A photo taken above of a dancefloor filled with people dancing.
Photos: Jackson Bowley

I Was a Sober Rave Sceptic, But Now I'm Obsessed

An alcohol reliant party gal with chronic social anxiety walks into a sober bar.

To the absolute bewilderment of my friends and family, I am going on a sober night out. In a club. On a Sunday. For context, I’ve always been a Big Drinker, spending life since 16 being the loud “tornado of chaos” drunk in my social group. Recently though, I’ve been on somewhat of a “healing journey”, as they say, to find some good old inner peace. Maybe the fact I’m now 29 plays into it, but I’m drinking less, and pushing myself to do uncomfortable things in the name of taking better care of myself – which is exactly how I’ve ended up here.


I’m starting this terrifying experiment with pres at Torstig, a pop-up sober bar in Hoxton, East London with the aim of raising the bar for NOLO (no or low alcohol) drinks. Accompanied by my partner-in-drinking-chaos, bezzie Lucy, we try their version of a marg, which looks and pretty much tastes like a great regular margarita – a sour, limey kick even gives that tequila livener.

Co-owner Luke Cousins says the place has been fully booked almost every night in the fortnight it’s been on, with a waiting list snapping up every cancellation. Most customers, he says, aren’t just doing Dry Jan but are looking to moderate their alcohol intake, giving anecdotal proof to the notion that people are drinking less these days. It does feel nice, if not a little surreal, catching up in a Scandi-style bar where everyone else is also deadly sober. You lose the benefit of actually saving money at £7 to £9 cocktails each, mind, but I guess it’s about living your normal life just without alcohol. 

A photo of four arms holding cocktails and cheers-ing in a bar.

Sober pop-up bar Torstig with the girlies. Photo: Jackson Bowley

At 5.30PM it’s time for the main event: Rise and Shine. First launched eight years ago, it’s one of the only sober parties I could find in the whole of London, and there’s a somewhat spiritual twist. Running from 5PM to 10.30PM, it’s organised into four chapters – the first is mingling, while the second is a group meditation with performances. Then comes the DJ and dancing part, before a “sound healing” finisher.


It’s not for the spiritually faint-hearted, but you can buy cheaper tickets without the meditation part, and founder Anth Lowther assures me that’s not the main focus anyway. “Rise and Shine is about driving positive change and giving people a healthier alternative,” says the 43-year-old in his warm Geordie accent. “It’s for people looking for change. Maybe they’re sick of the hangover, sick of going out and not remembering much, or waking up cringing the next day.” Lowther speaks from experience, as an ex-seshhead model who went teetotal and vegan at 30 after experiencing crippling depression. 

I first meet Lowther at the entrance to Steel Yard, the club in Monument. He is topless – bar an unbuttoned red waistcoat – with tats, rippling abs and jeans so low it’s impossible not to acknowledge his V-lines. He leads us into the bar area and the first, very noticeable, difference is the bar is covered with baskets of fruit. The White Claw-branded mini-fridge is stocked with jugs of tap water and the staff are making cacao and matcha smoothies, handing out kombucha and serving cakes and energy balls. There’s a Boomtown-looking crowd with festival-y outfits and septum piercings; older hippie types; glam girls with pristine hair; jeans and nice top girlies.

It’s mainly women but there are men, too: normies in jeans and plain t-shirts, arty gays serving creative lewks and minimalist fashion guys in long trench coats. It feels like there’s around 200 of us and mainly 20s to 40s ­– though I’m told there’s a spritely 78-year-old woman knocking about.


As we take this all in, we head to the cloak room and are surprised to find a few unattended rails. Apparently, sober people don’t steal, which is pretty heartwarming. It’s here that Lucy reminds me we’ve actually been to Steel Yard once before – at uni, for a Wavey Garms club night which I was clearly too drunk to remember. If only those paralytic 20-year-olds could see us now.

Lots of people on benches in a room, facing a stage.

Attendees sitting on benches at Steel Yard, getting ready for the meditation.. Photo: Jackson Bowley

Just after 6PM, Anth announces the start of chapter one by herding us to the main stage, where rows of benches have been set up like a church service. He asks us to scream or roar. As we do it, he throws his head back and arms out like he’s headlining the Pyramid Stage. With our eyes closed, we’re asked to send our thanks to Mother Earth for everything from the leaves to insects, and armadillos – my friend cracks up at this Noah’s Ark bit, but I kind of like it. I’ve been trying to regularly meditate for a while, so I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. What’s better than remembering the world is so much bigger than you?

Left: A photo of a woman in a cosmic, multicoloured leotard dancing on a stage. Right: A woman with red curly hair singing with a guitar decorated in feathers.

Left: Jamie Hurley dancing on stage. Right: The two singers performing on stage with their feathered guitar. Photo: Jackson Bowley

A lady in a cosmic patterned leotard does a dance with lots of body pops and leg twirls. Two other women wearing lots of bangles sing songs with a guitar adorned with feathers, lyrics include “soar like an eagle”. They also do an acoustic version of the club classic “Let Me Be Your Fantasy” and I feel a little out of my depth. Back to meditation, and we move onto thanking our bodies, saying “I love you, body” in our heads, which inextricably seems to move me, my friend and probably every other woman in the room immeasurably. I’ll admit I winced when Anth did his Wolf-like tribal “earth call” to “activate chapter three”, though.


The music starts blasting from the decks and we’re all dancing. I feel very stiff and tense. It’s like I’ve forgotten how to dance, or maybe I’m realising I never could. Other people, on the other hand, are really getting into it and are even going up to dancers I’m pretty sure they didn’t come with. When reggaeton banger “Pepas” comes on I relax more in the knowledge there’s going to be fun music with words.

It’s at this point I meet Anth’s partner Hailey, 24 – she’s been running the events with him since they met at the last Rise and Shine party in Bali, two months ago. “I think there’s a sort of dark energy around when alcohol is involved,” she says. “It’s a different atmosphere here. In other clubs, people do dance but not in a freeing way – they’re trying to be cool.”

It’s true: The lack of neck craning and sizing people up is refreshing. Jamie Hurly, the dancer on stage earlier, agrees. “Movement and release through dance are powerful healing tools. This space offers a non-judgemental place for people to explore that,” says the 29-year-old yoga teacher, dancer and nanny who’s been sober partying since 2020. “It’s just taking the harmful element [alcohol] out of the original reason why we want to go out – to get dressed up, dance and have fun.”

A tall topless man in an unbuttoned red waistcoat hugs a small, beautiful woman in leather jeans and a chainmail bralet.

Founder Anth Lowther and partner Hailey. Photo: Jackson Bowley

That said, Lucy and I soon head to the bar to do what we usually do in moments of crippling social anxiety: get shots. They’re £2 ginger shots, but we’re desperate for a tequila substitute, and, to be fair, they do have a similarly harrowing kick. In the queue, I get talking to graphic designer Maria, 42, who says the best thing about sober parties is the conversation. “When you drink or take drugs you’re more open, but it’s superficial,” she says. “When you’re sober, you meet people and they actually remember you afterwards. It’s more likely they’ll message you the next day because you connect on a deeper level.”

At 8.15PM, we head to the balcony area overlooking the bar to suss out the spiritual offerings of tarot readings and reiki. The idea of “reiki in the rave” seems too good to pass on, so I settle in for a session with “energy healer” Charlie Moult. As music thumps from the nearby dance floor, I lie down on a blanket. It’s not her preferred atmosphere, she says, but she goes through her usual routine anyway, moving her hands around various parts of my body to unblock my energy as I breathe deeply and intentionally. When it’s over, my hands actually feel twitchy and charged, and there’s what I can only describe as “energy” buzzing around my head.

A girl in a brown vest top lying on a blanket. A woman is touching her head and chest performing reiki.

Writer Becky getting reiki in the rave. Photo: Jackson Bowley

Back on the dancefloor, I feel a lot more into the music almost immediately. I wonder whether it’s the reiki, but I’m feeling the lights and the music more. The DJ is playing “Jack” by Breach and I’m experiencing the vibrations so intensely it’s like I’m ever-so-slightly shroomy. Maybe this is just what music on a good sound system feels like? Are drugs a lie? Have I just worked out the world’s biggest scam?

Ruby, a 19-year-old barista, was also able to enjoy herself more after the reiki. “Me and the girl I made friends with said we almost felt drunk,” she says. “And I’d found the dancing hard to get into for the first hour, because I felt so awkward.” This is also Ruby’s first sober night out. The guy she’s dating, who’s “quite spiritual”, invited her and even drove them there and back from Warwickshire specifically. “I was so anxious at the start, but everybody was so lovely, way nicer than drunk people,” she adds. “I made a friend in the first five minutes!”

A photo taken above of a dancefloor filled with people dancing.

Photo: Jackson Bowley

A remix of Florence and the Machine’s “Say My Name” is playing now and it’s serious ~coming up~ vibes. There’s a girl in front of me with no shoes on, dancing in a very Rainbow Rhythms fashion. A guy to my left is eating a peach (seriously) and intermittently grinding on his maybe girlfriend. There’s a couple closer to the stage doing very intimate stroking with their eyes closed. But nobody looks like they’re on drugs: “You don’t get messy people here,” Maria helpfully tells me. “But some people take natural highs like guarana tablets, cacao or medicinal mushrooms for energy.” 


Another crazy thing about this place, by the way, is that the smoking area is absolutely dead. The friend-making hub appears to be the dancefloor instead. Strangers are just bopping up to each other grinning. In fact, most people – including me, to my surprise – are smiling contentedly the whole time.

A woman in a knitted green, transparent leotard dancing facing the stage.

Photo: Jackson Bowley

The next day I didn’t feel hungover, obviously, because I didn’t spend the evening poisoning myself. Because that’s what drinking is, Anth reminds me. “Looking back on the low point that changed everything for me at 30, I realised the hangover and comedown is your body communicating with you and I was ignoring it,” he says. “I had a good life, good money, women chasing me, close family and friends, had achieved everything I wanted to as a young man, yet I had suicidal depression.” He stopped drinking, became vegan and went to India to live on a silent retreat with monks for a month – then with what he described as “tribes” in jungles (he did not specify which or where), then on islands so small there were only a handful of huts. “I just had a completely alternate experience about what it is to be alive,” Anth says. “I believe we're all on the planet to make the world a better place, not just for humans, but for all life that exists.”

Maybe you’re pissing yourself at this classic West goes to East enlightenment but, I mean, it’s a well-trodden path for a reason. You don’t have to take this all as far as Anth, of course, but if you’re feeling a little worn-out from partying, testing out whether sober clubbing is for you could be a positive move. 

A photo of two girls dancing in a club, one is wearing a green adidas tracksuit top, the other is wearing a brown vest top holding a kombucha bottle.

Photo: Jackson Bowley

Rise and Shine reminded me – or maybe even made me realise for the first time – that drink and drugs isn’t what makes partying fun. We’re so used to getting on it on autopilot, but I feel like I unlocked a totally new level of enjoyment by not numbing my mind and body with booze. I felt more present – alive, actually – like that moment in the rave when the music slaps, the lights are trippy, and you’re looking round at your friends grinning in “this is it” bliss. I don’t think I could go to a regular club night sober yet, but I’m trying to galvanise the troops for one of Rise and Shine’s next parties in May.

“It’s an upward spiral event, rather than downward,” Anth says, finally. “The whole party is based on the positive intention of wanting to be present and heal and have healthy, empowering fun, rather than poisoning yourself to have fun.”