As the DIY community reels from the fatal fire that claimed the lives of 36 artists, teachers, and musicians in the Oakland Ghost Ship fire on Friday, news about the victims has emerged. On Sunday, the Alameda County Coroner’s Office identified Nick Gomez-Hall, a 25-year-old native of Coronado, California who played in the “rattlesnake rock” band Nightmom as a victim of the blaze.
Gomez-Hall was a force in the Bay’s music and arts community, an active member of the DIY scene and a designer at Berkeley publishing house Counterpoint Press. After graduating from Brown University in 2013, Gomez-Hall worked with community-based organizations in Providence, including the Swearer Center’s after-school program at the D’Abate Community School, according to The Providence Journal.
In the wake of Gomez-Hall’s death, there has been an outpouring of grief from friends and family, all of whom describe him as a playful, loving, and generous being. Victoria Ruiz, the frontperson of Providence-born punk band Downtown Boys, posted a heartfelt public tribute to Gomez-Hall, who was a friend and collaborator. “Thanks for…inviting me to eat tacos and go bowling and making me believe in love, others, and myself,” she wrote on Facebook. “Thanks for making us all believe in something bigger than ourselves.” Downtown Boys also posted a statement expressing gratitude for his friendship and support for the band. “You always inspired us to believe in the desire to make the world happen over everything else.”
On Friday, Counterpoint shared memories of Gomez-Hall on Facebook. “Whether he was recommending new music to listen to (and it was always so good), regaling us with tales of the bowling alley, offering his beloved truck for a ride if anyone needed it, or sharing his much appreciated opinions about a book jacket or manuscript, he made everyone feel like they were his friend.” Bandmate Travis Lloyd shared a somber reflection about their friendship on Facebook as well. “There’s no one better or more beloved than you. You are a muse to so many and will never stop guiding us…all my dreams are your dreams. all of us will continue to love each other and believe in the lives we think are possible.”
As the Bay’s underground music scene processes the loss of Gomez-Hall and 35 other integral members of the arts community, recognizing the importance of these spaces for people of color, gender non-conforming, and LGBTQ folks remains paramount. Warehouses like Ghost Ship do not exist as mere entertainment; they are sanctuaries, where marginalized communities find both financial and emotional support and survival. These are spaces designed as alternatives to profit-oriented and predatory clubs, the fruit of extensive emotional and physical labor from artist collectives. Russell E.L. Butler, an experimental DJ who was set to perform at Friday’s show, captured this sentiment in an interview with The East Bay Express. “We need spaces that are open to folks who are beaten down and oppressed by living daily under patriarchy and white supremacy.”
As Sam Levin reported for The Guardian, Bay Area housing activists have fought to discourage the city from punishing local artist communities for the tragedy. Nihar Bhatt, a DJ and record label owner who survived the blaze, told The Guardian, “warehouse parties have been a central part of Oakland for decades.” Bhatt mentions that several members of the arts community were planning to voice their concerns about safety and fire hazards at Ghost Ship with the owner. But Levin notes that exponentially rising rent prices in the city “have forced people to live and make art in shared and sometimes hazardous spaces.” While event organizers have a responsibility to protect patrons to the best of their ability, as Levin emphasizes, the fire is also a consequence of “the long-term failure of urban housing policy to protect the most vulnerable people.” As the tragedy demonstrates, public institutions have little investment in providing artists with safe and comfortable spaces to live and work.
A vigil for Gomez-Hall and the other victims of the fire was held Monday evening at the Oakland Pergola and Colonnade at Lake Merritt.