Preventing Another Oakland Warehouse Tragedy Means Supporting Artists, Not Punishing Them
In light of the tragic fire claiming over 30 lives in Oakland this past weekend, Village Voice's Sophie Weiner discusses the importance of art spaces like the GhostShip warehouse and its role in the history of underground dance music.This article originally appeared on Village Voice
Mourners hug next to flowers near the site of the warehouse fire in Oakland, CA December 4, 2016.
Jay L. Clendenin for the Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
As the death toll rises from a devastating fire that tore through the Ghost Ship arts space in Oakland, California on Friday, opportunistic publications have begun spinning. Their assessments of the tragedy emphasize the illegal nature of the space, which was neither zoned for housing nor permitted to host events. The New York Times called it a "fire trap;" the Daily Mail, always searching for opportunities to sensationalize, called the space a “death trap” and a “commune”, describing the party as a “rave”—a term that’s nearly impossible to define.
To those outside this tight-knit scene, it may seem bizarre to attend a party in an unpermitted warehouse without sufficient exits or even a proper staircase. But understanding why spaces like Ghost Ship exist—and why they’re so important—is essential as we grapple with the future of grassroots arts spaces in the Bay Area, New York, and beyond.
The party Friday was a showcase for the Los Angeles-based electronic label 100% Silk, whose artists focus on updated versions of classic house music, the genre from which nearly everything we think of today as dance music has evolved. It began in Chicago at a utilitarian venue called The Warehouse, opened by the promoter Robert Williams in 1976. DJs like Frankie Knuckles used multiple turntables to piece together disco songs into a continuous, thumping beat. This style became known as “house music,” a name derived from the venue where it was born.
From the beginning, this new form of music was demonized and persecuted by authorities and the public...