[Update, Wednesday, Dec. 7: Since this article was originally published, East Bay Times has reported that Chelsea Faith Dolan and Johnny Igaz are confirmed to be among those killed in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire. More updates below.]
Amanda Brown, co-owner of the L.A.-based music label 100% Silk, whose artists were playing the Oakland warehouse party that was engulfed in a deadly fire Friday night, says she and partner Britt Brown were “blindsided” by news of the disaster.
“Yesterday was the worst day in our entire music-making lives,” she said, speaking to L.A. Weekly by phone Sunday morning.
Brown confirmed that two 100% Silk artists, Cherushii (Chelsea Faith Dolan) and Nackt (Johnny Igaz), remain unaccounted for. “No, they're still missing,” she said, choking back tears. She described Faith, a well-regarded dance music producer, event promoter and radio host, as “one of my closest friends in the world” and “a Bay Area hero for so many people in underground music.”
Another 100% Silk artist, Joel Shanahan, who performs under the name Golden Donna, escaped unharmed. Brown said she had been in touch repeatedly with Shanahan on Saturday and that he was still in Oakland trying to help the families and friends of those still missing.
Oakland and Alameda County officials have confirmed 36 deaths so far and are still searching the warehouse, located at 1305 31st Ave. in the Fruitvale section of Oakland, for more victims. So far, only six victims have been identified: Donna Kellogg, Cash Askew, Pete Wadsworth, Barrett Clark, Nex Iuguolo and Travis Hough.
The warehouse, known to those in the East Bay underground music and art scene as the Ghost Ship, was a two-story, 9,900-square-foot artists workspace that had been in operation for about three years, according to one local artist who described the space to the San Francisco Chronicle. Although not zoned as a residential living space, it is believed that as many as 18 artists lived there, frequently hosting parties and other events to help pay the rent.
Prefire photos of the Ghost Ship posted Saturday on SFist.com show a beautiful but cluttered space filled with rugs, tapestries, musical instruments, artwork and mismatched furnishings. “The building itself was an art piece,” one attendee of Friday night's party told the Chronicle, but added, “The walls were completely covered with makeshift pieces of wood, so finding the staircase if you’d never been there before was difficult.”
SFGate.com reports that officials have confirmed that the warehouse did not have the necessary permits to operate as an event space. They also believe the building did not have a functioning sprinkler system. It remains unclear how many people were in attendance when the fire broke out.
Although the party was billed on a Facebook event page as the “Golden Donna 100% Silk 2016 West Coast Tour,” Brown says that she and Britt did not book the event and have never been to the Ghost Ship warehouse. She says she assumes that the space was booked by one or more of the Bay Area artists on the bill, possibly Cherushii, though she wasn't sure.
As a small, independent label with limited resources, 100% Silk relies on a loose network of its artists' friends and like-minded creatives to find spaces in which to play shows, an arrangement Brown said is common in the realm of underground electronic music, where few artists or labels have large enough fan bases to work with “big-name” booking agents.
“When an artist is touring and they do the West Coast, Britt and I are their resource in Los Angeles,” Brown said, noting that her partner had just helped book Golden Donna to perform at a DTLA warehouse space called Werk on Nov. 26. “When they move up to the Bay, we hook them up with a Silk artist or sort of like a Silk affiliate in the city and they take it from there.”
Brown stressed that artists such as Golden Donna primarily play unpermitted DIY spaces not by choice but out of necessity.
“It’s incredibly hard in cities like Los Angeles and the Bay [Area] and New York to find shows for artists of this size and this type,” she said. “There is a fan base for them, but these aren’t the indie rock, Satellite, Echo people. There’s no infrastructure for electronic music to have these safe spaces. … [It] has nothing to do with these artists being unsafe or these artists wanting to be dangerous or to be put in dangerous situations. This is about these artists needing to find a place to play.
“It’s a complete tragedy, but I absolutely understand what led these people to that particular venue. We’ve all tried to find interesting and open-minded galleries around the country for our community to play in,” she added. “I would hate for any blame or any finger-pointing to go toward any of the artists who booked that show or any of the fans who went to that show. Just because you walk into a space and recognize it as unsafe in a brief flash does not mean that you fully process what could potentially be a worst-case nightmare scenario.”
[Update, Sunday, Dec. 4, 5:10 p.m.: The number of confirmed dead at the time of this article's publication was 30. It now stands at 33. If it continues to rise, we will update this story accordingly.]
[Update, Tuesday, Dec. 6: The death toll in the fire has risen to 36. Chelsea Faith Dolan is among the victims who have now been identified by authorities. Johnny Igaz remains unaccounted for.]
[Update, Wednesday, Dec. 7: Johnny Igaz is now reported to be among the identified victims.]