It’s Cinco de Mayo and the opposite of a relaxing Saturday morning. Instead of sleeping in, I’m at La Marina, New York’s lituation staple located in Washington Heights, at 8:15 a.m. The cabanas are decked out with festive decorations not limited to Mexican stereotypes. There’s a blowup leprechaun being hung up by the DJ booth, handled by the men of WeAreHouse78, a group of buzzy DJs and producers with a knack for electronic dance, deep house, Brazilian funk, Latin trap and hip-hop blends. Everything seems to be on schedule—except the weather. Clouds are side-stepping in front of the sun, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from arriving early to the 9AM Banger.
The 9AM Banger is exactly what it sounds like—a party kicking off in the early morning with good tunes and spirited beings prepped for the turn-up. Creatives Jonathan “RILLE” Espinal, Kenneth “Einfari” Espinal, Anthony “\/\/arhov” Garcia, Rawlin “RRR” Rosario and Adrian “MNDLSS” Almonte navigate the booth one by one with tracks that feed the hips (Ozuna’s “Te Bote” Remix), the Top 40 (Drake’s “Nice for What”) and the heart (Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”).
But the tunes aren’t the only thing driving the 9AM Banger, El Bangero edition. Attendees are decked out in threads complementary to their Dominican, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Nigerian roots and beyond. There’s also a home vibe lingering as a tray of homemade empanadas are passed over security guards’ heads and into the hands of partygoers. No worries, there are churros, too.
The idea of House78 (short name for the collective) was built at the now-defunct Apt 78 in 2014, a small but impactful venue for Uptown artists, curious residents, and bachata enthusiasts. Established in 2010, it welcomed DJs like Questlove and Biz Markie in between events catered to the arts.
During one of their many hangouts in Apt 78, RILLE, Enfari and \/\/arhov wondered where their interest in producing and spinning would take them. Instead of living in the clouds, they began hosting parties at the space. After founder Jose Morales decided to bid adieu to the venue in 2015, the fellas continued to push their narrative with RRR and MNDLSS with House78, a homage to the legendary space they once called home. Much like the traveling party Dussepalooza, the idea floated by way of group chats with the guys gathering 20 and 30 friends at a time for events.
“In 2015, we decided to do one for Santacon,” Enfari explains of their early gatherings at his apartment. “We just started in 2014. This is a year after we started DJing so we’re like, ‘Alright let’s have people at my house. I have the equipment, we can spin here and do a pregame.’ RRR would then take people on the bar crawl. So he was pretty much in charge. He manhandled like the sending out the invites and telling people to come through.”
At that inaugural event, attendees arrived earlier than expected, with over 100 people in Enfari’s apartment. “I kid you not, it’s probably like 8:45 a.m. and I get a ring on my doorbell. There’s five people coming in with like breakfast sandwiches and Henny, so I’m like ‘Oh sh*t, people are coming early. Alright, cool.’ Next thing you know, like five more people five minutes later. All of the sudden, it was 10 a.m. and we probably had 100 to 150 people there by like 10:30-11 a.m.”
The group went on their bar crawl but noticed tweets referring to their gathering as a “9AM Banger” on Twitter. Their most successful 9AM Banger kicked off during St. Patrick’s Day in 2017, selling out in 24 hours. The leprechaun hanging on the stage at La Marina suddenly holds more sentimental weight.
“The craziest part about it was how Twitter drove it,” RILLE says. ”Eventgoers were playing guessing games with each other like “Yo, you think they’re gonna do a St. Patrick’s Day one?” “Oh sh*t like maybe. What about a Black Pride one?!’ ‘What is it gonna be?’ So we just started thinking, “Maybe we got this, maybe we started tapping into something.’ It feels like we’re in our own realm since we’re tweaking something that no one thought of.”
New York nightlife has always catered to the creatives of the Big Apple. Ball culture within the LGBTQIA community thrived in the ‘80s, The Tunnel was a hip-hop mainstay in the ‘90s and the late 2000s welcomed New Yorkers and then some to Soho’s Greenhouse and Club W.I.P. As thrilling as these spots were, the 2010s have invited the idea of parties for the people, by the people.
“NYC nightlife is such a staple, like culturally back the days of Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito. It’s flipping that on its head. Like Enfari said, ‘It’s not the 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., it’s 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.’” -RILLE
Grits & Biscuits celebrates the South’s impact on the culture via the tunes (and artist performances), COLORS’ R&B Only party caters to the soul music lover. Everyday People keeps the cool factor fresh and #BodyRollParty gets folks off the wall. House78 is looking to have space in the evening or morning, but an experience that keeps people coming back for more. There isn’t one sound per say, as the guys bring forth their Latin roots through their love for electronic dance and urban blends.
“It’s big time. I think that’s where we get inspired—mixing and things and sounds that don’t really go together,” RILLE explains. “Like Enfari said, we were so deep into our sound, and I think when we started experimenting, it really pushed us out of our comfort zones. I remember Enfari was playing EDM trap and he mixed a Cam’ron/Dipset song. We all looked at him like, ‘You playing Cam’ron? Like what?!’ But that was the beauty of it, just on an organic level not trying to go over and beyond. ‘Cause we’re from Harlem; it’s not really out of our realm. That’s where the culture comes from. It’s just like, let me see if I can bring merengue into this or bachata or Dipset or G. Dep into my set where it’s not really heard.”
The guys have also gotten a major co-sign from Morales himself. “When we had our last party at Apt 78 he said he was proud of us,” RILLE says. “That’s when we wanted to make it a company; we asked for his blessing. I won’t forget it, when we posted up a short video of the last party in our apartment, someone questioned him like ‘Yo, you see this? WeAreHouse78? Look at these guys.’ He said, ‘Nah, nah, they’re good.’”
But RILLE and the rest of the collective are privy to what goes on around them. Events like Daybreakers (a wellness party) and block parties birthed in inner cities in the late ‘70s permeate in the mornings with mass attendees.
“It’s not like it’s never been done because you know people tailgate at college football games and even regular football games at 9 a.m. in the parking lot of the football stadium,” he explains. “So it’s not that crazy when you start thinking about it. NYC nightlife is such a staple, like culturally back the days of Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito. It’s flipping that on its head. Like Enfari said, ‘It’s not the 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., it’s 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.’
The flowers and blends aren’t always blooming. Dealing with five creatives can be a lot, hence their focus on communication.
“Once Apt 78 closed down, we were like, ‘Aw, where are we going to go?’ We were like a nomadic tribe going from space to space. Our communication skills get tested a lot. All of our thought processes are so different and the craziest part is we talk to each other more than we talk to our parents. That constant communication doesn’t make it feel like a business, it’s like a friendship. When it gets to business, it’s like patience. When we found this, it was like, “Oh sh*t we really got something going on.’ To Enfari’s point, 9AM Bangers are going off. WeAreHouse78 is going off. The entities to which we’re exploring make it a bit more passionate. At La Marina, we all said it: ‘This is real, yo.’”
The sold-out 9AM Banger arrived a few weeks before Mother’s Day, allowing their moms to come see what the hype was about. ”Once our moms came out we were like, ‘Yeah I think we’re doing something right.’”
The five of them have bigger dreams. They hope to flip dance music around in New York City and elsewhere with a podcast and, later, a record label. Their recent 9AM Banger over the weekend featuring DJ Camilo welcomed over 2,000 people. What drives them the most is keeping their ears open to new sounds and their hands to the boards.
“We started building our production catalog and I think that’s where we’re gonna start testing each other,” RILLE says. ”We’re all learning together. We all get to hear the sounds that he’ll (Enfari) be working on or \/\/arhov, RRR, MNDLSS or myself. I think we can cater to every listener, to every ear that’s out there.”
Find out more about WeAreHouse78 here.
Photo Credit: Julian Cassidy