Gelman Library, George Washington University
TP: When was the first time you heard about Kansas House?
RAR: I didn’t hear. I didn’t know Kansas House was Kansas House until I lived there. Derek had put an ad in the City Paper and I found it quite humorous and fun and thought, this is a group house I could totally dig and live in. And so, I called up and made an appointment to go check out the place.
TP: Do you remember when that was?
RAR: This was… yes. I moved in in 1997, beginning of ’97, so it probably went… I moved to DC in late September of ’96 and I was looking for places probably already in November and December so it was probably around that period. Just before the holidays.
TP: And so you answered the ad?
RAR: Yeah, I saw the ad and I called up right away and spoke with Derek and made an appointment to go check out the place. I’m trying to remember questions that he asked me but honestly I don’t remember too many questions. I think, the general vibe of it was cool, and I liked him. He’s the one I spoke with mostly, and that in and of itself got me excited. And when I saw he was into music, I was even more excited, having been… well, at that point I was just getting into the whole DJ industry I guess, you could say. Even though I did have a college show, a radio show was not the same thing as a live setting.
TP: Where did you move to DC from?
RAR: From Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s where I grew up.
TP: And then did you go to college…
RAR: Is it cool if I just elaborate on that?
TP: Yes! Totally. Talk about as much as you want.
TP: I mean, I moved to DC originally because my brother Victor had studied at Georgetown, spent a number of years here after college working and so I visited him a couple of times. And I had spent some time abroad before I moved to DC in Spain and France and I liked the vibe that DC had. It kind of reminded me of that small town, yet urban feel that European cities had. You could walk around and not have worry about having a car, and things are easily accessible. And so I love that about DC and I wanted a city similar to that. And I thought east coast, west coast, maybe there are a couple of spots, San Francisco perhaps. But I had my mind really set on the east coast, DC or New York, and New York was just too insane for me. So, DC ended up being my choice. So I came out in fall of ’96.
TP: So Kansas was the first place that you lived?
RAR: No, technically I stayed with, at the time she was my brother’s fiancé. I stayed with her at her, I should say at their place, because they both technically lived there although my brother was finishing up his MBA up at MIT at the time. So I stayed, they had an efficiency, and I crashed there until I was able to get my own spot, which happened to be the Kansas House.
TP: So, besides Derek, who was living there when you moved in?
RAR: Suzanne was. And Bob Massey. And ah… that was it. Yeah, I had that small room off to the side of the kitchen. That’s where I was initially. And upstairs were those three.
TP: Do you remember which room upstairs you had?
RAR: I had the one facing Kansas Street. The one that apparently… I don’t know what the full story is, but apparently, there was this story, at least back in that day, that somebody had a gun and shot over by… there was a little motel next to Mario’s. And somebody took a shot and a bullet ended up, I don’t think it was directed towards the house, but a bullet ended up getting lodged into that bedroom door. Which, that’s what, I’m sure the door’s been changed since, but it had a certain crack to it. So I remember that room because of that. I mean, obviously, it was my room but it was kind of a special room I guess because it had so much history to it.
TP: So talk about when you moved in, were they doing any kind of music shows at the time?
RAR: Yeah, totally. They would do shows. I think it was Sundays they were doing shows. They would definitely have people over and play, mostly down in the basement, but then ended up in the living room for some shows. And I think they were done on Sundays. But yeah, constantly, there was music in the house.
TP: And what was it like to have that happening in your house?
RAR: For some people, I’m sure it would be overwhelming, but for me, I loved it. I loved the different sounds. For me, music is life, so when there’s music present, there’s a whole other element of energy in your space. And that was there constantly in the Kansas House for sure. And they all had different musical tastes, which I think was kind of cool and eclectic, and I had my own flavor, which I added, and it was fun.
TP: What was it like just as a group house with those guys? How did you manage just the fact that it was a house that you guys were living in?
RAR: Well, it was my first group house. You know, I grew up, I’m one of five boys in my family, and we shared a bedroom growing up. So I was used to sharing a space with several people. So for me, I almost like, approached it as, like family, in a way. Like, let me get to know these people, we’re going to share this space, enjoy each other’s company. Yeah, of course we’re all gonna have some differences, and that might get in the way, but let’s just learn to deal with it. And I think what connected us all was the music, for sure.
TP: So, what were you doing, when you were living there, what was your occupation?
RAR: I was a temp at the IMF and I was an admin assistant temp there. I was working there out of an agency based over here on Pennsylvania. And I was doing that as well as I ushered twice a week at the Kennedy Center. So sometimes, usually I worked at the time on Tuesdays, for example, at the Kennedy Center. So I would leave work and go straight there. And so I did those two things, and I was already getting involved, when I was in the Kansas House. That’s essentially where my whole DJ career– in some ways it became a career, although it was somewhat short-lived it was still a career and it started at the Kansas House. I was kind of doing both, well, not both; the IMF, the Kennedy Center, and the DJaying and occasionally on the side, promotions.
TP: And where did you DJ?
RAR: I DJayed at first it was at this place called Earth. The night was called Earth and it was at a club called DC Live, or DC Life. DC Life I think it was called. I was only there for like two or three months, and I had been discovered. I had met this promoter who was doing these parties in this back room of what used to be Coco Loco, and it was called, I think it was called the Copacabana, or something like that. I think it was called the Lounge. And by that time I had been doing already, like, private parties, but with my equipment. I would literally take my CD player, I’m not talking about DJ equipment, but your standard home CD player and amp and I would just connect everything that way with this standard speaker wire. And I was doing that just because, or maybe I should give you a history of that.
RAR: Growing up, I grew up in a fairly musical family, and my parents loved to entertain. And so the older I got, I was taking over the CDs at home at the parties and selecting the music and getting people on the dance floor, essentially. And so, when I moved to DC, I would go to house parties, and a party to me was not a party if people weren’t dancing. So I would talk to the owner of the home and offer to look through their CD collection and get people out there shakin’ their groove thing. And so I did that, and that led to people asking me bring my CDs to house parties, and then bring my equipment and that led to this one guy who was doing this. He opened up this night at this Copa Capana lounge, and I went in that opening night and told him his music was similar to what I played and he said he’d love to come here me spin sometime. And he did, and that was it. And he said, “I’ve got this new night coming up at a room at this night called Earth, and I’d love for you to DJ in my room.” And I said, wow, I never thought! I did the radio thing, but it was one thing to do the radio thing, and it was a whole other thing to do the live DJ set when people see you, you have to mix and beat match and do all that. So that was nothing I ever expected. And it happened, and it was fun!
TP: And what kind of music did you play?
RAR: When I first started, I played a mixture of music. I played everything from all styles of Latin music to even Middle Eastern music such as Rye and other Arab music as well, and Turkish music, mixed it in with an occasional house track and hip hip, so just a whole, you know… slew of things.
TP: And what was your DJ name?
RAR: When I first started, it was DJ Ricardo, and then it ended up becoming El Nino. Although, I don’t think I took on the El Nino moniker until I was out of the house already. I wanted something unique and I found out there was another DJ Ricardo who just played Salsa and was actually a Salsa instructor at the time. I think he probably still teaches somewhere. But I didn’t want the confusion because people would confuse me with him and go to parties saying they saw that DJ Ricardo was playing and think it was me, and vice versa. They thought it was him but it was me playing so I wanted to pick a unique name.
TP: So, how long did you live at Kansas for?
RAR: I lived at Kansas for slightly over a year. It was short lived, because I wanted to move back to the city. I missed the energy of the city, and at that point, there wasn’t a lot going on in Virginia Square, and people probably know today, there’s a lot more activity. So yeah, I moved to the city.
TP: Actually, that might be a really good transition. Talk about what was going on in the area. What was in that neighborhood, what was on your block?
RAR: Oh wow, there was a used car… I think there was a used car dealership, and I think they kind of served as an underground rental agency. But there was that, and there were two other houses on the street, closer towards Fairfax Drive. And that was it. There was only three homes and nothing really else. Just kind of like, abandoned property. It was pretty chill.
TP: Was there any sense of development at that time?
RAR: Um… not really. At the time, there were stories out and about that it was an area that they wanted to develop more. But no, I don’t recall there being too much talk about it. I knew it happened pretty soon after I left though.
TP: And how did you get around, did you walk? Did you metro?
RAR: I walked to the metro. That’s what I would do most of the time. That’s part of the reason why I liked moving back to the city. I liked being in the city and I hated waiting ten, fifteen minutes for a train.
TP: How did you cart your DJ stuff around?
RAR: Oh jeez! Well, obviously when I did the club I didn’t have to worry about any equipment, just my CDs. And I would carry those in a bag and take them to the club. But, to other gigs, I would have people give me rides. That’s usually how it worked out.
TP: And what, so if you were a pedestrian then, was there a special route that you had, did you go to the same grocery store?
RAR: Yeah, I would go to the Giant. That’s usually what I would do, the Giant. I’m trying to think if there’s any other stores. Occasionally, if I needed anything last minute I would walk around, there was a 7-11 on Wilson. And I believe it’s still there. And that was essentially it. Those two spots. If I had to do any kind of clothing shopping I would go all the way to Ballston and shop there. But yeah, most of my shopping was done right there, the Giant or at Ballston.
TP: And I guess, just going back to the DJ thing, how long were you a DJ for?
RAR: In general? Oh wow, for years.
TP: Do you still DJ?
RAR: Today I really only DJ once or twice a year, at maybe like a wedding. I haven’t DJayed at a club in like, forever. So that was… I started in ’97, so I probably went to… I would say regularly I had gigs though close to 2004, 2005 I had regular gigs, like even weekly. I guess you would call it a residency, though I guess those were too short lived to be called such.
TP: So, you DJayed at the house.
TP: Do you know, roughly, how many times you’d done that?
RAR: Gosh, I remember about two parties, maybe three parties. It was like, the party I think people remember the most was just one crazy party where it went to five, past five AM. And the police showed up to the party and I remember having a conversation, too, with the cop. He seemed like a young cop and people think I’m crazy for having done this, but I went out and he said yeah, we’ve had complaints of noise and I said, “you look like a pretty hip cop. Sure you don’t want to come on in and join us?” And he kind of smiled and he was like, well, I wouldn’t mind if I weren’t on duty, but I can’t. It was funny because people thought I was asking for trouble and that I might get arrested. Obviously I had a few drinks in my system. Who hadn’t at that party? But it was a legendary party. I would say in total, like three parties, and I would have a couple people over a couple times, and we did a dinner party once, and a wine tasting once.
TP: Talk about the big crazy blow out party. How many people do you think were at that party?
RAR: My lord… that party, people say that there was probably in and out, because we started probably around 9:00 and I would say that by 10, 10:30, the place was packed. And when I say packed, I’m talking about the basement and the main floor. So, I would say there were probably, throughout the night, I wouldn’t be surprised if peoples estimates were pretty close to this or right on the money, but I would say around 400 people throughout that night. It was madness.
TP: And did you DJ the whole thing?
RAR: Pretty much, yeah. There was a couple times I would let mix CDs play. But, I’m one of these people who when you host a party, you want to make sure everything’s taken care of. So I would literally be playing a song and rushing to the kitchen because not enough Sangria was made, or not enough Margarita mix was made. Making sure people were taken care of the whole night.
TP: And talk about the mix of people who were at that party.
RAR: That party was so interesting. It was cool because obviously, I told Suzanne, Bob and Derek to invite their own friends, too. And those guys, with myself, were a pretty eclectic mix. There were people I had worked with at the IMF, there were people that worked at some of the embassies. I had actually befriended a crew of interns at the French Embassy. That had this, they were doing, I’m sure they’re still doing internships there, but there was this house called the Chateau in that day, where there were like five French interns lived. And they were the first party I ever went to in DC, and it went to like, five, six AM and I was like, oh this is just like in France, when I was studying there, and like in Spain. And those guys were at the party, and they invited their friends, and they actually helped me, I was able to get, I was able to give them money and they were able, because they had their own special rate, they had their own special store there at the embassy where they got liquor duty free. And so I got a lot of good stuff there at a pretty affordable price. So there was that group and there was like my whole, at that point, I was going to a lot of house parties, so it was an eclectic mix. Nationalities, across the board! Ages, probably, early to late 20s for the most part, and it was a fun group. There were couples that formed there, a lot of, I can probably think of a few couples that dated for a while, and I’ve heard that there are couples who even got married that met at that party. So, that’s pretty cool.
TP: How did, so how did Derek and Bob and you and Suzanne– how did they react? Because their music, I think eclectic is a really great way to talk about it. How did they react to all the techno-y stuff going on… were they into it?
RAR: Um, I think they were okay with it. I don’t know if they were necessarily huge fans of the music. I think Derek tended to be more into it just because a lot of the electronic music is obviously based on… there’s a lot of technology based in it. Not that there isn’t in standard instruments, but you know, Derek loved taking apart gadgets and creating instruments out of them. So, I think, a lot of what pioneers electronic music was similar to what Derek was doing at the time. I think he had a bit more appreciation for it than the other guys did, but I think he was a little more vocal about it. Although I can’t recall a time when they were like, hey what’s that mix, or who’s that artist. I got the feeling that they enjoyed it.
TP: Talk about what the house looked like, and you sort of did this when you were talking about the bullet hole. What did the house look like on the inside, just on a regular day?
RAR: Well, you would walk in and on the left was where all the mail was. And Derek had his computer set up there. And a couple other things, too. And then, we had all kinds of things, there was a fireplace on the wall, just as you would go on to the left there was a fireplace and on the mantle, we left certain things. I don’t think the fireplace worked though, to be honest with you. But there was that stuff there. Just you know, beat up couch in the middle, against the wall. A standard coffee table with books, magazines on there. A stairwell on the right. It was not carpeted, so it was hardwood floors, which was probably pretty wise, even though a lot of people came through. I remember there being an occasional poster or a flier from the different parties we had. And so if you walked in, actually, to the house, on the right was where the TV was. And I didn’t, I had my own TV in my own room, which was all the way, if you walked in you went straight back you had the kitchen on the right and you had the bedroom which I think was originally like a patio and the owner put a roof over it and turned it into a room.
TP: Yeah, talk about that room.
RAR: Oh my god… you could barely fit a bed. I had like, a twin, and was barely able to fit to get into that room. And just had a small little portable clothes rack that I brought with me and a set of drawers and a bathroom. Which was funny because I don’t remember it being completely– I feel like you had to either step down or step up to go to the bathroom, but it was just this puny little bathroom, to squeeze whatever they could out of that space.
TP: Did you ever have any dealings with the landlord at all? Do you remember talking to her?
RAR: I remember her coming over a couple of times, I never really dealt with her. It was primarily Derek who ddid that.
TP: So he was like the liaison to all bureaucracy, so to speak.
RAR: Yeah, you could say that if there was a head of the household it was him.
TP: How often did you guys hang out, just the four of you guys together?
RAR: We rarely went out. I went a couple times to shows that they had. But in general, we just hung out at the house.
TP: What would you guys do when you hung out?
RAR: Sit back, watch TV, listen to some music. Had some friends over, sit back and have a beer, really. It was very chill.
TP: So this is a question that I ask everyone, and I tell everyone that they can define the terms of the question however they want to define them, and elaborate as much as they want – What do you think your most significant moment at Kansas House was?
RAR: Wow. Of course, I’m thinking the same… Significant. Jeez… That’s a good question. You know, I think when you say the most significant thing, are you referring maybe to something that there was maybe a moment in time that was life changing?
TP: However you want to define the word significant. And you can have more than one.
RAR: Yeah… I mean, I just think living with those guys, it opened up my eyes to a lot. Intellectually and musically, I’m sure in many other ways as well, but you know, the fact that they were just so open minded and I was pretty free to just express who I was, was great. It was, and I probably had this to a certain extent in college, but as a professional, it was nice to have that and I felt like it was a house where I could let my creative juices flow, and I think that party, that legendary party was just big for me, not just because a lot of people met there, dated, and some even got married. People have great memories from it, but it was also what it did for me, because there are a lot of things that stick out about that party, was how we had such a varied mix of people and they were able to come together and interact with each other through music. So I really saw the power of music in that house, and specifically in this case that party, but just their willingness to let me do what I wanted with the party and make that room the chill out lounge room and kind of give everything a different look and feel, and it kind of got me to think outside– I don’t want to say outside the box but it would. A lot of things I ended up doing I think are a result or a part of the inspiration was from living in that house. I managed a night in DC here for a while called Eden, which was a collective of artists who all contributed their art form to the experience. The graphic designer’s name was on the flier, as an artist, the lighting technician was on there as an artist, the dancers were on there as artists, the DJs were on there as artists, the interior decorator— there was an interior decorator who decorated it differently every month, she was on the flier. Everybody got equal billing. And created a unique experience, and a lot of my ability to have freedom to do that kind of started at that house and at that party and really got me, I got to see myself do it in action and I got to think of it on a bigger scale, and it led to things such as Eden and other projects that I have as well, not even just musical.
TP: And what do you do now?
RAR: Um, I’m an admin assistant at the IMF, a staff member. Those temp days are long gone. But on the side, I work in, well I tried to, I should say, to develop a social project. It’s a project I started back in ’08, just kind of developing it in my head was a project called CHEF, which stands for Creating Hope and Empowerment through Food. And the impetus for all that was that I lived in DC for a while, and I was held up once, and the person who was arrested had been in and out of the system for 20 to 25 years and his mode of survival was robbing people and occasionally dealing drugs, and that’s how he knew to get by. So I wanted to do something that would help kill that cycle. And so CHEF was and it still is intended to get different non-profits who create and train different job skills training to people throughout the city to work with the formerly incarcerated individuals and getting them and empowering them and the skills they want to pick up and start using these skills, to start and conceive of their own high end restaurant. That’s the chef where that comes from. So that was something I put on hold, because I did some political work as well. I worked on the Obama campaign in ’08. I resigned from the IMF to take a job in the campaign. So I put that on hold, and when I tried to put the pieces back together, when I came back to DC, it’s taken me a while to get it off the ground. I talked briefly with someone from the mayor’s office, but I need to do that again with the new administration. But those are things that I’d love to keep doing, and actually right now I’m considering getting an MBA. I’m actually taking a GMAT preparation course, to go back to school and really learn the ins and outs of business so I can hopefully go and really bring some, add some meat to these projects that I have and hopefully understand business better so I can get business leaders to be involved in the community. So it’s essentially a community-driven business initiatives. That’s kind of where this is going. That’s kind of what the vision is.
TP: Can you think of anything else you want to say about you experience at Kansas?
RAR: Ah… I want to find the perfect word for it. You know if there was a hip way of saying Supercalafraglisticakespealidocias this day in age, that’s the word I would use because it was pretty amazing phenomenon. It was awesome. I’m very fortunate that Derek picked me along with the other guys, Bob and Suzanne picked me to be a roommate in the house because it was a phenomenal experience and a big part of who I am today, for sure.