The aftermath of the Ghost Ship fire, which killed 36 at an underground electronic music event in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood a year ago this Dec. 2, has dramatically altered parts of the cultural landscape in Oakland. And throughout the past year, musicians have released many memorial titles — either tribute compilations, or resurfaced music from those who died.
The higher-profile contributors include EMA, the songwriting vehicle of Erika M. Anderson, who earlier this year released a spare, affecting home-recording called “Stand With You (Song For Ghost Ship).” In it, Anderson repeats a resonant phrase atop diffuse organ and pattering percussion: “You shouldn’t have to decide between being safe and being free.”
As a musician who once ran an underground venue in West Oakland, Anderson knows the cultural importance of such spaces. And recently, several albums have been released to raise money for similar arts spaces now under scrutiny by officials from the City of Oakland.
Sales of the following releases support organizations such as Safer DIY Spaces, Oakland Family Fund, and Immediate Fire Relief Fund — all outfits intent on protecting both the safety and freedom that underground venues continue to afford so many in Oakland.
Various Artists, ‘Run the Length of Your Wildness’
This compilation takes its name from a recurring dance-party in San Francisco cofounded in 2015 by Chelsea Faith, a producer known as Cherushii, who died in the Ghost Ship fire. It features a track each from Cherushii (a great, pulsing piece called “The Industrial City”), and Nackt, the techno vehicle of Johnny Igaz, another local artist who died in the fire, as well as “One for Cherushii” by Run the Length of Your Wilderness cofounder Ben Winans as Roche. (Separately, local label Left Hand Path will release a posthumous, four-song release by Nackt on Dec. 2.) All profit from sales of Run the Length of the Your Wildness, which is out digitally and on vinyl Dec. 1, benefits the families of Faith and Igaz.
Golden Donna, ‘Carousel Hold’
Golden Donna, the adventurous house outlet of 100% Silk Records associate Joel Shanahan, was among the acts booked to perform last Dec. 2 at Ghost Ship. The Madison, Wisconsin artist, who continues to have close ties to the Bay Area after surviving the fire, released Carousel Hold in February. Half of the proceeds are committed to the community-based Immediate Fire Relief Fund, and the other half to the recovery of Samuel “Peaches” Maxwell, who sustained serious injuries in the fire. It’s a simmering, introspective set of six subtly enveloping pieces, most with monosyllabic titles (“Time,” “Held,” “Weight,” etc.) befitting the solemnity of Shanahan’s experience last year and its ongoing after-effects.
Various Artists, ‘Lives Through Magic’
April saw the release of Lives Through Magic, a 40-song benefit compilation for the Immediate Fire Relief Fund and the Trans Assistance Project (three transgender women died in the fire), organized by former DFA Records label manager Kris Petersen. The compilation, released digitally and on cassette, offers an eclectic, globetrotting mix of electronic music by high-profile acts such as YACHT and Helado Negro, as well as emerging figures including the hardware-oriented local producer Russell E.L. Butler, who was scheduled to perform at Ghost Ship the night of the fire. The spirit of the selections, like the name of the compilation, evinces the community-building positivity of electronic music — rather than the staggering tragedy that prompted their release. The title references a Keith Haring quote that reminds Petersen of the communal creative energy of underground music: “Drawing is still basically the same as it has been since prehistoric time. It brings together man and the world. It lives through magic.”
Various Artists, ‘Love Oakland: A Benefit for Those Affected by the Ghost Ship Fire’
The rock-oriented, 12-song Love Oakland compilation features mostly local and formerly local artists. Thee Oh Sees bandleader John Dwyer’s synthesizer outlet Damaged Bug kicks it off, followed shortly by a strong set of tracks by Bay Area punk and post-punk groups Nopes, Naked Lights, and Scraper. Released digitally and on vinyl in July by the formerly local, now LA-based label Loose Grip Records, it was mastered DIY Safer Spaces organizer Jonah Strauss and benefits the Oakland Family Fund. Love Oakland, which also features contributions by Tony Molina and Silver Shadows, includes one of few available recorded documents of HGS, a careening, madcap rock outfit from Oakland that disbanded after losing a key member in the fire — beloved artist and curator Ara Jo.
Various Artists, ‘Rogue Pulse / Gravity Collapse’
The most ambitious fire-relief benefit release is Rogue Pulse / Gravity Collapse, a 10-disc, 183-track compilation housed in unique artist prints. Released by Oakland label Ratskin Records, a reliable purveyor of local underground electronic music, it features prominent acts such as Michigan avant-rock group Wolf Eyes, cult synth figure John Duncan, and influential “culture-jammers” Negativland, as well as a fittingly ace slate of Bay Area artists including Spellling, Ragana, SBSM, and Black Spirituals. (Full disclosure: This writer’s band contributed a song.) Label founder Michael Daddona, a musician and booker who lost close friends and collaborators in the fire, decided to split proceeds evenly between three organizations: sex-worker health clinic St. James Infirmary, Black Lives Matter’s national bail fund, and the Immediate Fire Relief Fund. The idea is to emphasize the broad range of people affected by the fire, rather than a narrow cast of artists.