Jonathan Bernbaum wasn't a close friend of mine. In college, we were both debaters. He was smarter than me, a better speaker than me. He told better jokes. At one point after graduation we both lived in Oakland – within 3 blocks of each other – and we never hung out even though we both said we should. It wasn't until 2012, more than ten years since we'd last seen each other, that our paths crossed again. I was at a show, covering the event for edmsauce. I've always loved talking to the crew, the sound effects guy, the lighting experts, to get their take on what makes the show special. I was just taking a screen video of the setup when an incredulous voice said, “Rachelle?” And there he was. Jon B. At first I didn't recognize him. It was just too crazy – someone I actually knew! And who knew he even liked EDM? How did he even get the VJ Job? I had so many questions. I stood behind him, watching him work the whole set. Like almost everyone I know working in the music business, he was happy. And he was good – his work was amazing. We bear hugged as we said our goodbyes somewhere around 3am and swore we'd keep in touch. But we didn't. The last I'd heard, Jon had recently been helping out at bigger and bigger events, like EDC and Ultra.
For the last 2.5 years, he'd been working for Knife Party worldwide; he had made it into the big leagues.
You've probably seen his work even if you didn't know it.
When I read the News about the warehouse fire in Oakland, I didn't think of Jon. Didn't know he still lived in Oakland. It's a band I hadn't heard of, in a rundown building. But he was there. Everyone who knew him is hoping for some kind of miracle where it turns out he stumbled out and is currently at the hospital alive. If you are reading this, imagine that this was your friend. Imagine that this one night you decided not to go out; that the show your friend went to burned to the ground. Imagine never seeing them again. Imagine the news articles saying things like “remains are too charred to be recognizable.”
For Jon – I am so, so sorry that you weren't sick with the flu. That you didn't decide to stay in and watch Netflix or work on your latest psychedelic video, that you weren't in some foreign country VJing a different gig. I hate that you are gone, even if we'd only seen each other twice in 12 years. EDC, Ultra, and so many shows will be lesser because you arent there.
So readers, if you've read this far, and I hope that you have, I would like one thing from you in memorial for the people who died in that warehouse, including Jonathan. Promise yourself, that next time, that every time from now on, when you go to a show you will notice where the exits are, you will know where a window that unlocks is. I've covered shows for 5 years and there are hundreds of unsafe venues in America. There are rarely sprinklers. There are always too many people. Please know how to get out in case of emergency.
Read more about Jonathan Bernbaum here and here, or see some of his other visuals on his vimeo channel. Also, you can make a donation to the Jonathan Bernbaum scholarship memorial fund at USC here.