Free spirits, bright colors, and quirky music could easily describe any San Francisco scene, but nothing fit that description better than a crowd of young San Franciscans gathered for a dance party before heading to work on a recent morning.
The second San Francisco Daybreaker event took place on July 1 at Inner Mission (formerly known as Cellspace), a medium-ish venue space on the cusp of the city’s Mission District and the SoMa neighborhood. At its core, Daybreaker is a roughly bi-monthly morning dance party with the purpose of providing a fun and sober way for attendees to get their day started before they go about their workday.
Why would people want to begin their day like this? That’s what I wanted to find out.
After missing the inaugural party in San Francisco, I made sure to attend the second one. I had heard about the event on Facebook, and I wanted to see what happens when a group of young professionals — mostly startup and tech workers in San Francisco’s case — organize a quirky morning party.
Inside Cellspace’s lobby, just outside the main event space, a couple of food vendors had set up shop, passing out free samples to the partygoers. The representatives for nutty bar-maker Kind were scooping plain yogurt and nutty granola into small cups. Clearly Kombucha’s reps were handing out bottles of the company’s kombucha-based drink.
“A bunch of tech burners,” said one of the two young women in the coffee line, attempting to describe the crowd of brightly costumed, dancing attendees by comparing them to Burning Man, the free-spirited Nevada desert event, which has become quite popular among San Francisco’s tech workers in recent years.
Though she and her friend spoke as if they were outsiders looking in, both work for an analytics tech company here in San Francisco.
As early as 8:00 a.m., the main space was already bustling with partygoers of all shapes, even a couple of kids. Outfits varied from workout clothes to casual workwear and included an eclectic mix of costumes.
“This is nuts,” said Kesav Mohan, a new San Francisco resident hailing from Wisconsin, standing near the coatcheck and drinking his kombucha. Mohan is an attorney by trade but is making his foray into San Francisco’s startup scene; a startup buddy of his suggested he attend the event.
DJ Jessica “Djesika” Stanell provided that morning’s entrancing music, with participation from funky local brass band Inspector Gadje.
While most of the attendees were fully immersed in the activity, energetically dancing and even working up a sweat, a few timid souls socialized on the edges and observed. “This is… different,” said a young man who works in technology consulting.
As the party wound down shortly before 9:30 a.m., the party’s organizers summoned the remaining partygoers to gather around and take a seat. White fliers had made their way through the crowd a bit earlier, and it was now time for a group recital of their content.
The selection: An excerpt from French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1945 lecture, “Existentialism is a Humanism.”
Daybreaker, a morning utopia
“I came on the later side, towards the tail end of the party… I had to almost second guess, ‘Is it morning or is it Saturday night? What is going on?’ So there’s definitely a certain, a really special vibe. … This is really something magical to get involved in,” said San Francisco co-organizer Mustafa Khan in an interview on the eve of the event. Khan attended one of the early New York City Daybreaker events. He and Stephanie Lepp, a former consultant, now organize the San Francisco events.
Daybreaker is a side project for Khan, who’s currently on staff at San Francisco’s General Assembly office, an organization that provides education in web development and other technical skills. Matthew Brimer, cofounder of Daybreaker globally, also cofounded General Assembly.
“I’ve been throwing parties for the last three years,” said Khan. He actually met Brimer at one of his own parties.
Daybreaker debuted in New York City in December, traveling around various venues in the city, and working to turn the city’s traditionally substance-fueled club scene on its head.
“You get some exercise in, you feel great physically, and it’s an incredible dance party,” Brimer told the New York Times in June. “Dance culture and underground music tends to be boxed in to this idea that you need alcohol or drugs to enjoy. What we’re trying to say is that there’s a whole world of creative experience and dance, music, and art.”
While Brimer and cofounder Radha Agrawal, an entrepreneur, seem to be on a quest to expose New York’s young professionals to an alternative take on the hazy dance rave, San Francisco is a natural fit for Daybreaker’s spirit, at least according to Khan.
“I just figured like, San Francisco would be a perfect place for this. We live in a city where there’s festivals on a pretty frequent basis. … It’s a city of people hungry for … rich colorful experiences,” he said.
While we discussed Daybreaker over coffee and pie, Khan spoke about it very carefully and positively. Once, he mentioned the Burning Man movement, only to catch himself and clarify that he certainly doesn’t want to make that bold of a comparison. The irony of the slip was not lost on me, however.
“We want to build a community with like-minded people and people who appreciate performances and appreciate artistic quality,” he said.
Chris Hirst, the party’s dancing robot, who also makes other local appearances, frequently in Dolores Park, agrees.
“It felt more like everyone this morning was participating in something and not just going out to party. I think that having to make the effort to get up early and adjust your schedule to be able to attend acts as sort of a vetting process, so the only people who show up are people who really want to participate and not just passively observe,” he told VentureBeat via email.
The burning question is of course: Is this another “techie party?”
“I don’t think that we’re in any way trying to focus on one community or one profession,” said Khan.
The recent influx of young tech and startup workers into San Francisco has caused all kinds of tensions, and there’s been frequent questioning of that group’s place in the city’s artistic culture — they’re increasingly moving into neighborhoods that historically have been home to San Francisco’s artists and much cultural activity. They’ve also been accused of living in their own privileged world.
“I think we have a good amount of techies because that’s simply the makeup of the city. We want this to be beyond your network, beyond my friends. Where they go after our party, that’s up to them. I think it’s special that all these people share the same experience regardless of where they go off after it,” said Khan.
Alli Wolner, a friend of coorganizer Stephanie Lepp, who performed a spoken word piece about serendipity and change, echoed that sentiment: “I loved what one of my friends leaned over and said to me of the event: ‘Daybreaker is putting the San Francisco back in San Francisco.’”
But the tech presence is still rather hard to ignore: Along with the “techies” already mentioned, I spotted a couple of fellow technology reporters and some other tech-employed friends in the crowd. The $20 price tag is also not something just anyone can swallow in the name of putting on a costume and breaking a sweat in a dance club in the morning.
I also pointed out to Khan that the party’s location, the Mission District, is mainly convenient for that neighborhood’s residents, and quite a detour for north-of-Market residents, such as myself. Khan nodded in agreement but assured me that finding convenient locations relative to where most people will be headed to work is very important and is limited by the availability of suitable venues.
Overall, Khan exuded a certain optimism about the whole thing. He reiterated, throughout our conversation, the focus on community and common experience. And although he admitted that the team isn’t making any efforts yet to specifically reach out to San Franciscans outside their social circles or the tech community, he also didn’t seem concerned about it becoming exclusive. Or rather, exclusive to techies — like-mindedness and appreciation for this sort of thing are, by his own admission, what should qualify Daybreaker attendees. This is also why the team invites and works with local performers: They naturally fit into the event’s spirit.
And perhaps this is one instance of the young techies’ desire to create that culture they’re accused of displacing, to perpetuate the artistic community they say attracted them to San Francisco.
Or perhaps they aren’t viewing themselves as part of this destructive group — how could such a joyous event have anything to do with things such as the “Google bus” drama?
San Francisco’s Daybreaker team is hoping to hold an event two or three times per month going forward.
Disclosure: The author previously worked for General Assembly, very briefly at the same time as Khan and for different departments.