There seems to be something about electronic dance music that makes it work best late at night. Certainly, all sorts of music-related events take place in the evening or at night, but electronic music events often take it to the max.
Rock concerts typically start in the evening and end before midnight. Mainstream parties often fill up before midnight and often end in the early morning hours, with only a few hardcore party people sticking around until then. There are even so-called “After Work”-parties that begin at around 6pm and end before midnight.
However, I have rarely seen an electronic dance event where the party really started before 1am. There is also no other musical genre that has an equivalent to after hour parties that typically start around 6am.
What I have seen though is event organizers trying to start their events earlier – and fail.
I don’t mean to complain here. Yes, I would appreciate it if parties started a little earlier as that would make going out and having a day job more compatible. But that is not the point. I just got the feeling that there is a connection here that is worth looking at in more detail.
The obvious explanation for this phenomenon is the pervasiveness of chemical stimulants (“Uppers”). While I personally have no experience with anything stronger than off-the-shelf energy drinks, it is no secret that many electronic music lovers like some pills or powder along with their music.
While uppers certainly give you the physical and mental ability to dance 24 hours non-stop, I feel that the drugs are not the only explanation for the night cult. After all, anyone willing to get these drugs will probably get them if they just try hard enough. So why isn’t it desirable for fans of other musical genres to dance longer than their bodies would normally allow them? And why is it desirable for many electronic music lovers?
Different styles, different vibes
There’s got to be something in the music itself that makes people want to dance as long as they possibly can. I am not sure if I fully understand this, but looking at a few different dance styles, I think we are on to something here.
Example: Look at these heavy metal dancers (“headbangers”):
They are certainly enjoying their music, but could you imagine doing this for more than a few hours? I guess you’d literally break your neck if you tried that, so it’s probably not desirable.
On the other hand, if you look at someone dancing to Minimal Techno, the difference is obvious:
Many popular styles of electronic music make people dance in a way that is physically sustainable for quite some time. If you don’t fall asleep, it’s not that hard to imagine doing that from midnight till morning.
I think this point is important: Many people describe the joy of electronic music parties as “becoming one with the music”. This takes time. You can’t just decide to become one with the music and expect it to happen instantaneously.
Nevertheless, there is not only one kind of electronic music. Some recent styles focus more on high-energy, distorted sounds and harder beats. If you see someone dancing to that kind of music, it might look something like this:
So is it just the type of music and dancing that determines if people go home at 3 am or at 11am? I don’t know, but this might play a role.
In theory, you could just go to an electronic music party and leave when you are tired. This just doesn’t feel right though. It always feels like you are missing something – and in many cases, you actually are missing something because the DJ you want to hear does not even start before 4 am.
I know quite a few people who like electronic music, but don’t go to parties any more because they don’t want two days recovery time afterwards. So does it really have to be the way it is now?
A few people have tried to find answers to that question. The obvious solution (starting earlier) does not really seem to work. If there are enough people who can dance as long as they want, they don’t care when your party starts. They will come when they feel like it. Event organizers who tried to start earlier often spend several long hours in an empty room before the true party animals show up.
Open air festivals are an exception to that rule: Dancing in the sun is just too appealing for many people to insist on their habit of only dancing at night.
There is also a larger number of bars that have DJs playing electronic music. This basically works: People show up earlier and the place fills up, but you usually don’t see a lot of dancing there.
The only party format I know of that works differently is the “120 minutes party”: The party starts early in the evening and ends precisely 2 hours later. Everyone knows this, so no one shows up late or wastes time with “warming up” first. In Cologne, this concept is successfully implemented by the Blitzbangers party crew. It is probably not a coincidence that they usually don’t play Minimal Techno, but rather rougher, more playful styles that encourage a faster and more demanding dance style.