
“Every day that you wake up, you can choose to be happy. Or you can choose to be miserable,” shouted the the party promoter shouted to the crowd as the boat started docking. “But in this room, at this time, on this boat, we are choosing to be happy.” The healthy snacks offered at Daybreaker are just another way to continue making those choices to be happy and take care of yourself and your body. As confetti cannons went off, the crowd cheered with approval, throwing their hands and BluePrint juices in the air.