Countless times I have gone searching with friends for a map point where we are handed directions to an old warehouse or office building in the middle of a dilapidated neighborhood.
Reading and watching the news reports surrounding the devastation of the “Ghost Ship” warehouse fire in Oakland, CA. has devastated my friends and I in the electronic music scene.
As of Tuesday there have been 36 bodies recovered within the smoldering destruction. Fire crews will continue to search for the missing including Cheslea Faith, a friend of my friend Marcel Videla, after structural issues are addressed.
The location was chosen by the art collective’s mentor and leader Derick Ion Almena, 46, who lived at the warehouse with his wife and their three children, complete with themed areas and a loft area for shows that utilized a makeshift staircase that crumbled in the fire.
Approximately 20 to 30 artists were in and out at various times working on their art and living as squatters at the location which was zoned for business purposes only.
Oakland authorities were aware of the issues because the surrounding neighbors had complained about the trash collection that was accumulating around the compound.
Many of these former legitimate businesses are full of debris and clutter, missing doors and windows, they have poor electrical systems with often exposed wiring, wobbling stairs, flexing floors and have little to no fire and safety protection or protocols and many are not up to city code.
“When I first started to DJ raves in 1992, I was 18 and it was common to find yourself in a random warehouse in Los Angeles,” Jacob Ofilas, known as Thee-O, said, “you know these spots weren’t meant to house parties, no marked exits, a rollaway door was the way in and out but as a young adult you didn’t think about what if I had to escape?”
So many people are having to traverse obstacles in order to get into the building, let alone the DJ booth. Having to lug equipment over hazards that are potentially deadly in many instances is the main factor why a lot of injuries occur at parties.
Owners of these warehouses, that number in the thousands, are often burdened with the task of getting businesses to stay in their location so they often make exceptions for who they rent or lease to.
They rent the space but don’t do any upkeep on the property, they run it with a slumlord mentality.
On the other hand those seeking a place of refuge for their inspirations and creativity, like the artists housed at “Ghost Ship,” are in many ways forced to put up with unsanitary, chaotic and often hazardous conditions.
As most artists can attest, being an artist doesn’t pay that well until your big break. Also getting paid on a consistent basis is not as routine as going to work for a nine-to-five job where you get paid every 2 weeks.
It seems in this case, gentrification and the higher cost of living in San Francisco may have parlayed an action to move underground artists out of the city, which used to accept an alternative lifestyle of art and performance, into a down trodden segregated property for hoarders and squatters.
San Francisco’s electorate caters to Silicon Valley smart kids rather than its own bread in the arts kids who relish in circuit bending old Casio keyboards and painting on fossilized wood.
Los Angeles has gone through similar changes over the years and we are seeing it more and more turn into a landscape of generic office buildings surrounded by corporate owned “cool” stores.
“Skid row” has a lot of these warehouses that are used in order to host parties because getting a legit club venue costs way too much money.
You can’t rent a legit venue in the city for $2000 and expect to make your money back, let alone make a profit, from 30 kids that listen to Hardcore Techno, even if 15 of them paid because we all know the other 15 are on the guest list.
Things need to change between cities and the artists that make it a culturally viable spot to grow and learn.
City officials have to make their city as artist friendly as possible so we don’t have kids running into death traps and artists have to take more responsibility for their actions and how they conduct their business, we cannot create art if we are dead.