Something extraordinary is happening in Sweden.
At lunchtime in Stockholm last month, more than 600 workers walked out of their offices and into a large conference hall in the city center.
They gave an entrance fee to someone at the door, grabbed a sandwich and bottle of water off some tables on the side, and entered darkness. White disco lights began to swirl. Then the beat. At 1pm on the dot, DJ Johannes Drakenberg started pumping something akin to Dubstep through the hall’s speakers. The workers, some still nicely dressed in suits and carrying laptop bags, looked around and started swaying and bopping – tentatively. This was midday after all. But soon the music got faster, and inhibitions slowly melted away. By the time the music stopped an hour later and it was time to get back to work, they had danced as enthusiastically as a weekend night out, their faces beaming.
This is Lunch Beat, the new craze followed by thousands of people in Sweden that easily trumps having a lonely sandwich at your desk, and which is now winding its way around other parts of Europe. On May 31, some 15 countries will join up for the first, big simultaneous Lunch Beat, including an as-yet-unknown city in the United States. The sessions are held once a month in around half a dozen Swedish cities, lasting 60 minutes at a time, the venues often vacant night clubs. The music is full on, with alcohol and drugs prohibited. Such vices are not only a liability, says Lunch Beat founder Molly Range, 28. “We want to set a clear focus on dancing.”
Rules are one of the reasons Range founded Lunch Beat two years ago. One evening while relaxing at home, the Swedish communications rep got an idea for a manifesto. She started writing down a list of rules for an underground gathering that would merge her passions for working hard and dancing hard.
“I was quite inspired by the old classic, ‘Fight Club’ movie,” she says. Among the 10 rules were the slightly reminiscent, “You don’t talk about your job at lunch beat,” and “If it’s your first dance at lunch beat, you have to dance.” Lunch Beat would have to be non-profit, she decided, with entrance fees only covering costs.
Partly she hoped a high-energy club experience would make people feel energized in the afternoon, instead of soporific from lunch. Partly she was irritated by the buzzwords proliferating her industry like “playfulness” and “community.” Why couldn’t someone put that jargon into practice?
Range made a Facebook event inviting her friends to join her for a dance session later that month. She borrowed a sound system from her work — a communications agency called Fabel — then bought 20 vegetarian wraps and bottles of water bottles. Thirteen others showed up that day in an underground car park below her office. She turned on the music and everyone danced. An hour later they went back to work, most feeling invigorated.
The first Lunch Beat in an underground car park; photo credit, Molly Range
When it was over, Range got her first text: “That was great,” it said. “When is the next one?” She thought for a moment and replied, “In a month.”
“Then we kept on doing it,” Range remembers, adding that her boss didn’t mind that she was using the premises for what were essentially daytime raves. “He thought it was super cool.”