A nighttime set is given to you; a sunrise set you must earn. While it’s certainly possible one might wake up before dawn and hustle to a show, sunrise sets are largely attended by party people who stay awake dancing until the night reaches its inevitable conclusion, as dark gives way to dawn once more.
Going from dusk till dawn might sound exhausting. The payoff is worth it.
The allure of the sunrise set is partially a function of its rarity. Most of us don’t wake up early enough to see the sun rise on a regular basis, so just being awake at this time of day is, in and of itself, surreal. A sense of the surreal is key, as it makes the party, the dancefloor, the music, and the fellow revelers all dreamier and more magical.
This suspension of reality is heightened by setting. By their very nature, sunrise sets typically happen outside—think remote beaches, jungles, deserts, playas, and at least once per year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway—where the greatest light show on earth (the uh, rising sun) can be witnessed in its fully pink, purple, gold, and yellow glory. Delicious.
Any DJ can play a sunrise set, given they have the stamina, but a select group of producers have made them their signature. Damian Lazarus and Lee Burridge are both masters of the style. Tycho is also famous for setting the soundtrack to the dawn, bringing this morning special to the Speedway for the first time at EDC Vegas 2016. And unlike the blank slate of a club, sunrises help define the music itself. Sets typically start gently and subtly, growing into waves of synth and melody, tinged by flourishes of world music and bass, as the sun crests the horizon and lifts itself into the sky.
While any genre can be played at sunrise, the most popular sunrise styles fall in the deep house, tech house, and psytrance genres, with these sounds lending themselves to long, dreamy mornings. Burning Man is a hotspot for sunrise sets, with artists from around the world climbing aboard art cars to play at dawn. Of these parties, Robot Heart is arguably the best known.
Both on the playa and beyond, the music starts in the darkness of the chilly morning air, with both sound and temperature heating up, until the sun is blazing overhead and everyone has removed layers of clothing as they work up a sweat dancing. Sunrise sets usually last for a few hours, until everyone jets off to breakfast, bed, or just the next show. While the music is futuristic, dancing at dawn connects electronic music fans to ancient history, as humans have been rising ritualistically to dance at dawn for thousands of years. If you’ve got the energy, the experience is well worth staying up past your bedtime.