On Friday, Dec. 2, at least 36 people perished in a fire that occurred during an electronic music concert at Ghost Ship, an East Oakland warehouse where many young artists and activists also lived.
President Obama called the tragedy, which has drawn worldwide attention, “one of the worst fires in the state’s history.”
The Dec. 2 show was part of the Golden Donna 100% Silk West Coast Tour and featured more than half a dozen artists signed to the husband-and-wife Los Angeles record label, 100% Silk, and it attracted a wide-range of attendees from a range of ethnicities and sexual orientations as well as a large swath of the local music scene.
Among those who died in the fire, or are still missing, are the performers Cherushii, Obsidian Blade, and Nackt, as well as local artists, like Ben Runnels of Introflirt, Vanfantom, and Ghosts of Lightning.
Many of us at SF Weekly knew people who died in the blaze, and we are beyond saddened by their loss. As independent and D.I.Y. artists, some of them played vital roles in the Bay Area and beyond, and their presence will be sorely missed. Here’s a look at just a few.
Twenty-two-year-old Cash Askew was a transgender woman and the guitarist and backup singer for the goth-pop duo Them Are Us Too. For the last year, the band, which includes singer-songwriter Kennedy Ashlyn, had been touring the U.S. in support of their 2015 debut album, Remain. With its droning and sweeping synths, the eight-track record is an industrialized interpretation of shoegaze overlaced with a gauzy ’80s sheen and Ashlyn’s saccharine, high-pitched voice. A self-described “queer femme,” Askew was a vocal opponent of misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and more recently, Donald Trump and Mike Pence.
Chelsea Faith Dolan (Cherushii)
Chelsea Faith Dolan was a San Francisco dance music producer, event promoter, and DJ for UC Berkeley’s KALX-FM who performed under the name Cherushii. From an early age, she began playing instruments, studying classical piano in high school before switching her attention to electronic music production. An avid music lover, the 33-year-old was heavily influenced by Detroit techno and Chicago house, and had been a fixture in underground Bay Area music since the early 2000s. When performing, Cherushii was known to forgo vinyl and USB sticks for electronic plug-ins, like drum-sampling machines and looped synthesizers, to give her music a more organic and lively sound.
Johnny Igaz (Nackt)
Johnny Igaz was a newly hired employee at Green Apple Books and a well-known techno and acid-house DJ in Oakland. Since November 2014, he had released music under the name Nackt on Bandcamp. On Nov. 21, he dropped his most recent release, Scheherazade (the City Freer), a transcendent three-track record featuring remixes of the same baritone, synth-punctuated ambient song with different tempos and beats. On the album’s Bandcamp page, Igaz spoke candidly about sometimes thinking about suicide and how foolish those desires seemed in retrospect. “I have wanted to kill myself a hundred times,” he wrote, “but somehow I am still in love with life.” Igaz was playing records in a booth on the second story of the warehouse when the fire broke out.
Ben Runnels (Introflirt)
When I first met Ben Runnels, the singer of Introflirt, he was seated around the grand piano at the Alley, an Oakland dive bar, cooing a mid-century jazz standard. For years, the musician — who sported green-tinged blond hair — frequented the Alley, waiting patiently for his turn at the microphone where he’d hone his singing chops and work to overcome his lifelong struggle with shyness. He called his band’s blend of music “croonwave” because of its woozy mixture of plaintive vocals with dark electronic beats. Introflirt’s second album, Temporary Heaven, came out in August, and features eight tracks of disco-inspired synth-pop.
Denalda Nicole Renae (Vanfantom)
A Lincoln, Nebraska, native who studied textile clothing and design at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Denalda Nicole Renae lived in Oakland, where she made keyboard-heavy dream-pop under the name Vanfantom. She started out rapping in 2010 before switching to singing and production a few years later. Her first album, Knock or Ring, is a stripped-down, minimalist record with upfront vocals and staccato melodies. According to friends, Renae was also an avid cyclist and sushi fanatic.
Joey Casio (Obsidian Blade)
Self-described as “a one-man electronic punk band,” Joey Casio, who performed under the name Obsidian Blade, became active as a producer in the music scene in his native Olympia, Washington, as a teenager, before packing up his “tattered suitcase of drum machines and synthesizers” to travel the country, playing basement shows and dance clubs. A 100% Silk signee, Casio was scheduled to perform at Ghost Ship, and he entered the venue around 11:15 p.m., roughly 10 minutes before the fire broke out, the East Bay Express reports.
Micah Danemayer was one of the artists slated to perform at the Golden Donna 100% Silk show at Ghost Ship. Danemayer, a 28-year-old from Massachusetts, moved to the Bay Area in 2011, making music with his synthesizer and starting a label called Discarded, through which he released underground electronic records. Plans were in the works for him to start a band called Red Cellar with his friend Devyn Fordyce, and the pair already had a show scheduled for January at the Night Light in downtown Oakland.
Travis Hough (Ghosts of Lightning)
The founder and frontman of the electronic act Ghosts of Lightning, 35-year-old Travis Hough was a creative arts therapist at a school in the Bay Area. He released his debut EP Generations in April, an erratic, high-tempo, nine-track record filled with zippy modular synths and pounding drums.
Ghost Ship Benefit with Shannon and the Clams at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 9, at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland. Free.