I Went to a 7AM Coffee Rave in England and It Was as Terrible as It Sounds
All photos by Laura Palmer

I Went to a 7AM Coffee Rave in England and It Was as Terrible as It Sounds

Espresso shots, Hawaiian shirts and existential dread at Bristol's sober school-run rave.
May 11, 2016, 1:50pm

I don't know if you've heard but apparently we don't know how to have fun any more. Swapping Red Stripe for spirulina smoothies, we're supposedly so desperate to find some sort of meaning in our crappy lives we're willing to chuck $70 a month on hot yoga. Despite the fact that no one actually knows what hot yoga is.

While some 20-somethings are claiming their newfound sobriety as the ultimate rebellion against the the normies that chug it down at Oceana every Friday night, that rebellion becomes slightly questionable when all they seem to do is go on about their recent LUSH facial or the great paleo diet plan they came across on Pinterest. It begs the question: are they battling their existential demons through Nutribullet recipes or are they simply doing it for the likes? Is sobriety the new smug? Was Super Hans' right all along? There was only one way to find out – I was being sent to a "coffee rave." At 7am.

Now, I'm not exactly what you'd call a morning person but even I've begun to notice the influx of before-work 'raves'. They usually start around 6AM and there's always an event photo featuring a dude in a bold, quirky suit of some sort. While this sort of forced fun would usually make me want to stab myself in the eyes, I plucked up the courage and headed to Bristol's 'Tropical Coffee Rave'.

Following the faint sound of bass in the distance, I arrived early to get a good grasp of what I'd be dealing with. As dudes on fixies whizzed past me to grab a space in the queue, I was greeted by folks in Primark Hawaiian shirts and bindis, straightening their feathered headdresses and pulling up their yoga pants. The rave was held in a coffee roastery, so with the sun was blazing down, we were ushered into a huge warehouse laden with inflatable palm trees and garish backdrops.

I head straight for the coffee—after all, it has just gone 7am—but find that there's more on offer than just a few flat whites. In the corner, a solitary hemp smoothie stall is adorned in fairy lights, as it's workers jump around like year 6 kids on their last day of school; a quaint little cart holds baked goods, the owner of which is excited to tell me about their ethically sourced and shipped chocolate; there's a stall offering up even more in the way of ethically sourced drinks, with its employees carefully applying neon face paint to each other's beaming, yep, you guessed it, faces. These are quite obviously morning people. This is what morning people look like.

As I chug my coffee in order to form some sense of reality, I'm almost run over by a woman rushing around on rollerskates. Covered in gold, she honks a bike horn as she jumps and glides over people doing some yoga in the corner. I ask if she's been hired as part of the rave, to which she shouts "yeah! I've been tasked with getting everyone's hype on!" before honking her bike horn once more and sticking a balloon to the top of her helmet. Now, if this was an actual rave, we could blame this on some dodgy ket and a few cans of warm lager but in a world of sobriety, it looks as though rolling children's TV presenters are the new dancing cage girls.

The DJs are in full swing come 7:30 and as the place starts to fill up with yummy mummies, white guys in Bob Marley t-shirts and uni students putting off their dissertations, this 'tropical paradise' suddenly turns into a school disco circa 1999. A vest-clad dancer takes up residence at the front of the dancefloor, ushering the crowd to follow his footsteps; what proceeds is a fumbling line dance of sorts, where strangers are paired up and human tunnels are formed. Instead of "Cotton Eye Joe" or "Ooh Stick You" blasting out, the DJ's treat us to a mirage of 'caribbean beats' that just sound like the exact kind of thing that tie-dyed twats in the park blat out of shitty speaker docks.

But wait! There's more! Live bongo drummers descend upon the dancefloor, while toddlers in heavily patterned onesies roll around on the floor in their own pit of glee; a 50-something-year-old guy wearing neon sunglasses catches the attention of the crowd, who cheer him on with yelps and yips as he twerks to the beat of the bongo; three guys in retro cycling caps and floral shirts trip and giggle amongst themselves, ready to tell their mates about what legends they were for coming along. Am I in heaven? Is this really it? I have to know.

I call them over, eager to understand the appeal of a coffee rave to dudes who look like they'd be much happier chirping at your girlfriend at a local student bass night. When I ask why they're here, 22-year-old Rory cries "Why not? Best start to the day surely? We're feeling jacked up on all these good vibes!" Necking another espresso, they shuffle away, arms in the air and swaying to the 'sounds of the samba' as the DJ recently pointed out.

I notice an older chap in a tutu, happily nodding along to what appears to have been the same song for the past 30 minutes. When I ask him why he's here he says proudly, "I only go to sober raves. It's better for the soul, you know?" I nod, eager to agree with his overwhelming happiness, but as I look around at the dreadlocked white guys shoving their fingers in the air and shimmying up to unsuspecting women, it's hard to understand how a situation like this could make anyone truly happy.

I head to the loo upstairs and find some women desperately trying to stuff peacock-feathers and shell-suits into their ruck sacks in time to make it to their office jobs. "Off to work?" I ask, watching them wipe the glitter from under their eyes. "Yeah, it's so rubbish," one replies, rolling her eyes and smiling at me. "I just wish I could stay here all day, yeah?" her friend says, "I'm gonna have these tunes stuck in my head all day babes." As they hurry downstairs, it strikes me that maybe these coffee raves aren't just for the sober crowd but for those that need something a little extra to stop the existential dread from setting in too early on in the day – y'know, your bongo solos and your ladies skating around with balloons stuck to their heads.

As I make my way outside, I pass a dude on the floor, his girlfriend giggling away as she tries to balance on his feet and hands; I look back and there's two guys legitimately bowing to each other; I look ahead and there's a small baby chasing a balloon, desperately trying to fit it in his mouth, all the while a 'Cuban megamix' is playing out the final moments.

Passing through the gates, the security guard shouting "beautiful day ennit m'love?" I realize that, although this hellhole of straight-up forced fun wasn't exactly my cup of coffee, in a time of Trump supporters and faux sex tapes, of benefit cuts and tax loopholes, maybe it takes something as grotesquely optimistic as covering your face in neon paint and downing hemp "mylk" to start your day without thinking the world is entirely fucked. Thanks Obama.

Sammy is on Twitter