When I met Chelsea, or as I lovingly called her, Chel-c, I was working at Tower as an electronica buyer and store artist. I saw her coming out of the back door with a stack of classical piano. I felt like a huge wave hit me, I felt flush, and my whole body was in shock. I fell in love at first sight. I talked her ear off about techno as weâ€™re filing dub music together one day and she gave me a tape of her music.. I took it home and started listening to it. The tape was full of indie shoegaze electronic music and the songs were all innovative uses of a 4 track, an effects pedal, a casio keyboard drum machine and what other limited instruments she had cobbled together. I listened dutifully as I was supposed to give a critique. There was a track on it called Marchpane that seemed strangely unique. When I listened to it again, I had the feeling more and more it was about me. I touched my lips and was enraptured by her talents. this is someone truly special, unique and beautiful in every way. I gave her the critique in the form of a letter and at the bottom I hinted that I was smitten. I had been giving her lifts home from work and been reluctant to ask her for her number until one day I just asked her for her number.. I dropped her off at home and after I went home, I paced around asking myself, “should I call her?”
I formulated a plan and called her up.. I asked to meet her and we could go to a cafe in SF and go check out my school at SFAI. Small talk was difficult cause we’re both extremely shy. So we just walked silently up Columbus Ave. and held hands. I showed her my school and we got up to the top deck and looked out over the skyline.. our hearts we racing as we sat down next to each other shoulder to shoulder. And I leaned in to kiss her.. honestly, she was terrible at it. But my heart swelled nonetheless.. I learned later that was her first kiss.
I took her home and showed her the three turntable DJ promo I had desperately/ naively been working on while she was bored stiff and very polite about listening to it. Sometime later, after dinner we’re alone together and I looked into her eyes by the light of the full moon.. I held her so tightly and started crying tears of joy.. “I love you so much!” She started crying and said “Oh Sean. I love you!!” I kissed away her joyful tears; our kisses mingling with the salty tears on our lips.
Days and weeks go by.. we’re happy, young, and very much stupidly, madly in love. A couple years pass, us working together, living together and being joined at the hip, and in 2002 we find ourselves going to Berlin.. as sort of a techno pilgrimage to see the original Tresor before it closed down. We got a loft in Mitte with my Mum and Brother and were techno tourists, record shopping, hitting up every club we could go to or who would let Americans into.. somehow us being from California was our carte blanche.. then Chelsea, Mum, my brother and I thought we should hit up Tresor and we caught a cab. We told the cab driver the address, headed over and as we got out of the cab at Tresor.. the cabby balked at us.. “You’re going to Tresor? and that ist okayy?” We laughed and said “We like techno!”
Soon after we realized why, since the club was essentially beat to shit after many, many years of parties.. but the thing that struck me the most is that everyone there was a real person.. there was no chi-chi attitudes and even the door picker from the other club we went to the night before was there just having a beer with her friend. This club was just a bunch of people with big dreams who really really loved the music. Eventually, we ditched Mum in Globus and left her nursing a pair of beers while she was being approached by the locals, who seemed pleased to see my mother into the music being played. Chelsea, my brother and I headed downstairs into the vault and we were like, ‘this is it! This is fuckin’ techno..!!’
I had read about Frankie Bones taking his experiences of English raves back home with him and I wanted to do the same back at home, only with techno as my main focus. Chelsea was in full support the whole time. And we decided to file for a website in 2003 which is the very site you’re on now.. Chelsea co-founded DEFSF with me in 2003. We started collecting contacts and ideas and launched our first rave in the Tenderloin SF called, Paradigm Shift. We promoted hard, we put our love into it.. and lost a ton of money. We were very green and lacked any experience whatsoever, but the idea of throwing underground parties and promoting local West Coast heads over headliners felt like a truer mission and we continued hammering at it year after year until we became tired, so tired.
Work, promoting and desperately trying to keep up, paid it’s price on us as a couple..
My focus turned more towards DJing and we bought Chelsea her first sequencer.. the RS7000. Then Tower closed. After awhile, we’re both unemployed, the DEFSF site languished. Our techno parties seemed like a memory.. We went to take a break and returned for a month to live in Berlin. We met some really good friends there and spent the whole month in love with the city and being introduced to the underground there. Chelsea was hooked and wanted to return every year.. I couldn’t find myself doing that. I wanted to, but I couldn’t see how it was feasible.
We returned to the bay, more and more Chelsea focused on becoming a talented live PA and myself.. just a humble techno DJ. We got a new loft, started doing internet radio called Radio Integrated.. and for a time, things were good but she was outgrowing me. We both felt it. She wanted to be apart of a band, be with her friends more and do something that was unique to her outside of techno. I felt the weight of unemployment and a few years of unfinished dreams hanging over me. She said one day, I’m going to go to Berlin. I said I couldn’t go with her. Her intent was to join the scene there with her live rig and make a name for herself. I thought it was a fools errand, -told her she’d drown in the attempt. But as Chelsea was, you tell her no, she becomes more resolute. She left saying she would be back.. I was with her at the airport with her Mom. Chelsea was crying profusely as she waved goodbye through the TSA check in.. I couldn’t understand why so I blew her a kiss and threw up an I love you sign. Her mom said proudly.. “Oh, it’s like she’s going off to college!”
Attempts at a long distance relationship were shoddy until one day she just broke it off over IM.. I was beside myself.. I decided I needed to be there in person to do this… I neglected everything I had to do financially, threw it up in the air and got a plane ticket to see her. She greeted me with open arms and everything was fine.. so it seemed. I thought, maybe we can fix this? We kissed and talked in a Ferris wheel above a cold Weihnachtsmarkt in Alexanderplatz with gluhwein in tow. But the feeling of being disconnected grew, and then grew towards sadness as the week passed.. one night, we held each other in a tight embrace, she gave me back my ring as her tears fell onto my face. I recall laughing through my tears.. because, after weeks of not knowing if she gave a damn, I finally knew she cared.. I sat her down and I kissed her tears away and held her, almost never ever wanting to let go.
The following day on Silvester we got a ridiculously dumb amount of fireworks and shitty champagne. Chelsea and I walked around the Fernseher tower until we’re out of fireworks and found ourselves on the subway platform in Alexanderplatz with half empty bottles of champagne. WeÂ sat ourselves down on a bench overlooking the subway tracks amid the madness of New Years eve in Berlin, wondering what was going to happen next. A good feeling of completion and calm fell over us as we drank from our champagne bottles. It was kind of a fitting end to an epic 8 years. We both agreed, that was that, she’d stay in Berlin and I’d be back in the Bay doing my things..
Month rolls by, it’s my birthday.. I’m drunk on door at the monthly techno club Faktion in SF..the word is that Chelsea’s back in town. I’m getting hammered trying not to think about it. I’m happily joking with people as they come in..Then she shows up.. -unexpectedly. I’m freaking the fuck out, tears streaming down my face and I run to Ray Wong, the promoter, saying I gotta leave. Meanwhile Chelsea’s taking money from the people who’re waiting in the cold on Sixth street and dutifully putting it into the cash box. I run out with tears down my face. I’m outside stooped over on a curb outside blubbering like a baby until I was ushered by my friend Quiet Ryan back to his car, due to the fact that cops were looking at me curiously. All the rest of that night, I couldn’t sleep; trading off between uncontrollable crying and staring at the ceiling. The sun peeked in the windows and I went out and to walk along the beach alone with my thoughts racing.. I walked until the sand became rocks and mud and I returned. I got taken out for birthday breakfast and couldn’t finish cause Chelsea and I were making calls. She was also beside herself balled up on a friends couch.
Years go by like this for me… feeling like things were upended and unresolved. I’m left ‘kicking the can’ for many a year and desperately trying to move on, even attempting to erase her from my mind at one point. And meanwhile Chelsea, as talented as she was, was beginning to make a name for herself as a live pa and releasing on labels. Slowly building a great following pushing up her dreams and touring under the label 100% Silk.. While I, I find myself back on the horse closing up loose ends in my old dreams, getting together with my friends, trying to finish up what Chelsea and I started with DEFSF.
This Fall, 2016, DEFSF is rolling well after a great run of parties over the last couple years and Chelsea is on KALX College radio, doing club nights and feeling slightly jaded by the SF scene… we attempted to become friends but there’s still too many broken feelings for that to happen. Chelsea has always been vibrantly and fiercely independent, and would never look back on doing something she did before. The one constant in her life was change. She embraced it.. flew into it headlong and always loved to see what was around the corner. It was like I was an old part of her life. I accepted the fact that I couldn’t talk to her anymore, and that was made evidently clear. So be it, I said..
Any feelings left for us together were long dead. Or so I thought.
Last night on December 3rd 2016 at 3-4 am, our techno party‘s going off. It’s one of the best night’s we’ve had as a collective. Quest had just leveled the room and Dima was on deck pounding it out. We did super well and everyone was hyped and in great spirits. I stopped by to congratulate Ripley and Ripley was on door and he said.. “did you hear about this fire?” He’s showing me video of flames going up into the sky on his phone from a party that’s happening literally down the street. He said “apparently it’s a record release party..”
I thought shit.. fire takes a while to spread. Maybe people got out of it. I didn’t think to put 100% silk to it, or Chelsea to it until I heard them say.. it was that 100% Silk party and there were a lot of people missing. There’s a sinking feeling coming up in our party.. the venue owners are wondering if we should shut our event down. People like Justin were there asking me “What’s this about a fire?”
I tell him, “Apparently there’s a fire down the street. Don’t look at your feed right now.” Other people are still in the dark and being caught up in the techno music at hand in our event and thankfully, blithely ignorant.
It’s 4 am. The word starts coming out around our event that a lot of people are missing from the fire. There’s a grave concern that a lot of people are seriously injured. I still don’t think to connect Chelsea to any of this until Ray Wong says, “Looks like Chelsea’s one of the people still left unaccounted for.”
I feel my breath shortened up, my throat is tightened “That’s really not what I wanted to hear right now.”
At this point, I’m still holding out hope that a lot of people are in the ER and she’s one of them. Badly injured, unconscious but alive and as a ‘Jane Doe’ since her ID probably went up with her purse in the fire. I’m thinking, ‘shit, this means all her gear is wrecked if she wasn’t DJing. She’ll be ruined and cannot make a living touring anymore.. if her hands are burnt badly she can’t play music anymore. It would be a tragedy for her career.’ I’m thinking I should go and buy her flowers and visit her in the hospital. I start making plans in my head to do so.
5 am, We’re cleaning up at our venue and the word is getting out that people are still not found. I get home and there’s a deathtoll at 9. With a missing count at 20. Later hearing it may be 40 missing. The list of the missing includes some of the most talented, well respected people in the scene. Good friends to many and true loving personalities all.. I stop paying attention to the list, covering my eyes to the possibility that Chelsea is probably among the growing list of the dead.
Hope is now waning as most people have given up on the missing turning up alive and are relying on a full coroners report including dental records. At the time of writing this, Chelsea still hasn’t been found or, I guess identified. The very thought of this has been making me cry uncontrollably all day.. the thought of the news hitting her family has me crying for them as well.
Just now, an infra red heat scan has been done to the building by Oakland fire department, if anyone is left in the building.. They’ve surely perished, and most likely Chelsea is among the presumed dead. My one hope now is that I wish.. if anything at all, is that the people who died in the blaze died quickly and painlessly from carbon monoxide poisoning and were not suffering due to direct exposure to flames. I refuse to let their pain enter my mind since the thought of it is traumatizing, grim and horrific. The condolence of people dying without pain is somehow more comforting than the thought of _____.
What is the takeaway? What can we learn from this? Life is cruel, unremittingly unfair.. yet we have to live in it. The joys we have while we are alive must be experienced, cherished. The people in it, loved and loved truly so with every bit of our hearts.
My memory of Chelsea will always be of a person whom opened her heart to everyone. An extremely unique, talented and beautiful person to her very core, who taught me to be a nicer person, or always left me an example on how nice a person could be. A person who tolerated and supported me even at my worst moments in life and was there without fail.. with a smile and a hug. Her love taught me what true.. absolute unwavering true love felt like, through every spectrum of emotion: full of joy, tears, laughter, happiness and heartache. Her mother and sister taught me what it’s like to have a second family to call my own. Our break up taught me humility and impermanence, to value the love you have for someone and to bring that person up as much as possible.. to talk to your significant other as much as possible and be as open-heartedly honest as you can, even when you feel like it will do no good. Her achievements in music made me proud, and left in me in awe, telling me to go for your dreams as we shared our dreams together, no matter how far apart. She always went after her dreams without fear and saw adventure in always wanting to know what happens when you embrace change.
With this final lesson, I’ll have to embrace this change as well. I’m forced to. I have no other choice. Now I grieve; I cry so very hard at the mere thought of her.. .. … but soon I will be thankful to have known and loved such an amazing person in my life for what time I had with her.
I love you always. Forever rest in peace.
Our dear Chelsea.
This is just my story.. But I am sure many other people share stories with Chelsea in their life. Comment section is open and will be moderated.
My heart is broken for you Sean. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing and beautiful story. I know that Tower well, its the first record store I ever went to with my Dad when I was 6 or 7 years old. Tremendous respect and love for you, Chelsea, and all the people in the Bay and beyond right now that are grieving. The true depth of this loss will never really be found.
Thank you for the article, and sorry for your loss. I only briefly met a few of those who died, including Johnny Igaz, but those conversations have stuck with me because of their unique lucidity and the feeling of connection I had. Any of us could have easily been at the party on Friday, and I have not only been haunted by the loss of these beautiful people, but also by the grim and terrifying imagination of what it must have been like, what it would have been like had I been there. You hear about tragedies happening other places all the time, but this is different, it cuts close and fills me with sadness and a kind of terror. The Oakland underground scene will certainly never be the same again.
When I moved to SF, you and Chelsea were two of the first friends I made and you guys always offered so much support and love with what we were doing with WoM and in my life in general. I had fallen out of touch when she moved to Germany but I have a lot of fond memories of the joy that she brought to my life and the life of so many others. I’m feeling a lot of sadness right now but I imagine that it can’t compare to what you’re going through. My heart goes out to you, brother.
Sean, My heart goes out to you, and though it’s been years since I worked at tower with you, I remember Chelsea fondly and miss you man, will stay in touch and come up to see you soon
That was beautifully written. Again words do not adequately describe how sorry I am for the loss of her. <3
Sorry for your loss Sean, powerful words man.
Sean!! She was such a sweet, soft, and gentle person and I am so sorry for you and everyone that lost loved ones in this nightmare and especially to those that made it out alive with or without physical injuries, the mental scarring for those with hurting hearts is gonna be brutal, so I wish everyone that cares peace, love, and empathy!!! And for those that didn’t make it, I hope they are resting peacefully and that their loved ones find the strength they need in this trying time. ^_^
P.S. It’s been too long since I’ve seen or heard from you, and unfortunately it’s not better circumstances, but if you feel like it then send me a message to antiloaf@gmail
I have been deeply saddened by the news of Chelsea. What an absolutely beautiful tribute that you wrote about her and your relationship. It brings me to tears every time that I reread it. What a fantastic writer that you are. I only wish that I could have had a chance to tell her how proud of her that I am of her accomplishments.
I feel so lucky to have been able to work with you both.
Please let her memory be a guiding light throughout your life.
Lots of love to you Sean.
I lost my brother Alex Vega and his girlfriend Michela Gregory there. I send my love and sorrow to you and Chel-C’s family. I hope you all have felt the same love and support that our families continue to have.