A memorial for victims of the Oakland fire (Photo via StreetMachina/Instagram)
The American underground scene is mourning after a fire roared through the Ghost Ship artist collective in Oakland last Friday, killing 36 people who had gathered for a show featuring artists from the Los Angeles label 100% Silk. Lost in the inferno were accomplished local DJs, producers and musicians, visual artists, beloved members of the city’s queer community, sound techs, baristas, and students.
“It’s like they all just evaporated,” said Brendan Dreaper, who lost several friends in the blaze, including members of the bands he managed, Introflirt and Ghost of Lightning. “It feels like the whole scene went up in that one moment, in that one night.”
Below, we give you a snapshot into the lives of some of the people lost in the Oakland fire. We encourage you all to learn more about them, listen to their music, check out their art, and most of all, support the people they left behind and the thriving creative community they helped nurture.
“I feel like even though they’re gone, they can live forever, because their music is out there and that’s hopeful to me,” Dreaper said.
Chelsea Faith Dolan AKA Cherushii, 33, of San Francisco
A prolific remixer and beloved star of the Bay Area electronic music scene, Cherushii was a DJ, producer, and radio host who was closely affiliated with 100% Silk, and slated to play at their ill-fated Ghost Ship event. Originally from Fairfax, California, she was a fixture on UCal-Berkeley station KALX 90.7 FM with her show Midnight Express.
Musical collaborator Evelyn Malinowski, AKA Experimental Housewife, called Cherushii “a great friend” who worked very hard at her craft and made a distinct mark on the San Francisco electronic music scene. “She (was) glitter and rainbows and makeup,” Malinowski told THUMP. “She (was) San Francisco and San Francisco rave.”
Malinowski last saw Cherushii about two weeks ago, when they went record shopping at legendary Haight shop Amoeba Records. According to Malinowski, Cherushii talked about the upcoming Ghost Ship gig and expressed concern about the safety of the venue. “She was telling me about the party and the owner, and how she didn’t want to do it. Several other folks who perished were feeling the same way, which is eerie,” Malinowski said.
Estonian electronic musician/producer Maria Juur, AKA Maria Minerva, grew close to Cherushii after 100% Silk put them on tour together in 2013. Juur recalled how Cherushii loved to wear “the craziest 80s and 90s throwback rave clothes,” describing her as a throwback to the “freaks” who long inhabited San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood, but have been largely displaced by gentrification.
“She was an insanely talented producer,” Juur said. She praised Cherushii’s prodigious musical knowledge—which spanned from Italo-disco to classic house, and from Detroit techno to UK breakbeat hardcore—and expertise with electronic music gear. “I’ve never met anyone who knew so much about music theory. She just knew her music history.”
The two artists had released a track together on 100% Silk called “Thin Line,” and were in the middle of recording an EP. Juur was planning to go to Cherushii’s San Francisco studio next month to finish it, but now, she wants the release to be a tribute to her fallen friend. “It’s not going to be the same,” she said. “But I’m going to do my best to get this music heard.”
Cash Askew, 22, of San Francisco
The singer for goth/synth-pop duo Them Are Us Too, Askew was a beloved member of the Bay Area music scene. Askew joined the label Dais Records with her bandmate, Kennedy Ashlyn, in 2014. The following year, they released their debut LP, Remain, and went on a US tour. Askew also performed in solo musical projects Heavenly and Prist, and was an active DJ in the Bay Area.
Akew leaves behind her girlfriend, Anya Taylor, and loving parents who supported her creative projects and transgender identity. Askew came from “a very musical family, very artistic family, very queer family,” her mother, Leisa Baird Askew, told the Washington Post. Askew’s stepfather, Sunny Haire, is a guitarist who managed The Lexington Club, a lesbian bar in San Francisco. According to the Post, Askew grew up sitting in the bar, sipping cranberry juice and observing the clientele.
In a statement to THUMP, the duo’s label, Dais Records, said: “Cash Askew was an absolutely loved and treasured member of the Dais Records family. We were in awe of her talent, her gentle kindness, and her creative momentum. She was loved and admired by everyone she met, and her passing is an excruciating loss that we may never fully process or recover from. Our hearts and are prayers are with her family and close friends, and with the other victims of the Oakland tragedy.”
Manager Zane Landreth said of her death: “We are devastated beyond words.”
Travis Hough AKA Travis Blitzen, 35, of Benicia, California
A member of the Oakland ambient/synthpop band Ghost of Lightning, Hough was remembered by his manager Brendan Dreaper as a “very creative” musician and “a positive force of energy in music and in life.” Further revealing the tight-knit nature of the Oakland music scene, Hough was once in a band called Easy Street with fellow fire victim Chelsea Faith Dolan, AKA Cherushii, who mixed his most recent EP, Generations. His manager Dreaper also oversaw Introflirt, a synthpop duo made up of Ben Runnels and Denalda Nicole Renae, both of whom also died in the Ghost Ship blaze. “They were like sister bands, in terms of playing shows together and sharing ideas,” Dreaper said. “They were all really close.”
In addition to his musical career, Hough was also an expressive arts therapist at Montalvin Manor Elementary School in San Pablo, California. “We are deeply saddened by the loss of this incredible human being, who taught our students about empathy, compassion, and how to cope with their feelings,” Montalvin Manor principal Katherine Acosta-Verprauskus told THUMP.
Johnny Igaz AKA Nackt, 34, of Oakland
Igaz, a DJ, producer, and promoter from Oakland, played jazz saxophone and started DJing in the 90s. His EP Virex was released on 100% Silk, and plans were in the works for him to travel to Los Angeles for some gigs. Britt Brown, co-founder of 100% Silk, told THUMP that he hit it off with Igaz after they met in 2015. “It took about five seconds to feel like I’d known him forever,” Brown recalled. “He was one of the easiest dudes to joke around and bond with.” Brown recalled Igaz’ “funny moustache,” and said he had just sent a box of 100% Silk vinyl to Igaz’ Oakland apartment, but it didn’t reach him in time. “I still love those [Virex] cuts. They have this loose, sinuous, nocturnal acid vibe, really hypnotized and churning and jacked in,” Brown said.
Igaz has released music on Chillin Music, Popgang, Don’t Say Techno and 3AM Devices, and shared bills with Starkey, Maya Jane Coles, 40 Thieves and Thugfucker, among others. He was roommates with Ben Runnels, who also perished in the fire.
Jonathan Bernbaum, 34, of Oakland
Originally from Berkeley, California, Bernbaum was a USC film school graduate and gifted VJ who worked with major dance acts like Knife Party and Markus Schulz, among others. On Twitter, Knife Party’s Rob Swire called Bernbaum a “good friend” and said, “the electronic music scene is shittier today without Jon behind the visuals.” Schulz described Bernbaum as a “talented person” who was “relentless in his pursuit of pushing his art beyond what anyone else imagined” in a post on his Facebook page.
Fellow Oakland VJ Brent Bucci credited Bernbaum in a Facebook post for “push[ing] our art form further.” “He dared to create not for praise or fame or any of the conventional bullshit,” Bucci explained. “I like many others owe my career to his late-night programming lessons, countless phone calls and endless debates.”
He added: “Jon, I’m going to miss you so much. I miss you already. I was so lucky to have had you in my life as my teacher, my colleague, and my friend. We were all so lucky to have been touched by your art.”
Joseph Matlock AKA Joey Casio, 36, of Olympia, Washington
An electronic musician from Olympia, Washington, Matlock was slated to perform at the Ghost Ship under the moniker Obsidian Blade. Olympia’s K Records, which released several of Matlock’s singles, describes his music on their website as “a seething a manifesto of dark positivity” that combines punk house percussion with post-disco electronic music and No-Rave techno noise. K Records owner Calvin Johnson told THUMP that Matlock was “the most gentlest, cool, really positive person… But then he gets on stage and there’s a weird aggression that happens.” The two toured California together in the summer of 2011. “It was cool to see his weird world,” Johnson added.
K Records has donated copies of Joey Casio’s records to the Ghost Ship Fire Fund.
Ben Runnels, AKA Charlie Prowler, 32, of Oakland
Ben Runnels and Nicole R. Siegrist of Introflirt
Ben Runnels, an Oakland-based musician who also went by the name Charlie Prowler, was a member of the synth pop duo Introflirt. On their Facebook page, Introflirt describes their music as “croonwave” and “a soundtrack for the insecure,” cheekily admitting that “Underneath the serious synth pop, classy aesthetics, and retro appeal, Introflirt is just as awkward as you.”
Runnels grew up outside Albany, New York, and was a graduate of Southern Vermont College. His sister, Erin Runnels, remembers him as an innately talented musician. “He was one of those people who could pick up any instrument,” Erin told SFGate.com. “It would be really rare that a song, whether it was Glenn Miller or the Grateful Dead or some obscure European house music, would come on without him being able to tell you something about it.”
“He was the brightest shining star and we carry him in our hearts,” his mother, Lorrie Benjamin Runnels, wrote on Facebook.
Nicole R. Siegrist, AKA Denalda Nicole Renae, 29, of Lincoln, Nebraska
The other half of Oakland electronic duo Introflirt along with Runnels, Siegrist was a fashion design student at University of Nebraska. She was a regular performer on the U-Nebraska music scene, performing under the name Vanfantom. “Denalda was a magnificent person,” friend Margot Erlandson told the Lincoln Journal Star, describing her as “a positive force for authenticity and self-expression.”
Barrett Clark, 35, of Oakland
A well-known sound engineer from Santa Rosa, California, Barrett was mixing sound on a second floor mezzanine at the Ghost Ship warehouse when the deadly blaze broke out. He is listed as missing, but has not been confirmed as among the dead by authorities at the time of writing.
“He was one-of-a-kind. Extremely intelligent, generous, warm, funny,” friend Michael Buchanan told the Press Democrat. Cindy Young, whose sons went to art school with were art school colleagues of Clark, told the paper: “He was an incredible musician and very gentle soul. He was a master at sound mixing.”
Alex Ghassan, 36, of Oakland
A Brooklyn native, Ghassan was a father of two and a documentary filmmaker for PBS affiliate KQED in San Francisco. He was an associate producer for the FuseTV series Behind the Unsigned, and directed music videos for a host of artists, including Masta Ace, Talib Kweli, Young Planet, Spike Lee, Skyzoo, and more.
“He’s an artist at heart, a wonderful dad, a wonderful son, a wonderful friend,” his mother, Emilie Grandchamps, told NBC 4 New York. Ghassan was also lead cinematographer on a new documentary about gender identity called We Exist, and was commissioned last summer to direct three short films for the Oakland Museum.
Donna Kellog, 32, of Oakland
An Oakland native who studied nutrition, Donna Kellog worked at Highwire Coffee Roasters in Berkeley and was a percussionist and graduate of San Francisco State University. Kellogg was studying for a degree in culinary arts at Laney College in Oakland, according to the Associated Press.
Micah Danemayer AKA Paralycyst, 29, of Oakland
A native of Somerville, Massachusetts based out of Oakland, Danemayer was a 2011 graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art. A DJ, producer, and VJ who went by the name Paralycyst, Danemayer described his sound as “technoise” and “dungeon acid” and was on the bill at the Ghost Ship party.
His label, Property Materials, posted a statement on Facebook mourning his death: “Micah had a all his own and approached audio/video work from a truly unique and outsider perspective. He was a great friend to many and a key member of the community.” Friend Devyn Fordyce told the Boston Globe: “I’ve never met anybody so passionate, not only for his own art and music but for everyone else’s.”
Hanna Ruax, 22, of Helsinki, Finland
A designer and yoga instructor from Helsinki, Ruax traveled to Oakland last month to be with Alex Ghassan, who was her fiancé. The two were planning to move to Europe.
Ghassan’s roommate, Vikram Babu, said Ruax was a social justice activists who helped organized a large protest in Finland after a neo-Nazi rally there.
“She is very gentle,” Babu told the Associated Press.
Draven McGill, 17, of San Francisco
A student at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, McGill was confirmed as one of the deceased by San Francisco school officials, according to the SFGate.com. He was a member of the Pacific Boys Choir and was the son of an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy.
Brandon Chase Wittenauer, AKA Nex Iuguolo, 32, of Oakland
Originally from Union City, Calif., Wittenauer was a member of the dark synthpop/rock duo Symbiotix.Fungi. His friend, Bobby Loveless, wrote on Facebook: “He was one of the most creative and talented musicians I ever had the pleasure of working with and he’ll be missed severely by everybody that knew him.”
Friend Amanda Fish, remembered him as “a sweet and sensitive artist [who] embodied love and positivity.”
“He had found his place in life and the Oakland artist community and was happy and thriving. He saw art in everything around him,” Fish told PEOPLE. “He loved other people and people adored him. He was the life of the party.”
Jason McCarty, 36, of Iowa
A sound artist from Fort Madison, Iowa, McCarty worked for San Francisco-based event technology and audio/visual design company PSAV, according to his LinkedIn. He moved from Iowa to the Bay Area in 2008 to get a master’s degree at the San Francisco Art Institute. Friend Troy Eaves told the Daily Beast that McCarty was also a talent visual artist; he went to college in Maryland, had eclectic musical tastes, and loved basketball. “He was the coolest, most artistic free spirit I knew,” Eaves said. Girlfriend Grace Lovio told SFGate.com that the adult McCarthy was very connected to the Bay Area art scene. “I just feel kind of hollowed out,” she said. “I just really love him.”
Ara Jo, 29, of Oakland
A native of Los Angeles, Ara Jo was co-organizer of the East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest, co-director at the Oakland art space Sgraffito, and worked at The Ink Stone, an architectural and art supply and print shop in Berkeley.
“She’s an incredibly energetic person, who can cheer up a room just by existing, a lot of energy packed in that small body,” Jeremy Erickson, a print specialist at The Ink Stone, told the Mercury News. “I was teaching her PhotoShop. I don’t know the extent of everything she does. It seemed like every week that she had something she was working on.”
Nick Gomez-Hall, 23, of Coronado, California
Photo by Erik Frenette
A Brown University graduate, Gomez-Hall was a musician and an administrative assistant at Counterpoint Press, a Berkeley, California-based book publishing house. He also played guitar and sang for Nightmom, an “experimental cowboy noize rock” band originally formed in Providence, Rhode Island. Nightmom bandmate Travis Lloyd of Seattle said in a Facebook post: “There’s no one better or more beloved than you. You are a muse to so many and will never stop guiding us. We will love you forever, Nick. Truly gliding.” Lloyd added that he planned to finish music they were working on together.
In a statement on its Facebook page, Counterpoint Press wrote: “From the second Nick started at Counterpoint, he became part of our family. Whether he was recommending new music to listen to (and it was always so good), regaling us with tales of the bowling alley, offering his beloved truck for a ride if anyone needed it, or sharing his much appreciated opinions about a book jacket or manuscript, he made everyone feel like they were his friend. He was kind, considerate, hilarious… In short, he was an essential part of our team.”
A lawyer from San Francisco, Walrath graduated from New York University of Law in 2013 and was described as a “rising legal mind.” He was an NYU Law Review editor, served as a law clerk in the Ninth Circuit Court in the Northern District of California and was working at the San Francisco boutique firm Durie Tangri.
In a statement, the firm said: “We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our friend and colleague. In the short time he had been at our firm, Nick already had shown himself to be a fine lawyer as well as a good and caring person.”
David Cline, 24, of Oakland
Originally from Santa Monica, Cline recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a double major in Cognitive Science and Computer Science. His brother, Neil Cline, described him as “a ferociously brilliant student and impossibly bright mind” in a post on Berkeleyside.com. “David was an incredible man, an amazing brother, a perfect son and an inspiring friend to everyone who was fortunate enough to have him in their lives,” Neil wrote.
Amanda Allen Kershaw, 34, of San Francisco
Raised in the Boston suburb of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, Allen graduated from Bridgewater State University and moved to the Bay Area with her DJ husband Andy Kershaw in 2008. She was a photographer with a passion for dance music. She had a tattoo of the Egyptian goddess Isis on her shoulder and another on her arm of a tree blowing in the wind with the words, “feel the rain on your skin,” from the song “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield, according to the Boston Globe. Friend Jena DiPinto, 35, told the Globe that the lyric was “so Amanda.” “She literally embodied the phrase ‘full of life,'” DiPinto said. “If she wanted to do something, she did it.”
In a statement, Allen’s family said: “Amanda is an incredible, beautiful person, daughter, sister, and friend. My brothers and I have always admired our sister and look up to her as the rock of our siblings, and as adults we’ve become best friends. She is a passionate, artistic, caring soul with an incredible sense of humor and positivity. She loves music and photography and is very involved in both of those communities in San Francisco.”
Edmond Lapine, 34, of Oakland
A 2008 graduate of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, Lapine was a DJ who helped promote local shows and volunteered at a local Olympia all-ages art space called Northern. In 2009, he worked as an intern at K Records. Label owner and rock musician Calvin Johnson said he had great musical knowledge and was a sharp dresser.
“He’s just a good fellow. Great person to work with,” Johnson said.
His dad, Bob Lapine, told the Deseret News recalled his son as a “gentle soul.” He was a self-taught guitarist who played in rock bands in Park City, Utah, where he grew up. He was also an aspiring DJ who loved the Bay Area rave scene, his dad said.
“He met a group of people who had the same likes in music as he did and they would always congregate together in the San Francisco area, Oakland area and they would go to different concerts and (raves),” he said. “Over the years, he became very close to some of these people that also perished in the fire.”
“Edmond was the type of person — when you met him, he was genuine, he was honest and he just loved people,” his dad said.
Sarah Hoda, 30, of Walnut Creek, California
Hoda was a teacher at Montalvin Manor Elementary School in San Pablo, California. She was also an avid gardener who “loved dancing and people,” her roommate Carol Crewdson, wrote on Facebook. “She loved children and the earth, and she put those principles into actions. She didn’t deserve to go like this,” Crewdson wrote on Facebook. The roommates helped build a community garden together. “She was compassionate, and sweet,” Crewdson wrote. “She was decent and honorable and practiced her principles. She carried her responsibilities, and loved her family.”
Vanessa Plotkin, 21, of Berkeley
A University of California-Berkeley junior sociology major, Plotkin worked at the college radio station KALX 90.7 FM, where she produced and prepared tracks for the DJs. She worked at the station with her roommate, Jennifer Morris, who also died in the fire. “We are beside ourselves,” her father, Gary Plotkin, told SFGate.com. “This is just like a nightmare. I can’t believe it.”
Riley Fritz AKA Feral Pines, 29, of Oakland
Riley Fritz was a bass player and art school graduate who also went by the name Feral Pines. She grew up in Connecticut and had just recently moved to Oakland. Her father, Bruce Fritz of Westport, Connecticut, described her to the Associated Press as “a very soft, sensitive, caring person” and “a very gentle soul [who] never had a bad word to say about other people.”
“She was an amazingly kind and beautiful person who had the strength to be her true self, even when she knew that was not going to be an easy path,” her sister Amanda Parry told NBC 4 New York.
Em B, 33, of Claremont, California
A poet and barista at Highwire Coffee Roasters in Berkeley, Em B was a published poet and accomplished photographer. A transgender woman, Em B was previously known by her birth name Matthew Bohlka, according to the Los Angeles Times. She graduated with an English degree from University of California-Riverside and earned a master’s degree in literature from Cal Poly Pomona, according to SFGate.com.
“She was just a completely loving individual, truly a gentle spirit, thoughtful and philosophical,” her dad, Jack Bohlka, 62, told the LA Times.
Jennifer Kiyomi Tanouye, 31, of Oakland
Tanouye ran a pop-up nail salon called Underground Nail Bar and was a music manager at Shazam.
Friend Ronnie Casey told the Mercury News: “She was a light. To know her was to love her.”
“The Shazam family is saddened by the loss of our colleague Kiyomi Tanouye in the Oakland fire. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends, as well as all the victims of this tragedy,’ wrote Rich Riley, the CEO of Shazam.
Pete Wadsworth, 38, Oakland
Wadsworth grew up in Cohasset, Mass., a Boston suburb, and attended Harvard College and Reed College in Ohio. Friends said he lived at the Ghost Ship artistst commune and was a sculptor who made plaster castings.
“He was more interested in more abstract forms of art,” friend Carmen Brito, 28, told the Boston Herald. “He wasn’t a painter, but he definitely had things he was working on. Anytime there was an event going on he made a point of stopping by and seeing what was going on, hanging out and having a glass of wine.”