Daybreaker has always felt a bit Burning Man Lite. Much like it’s better known Nevadan cousin, Daybreaker shares an emphasis on (radical) self-expression, purposeful creation of community, and getting in touch with your body and mind. So, it was only natural that these two things finally shared the stage last week, with this month’s Daybreaker taking place amongst the Renwick Gallery’s gorgeous new exhibit, titled No Spectators: the Art of Burning Man.
For the uninformed, Daybreaker is basically a sober morning (6 a.m. to 9 a.m.) dance party that generally includes an hour of yoga or fitness. Founded by a group of friends who regularly attend Burning Man together, the experience seeks to connect people and generate a sense of togetherness through music, physical activity, and letting go of inhibitions – without requiring drugs or alcohol as a crutch. Over the last few years, enough people have joined in on the revelry that the concept has received high-profile mentions in a wide range of media, from a write up in the New York Times to a somewhat endearing pop-culture parody on HBO’s High Maintenance.
I had previously been to a Daybreaker back in 2015, when it was just getting off the ground in Washington, D.C. That one started equally early, and took place at Flash – a smaller, relatively austere room with an outstanding sound system. The attendance that morning hovered around 150 people, and it took people until the last hour of the event to really get going. This edition could not have been any more different.
It took years of coordination between Daybreaker and the Smithsonian to find the right space and event for partnership, and it was only fitting that it finally happened for No Spectators. The Renwick was packed by the time I arrived at 6:45 a.m., with a line of people stretching out the door and onto the curb, dressed in an amusing variety of outfits – some in their Lululemon workout gear, and others wearing their Burning Man best, a look I call “steampunk couture.” I walked into the museum and the first thing I noticed was how amazing it looked. Frankly, this was one of the most ornate and gorgeous exhibits I’ve ever seen – between the immersive room-sized installations, costumes, jewelry, and Burning Man ephemera, there wasn’t any wing of the Renwick that didn’t blow me away. Most impressively, the main hall was transformed into a replica of one of sculptor David Best’s Temples. Carved out of wood and covering every square inch, this room invites guests to dedicate and place meaningful messages within its nooks and crannies, and is generally regarded as a place for spiritual reflection at Burning Man. And on that morning, that sacred space was the scene of an emphatic rave for over 450 people, with tunes provided by Scumfrog, a DJ best known for his sunrise sets on the Playa.
“The Temple is a powerful space. It brings a lot of people to tears,” says Tim Patch, Head of Operations for Daybreaker. “I’m a huge David Best fan. He’s able to create sacred spaces unlike any other artist I’ve seen.”
As 9 a.m. approached and the room began to thin out, I couldn’t help but notice most of the people remaining smiling broadly and genuinely. They looked satisfied, calm, and fulfilled. Maybe there is something to Daybreaker and Burning Man after all.