“Me and clubs, we really mix. Just without the drink and drugs”- the changing face of sober partying.
Ben Riley was six and half years sober when he relapsed. “I thought that I could still have a drink”, he explains to me. “I had a couple of drinks, had a bit of cocaine, and very quickly became addicted to it again. I relapsed for a couple of years and lost everything, literally everything.”
Ben, 38, is an MC, rapper, and club promoter. Operating under the stage name Ben SoS, he runs DryWave, a Greater Manchester based community interest company that work with people affected by addiction and alcoholism, as well as those struggling with their mental health.
DryWave put on sober parties, in which they provide an alcohol and drug free clubbing environment. The parties are popular with people in recovery, but they are not limited or exclusive to them. DryWave parties are aimed at anyone and everyone that wishes to party sober.
“When I came back into recovery I was like, I have got a shitload of skills in events, marketing, and networking”, Ben tells me. “I thought, why is there not any sober events that are high class. With large headliners, in sought after venues. So, that is where the idea of DryWave came in.”
Ben is a busy man. When we chat over Zoom, it is at the third attempt. Our first two scheduled calls were postponed, initially because DryWave were meeting with a marketing company, and secondly because Ben was hosting a Facebook Live interview. It just goes to show how in demand they are.
The group have recently received £10,000 in National Lottery funding, which will go towards both their outreach work and club nights. DryWave are also set to move into a new studio and entertainment space in Clayton, Manchester.
It is from here that Ben and co will revamp DryWave’s online content, making podcast episodes and radio shows. The space will have an audio set up allowing DJs to play live, and the space will double as a recording studio.
DryWave hope to utilise the space for their outreach work, turning it into an all-encompassing ‘wellness hub’. “I really believe we’re at the epoch of a new generation, that is really going to offer sober services right,” Ben tells me.
DryWave’s next club night, titled Anonymous, is on Saturday 18th September at Manchester Academy and is being billed as the ‘the biggest sober party of the year’.
“I know by the numbers we are going to sell out this event”, Ben tells me confidently. “The marketing people that we spoke to today are pretty sure we can easily double, maybe even triple, the size of the next one. Its onwards and upwards.”
For future events, Ben has hopes of securing some big-name talent. “We’ve just been speaking to FatBoy Slim, he wants to come and play one of the events”, he reveals. “But it may have to be March 2022 because of contracts that he’s got.”
When you delve into the world of sober events and parties, DryWave offers something different, yet at the same time completely ordinary.
“We try to replicate a nightclub, and have that same mirrored experience, just without the use of drink and drugs”, Ben tells me. “We really wanted to come in at a professional level by bringing in headline acts, huge sound systems, fucking lighting shows, really bring something different to the market.”
While there are sober events out there, not many are offering what DryWave offers. Events like Rise and Shine may offer aspects of the sober rave, but this is usually tied in with wider scheduling which can include Yoga, massages, and reiki healing. There is also Morning Gloryville which, in addition to embracing yoga and other practices, takes place, as the name suggest, first thing in the morning, with many people participating before they go to work.
DryWave’s aim for their club nights are simple - recreate the rave experience. “Me, drink, drugs, and clubs don’t mix”, Ben concludes, “But me and clubs, we really mix. Just without the drink and drugs”.
When you look at the statistics, it’s clear there is a market for DryWave to tap into. The non-alcoholic drinks industry is booming, with sales of non-alcoholic beers growing by 58% between 2019 and 2020, while every year around four million adults in the UK try Dry January.
There is also a lot of talk about younger people, in particular Gen Z, drinking and taking drugs less. If you battle through the countless think pieces and look at the numbers, this does seem to be broadly true.
The Office for National statistics reported in 2017 that, of all the age groups surveyed, 16–24-year-olds in Great Britain are the least likely to drink. A report of 500 UK university students who drank alcohol found that 44% had socialised without drinking, and that doing so left them feeling more productive and increased self-esteem.
For Tom Bunting, he believes the statistics. “I speak to people who have got siblings in that generation, or are in that generation, or people at work who have sons or daughters, and they do seem to be drinking less,” he tells me.
Tom, also known as T. Bunts, is a sober DJ and Producer based in Sheffield. He hosts a podcast called How to Dance Sober, where he invites people from the nightlife industry to talk about their experiences of being sober. Tom tells me he aims to “rebrand” sobriety and highlight how you can be involved in nightlife and the dance music industry without drinking or taking drugs.
“This perception that you can’t, or it’s weird to, surround yourself with nightlife culture and the dance music industry (if you are sober) is often quite dangerous”, the 29-year-old explains. “If people find they’re having issues with alcohol, or if they just think that alcohol is not serving them, having this mindset that they need to keep getting smashed and getting on it to be able to go to these events, is dangerous.”
Tom has now been sober for three years. It was something that he’d been considering for a while, due to the feeling that drinking alcohol and taking drugs just wasn’t for him. After flitting for a period between drinking and not drinking, there was one hangover that motivated him to kick the habit for good.
“I played a gig in Ibiza, played the best, most amazing set I could ever have wished to play. A dream gig at Amnesia”, Tom tells me over Zoom. “Afterwards we just went on a mad one. It was the worst journeys home of my life. I remember getting home and thinking, this has got to stop. I need to just put a nail in the coffin and put it to bed, because it is an endless cycle.”
So how has sobriety changed Tom’s partying habits? “Other than going to the toilets less”, he says coyly, “and going to the bar less, and spending way less money … very little.” Continuing, he adds, “I was at (Manchester nightclub) South at the weekend until 4am seeing a DJ called Michael James who I have wanted to see for ages, and that was amazing.”
In fact, in many ways for Tom, his experiences at nightclubs and festivals have improved since he became sober. “The buzz just sticks with you so much more afterwards”, he explains. “It’s not only that the memory is clearer, but the feeling of excitement and joy from an amazing night out sticks with you afterward, so much more vividly.”
While both Ben and Tom are sober for different reasons, their love of nightlife is the same. And with drinking habits and trends changing, it would seem there are sober ravers out there. You only have to listen to How to Dance Sober to see the range of people involved in the nightlife industry that are sober. And, if the popularity and potential of DryWave is anything to go by, sober partying, and sober party goers, are here to stay.
So, maybe it is time to grab a Becks Blue, dust off your (sober) dancing shoes, and hit the dance floor. “My Two-Step is way more accurate now”, Tom says with a laugh, when I ask about his dancing. “It has not gone downhill, put it that way.”