Griffin Madden.
Griffin Madden.

Griffin Madden, 'Extremely Smart, Gifted' Student and Broad-Minded DJ

Griffin Madden, 'Extremely Smart, Gifted' Student and Broad-Minded DJ

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Those who were close to Griffin Madden, 23, say that he disliked the aphorism “YOLO” -- “You Only Live Once” -- and much preferred “YOLF”: “You Only Live Forever.”

This outlook is clearly encapsulated in a description from Madden’s girlfriend, Saya Tomioka, about a date the couple enjoyed together in New York City: “We spent the whole night laughing our asses off during The Book of Mormon on Broadway,” Tomioka writes on Facebook. “I can still feel your laughter shaking my seat. Then you tried to impress me by buying a pretzel and bargaining the seller to drop the price by a dollar. Then we walked to Times Square. I can still feel the rush of life from that very moment. The lights filled my heart with excitement; the massive number of people energized every fiber of my being. And right beside me was my best friend, my brightest love.”

Griffin Madden and Saya Tomioka.
Griffin Madden and Saya Tomioka. (via Facebook)

Madden graduated from UC Berkeley in 2015 with a double major in philosophy and Slavic languages and literature. He spent two summers participating in a program at Middlebury College, throughout which he spoke exclusively in Russian. He recently won a full-time position at UC Berkeley’s performing arts presenter Cal Performances as an audience services associate after ushering at the venue for five years.

As a part of the collective Tri Works, Madden often made mixes to post to Soundcloud and DJed parties in the Bay Area. Three days after the warehouse fire, he was scheduled to DJ in San Francisco with Golden Donna and Cherushii, two musicians on the bill at Ghost Ship the night of the fire.

Friend Sean Sumler says Madden possessed infectious positivity and great creativity. As a DJ and passionate clubber, Madden's passion for music extended across many genres, including jazz, choral, classical and world music. “During one show where I performed in San Francisco, I remember Griffin dancing directly in front of me and my table,” Sumler says. “While he danced, it was obvious that he and I had the same investment in making the room move.”

Griffin Madden and Saya Tomioka
Griffin Madden and Saya Tomioka in Times Square. (Arken Avan)

An artist who knew Madden and asked not to be named remembers a night at The Lab. “I believe it was Griffin's first time to The Lab and he was just in utter paradise,” she says. “He was so excited about everything that was happening, and everyone who was there, and how fabulous and talented they all were. I haven't met many people who were nearly as excited to be amongst art, talent and friends like he was. I hung out with him for a while that night talking about his school and philosophy. He was really interested in Heidegger and we got talking about that for a long time. He was an extremely smart, gifted young man that brought everyone he met joy.”


“That’s the spirit and the way we choose to remember Griffin,” says Madden’s father, Mike, who describes his son an original thinker with an unquenchable curiosity. Father and son often engaged in long philosophical discussions sparked by questions like, "What is the meaning of time? And does time even exist?"

“Your light touched so, so, so, many people, and you taught/will continue to teach us to live our lives just as fully, youthfully and kindly as you did,” writes Tomioka on Facebook. “I promise you that I will never stop dancing; I'll dance even harder. I will never stop laughing; I'll laugh even louder. I will never stop loving; I'll love even prouder.”


To hear Madden's mixes, see his Soundcloud page.

For his involvement in Tri Works, see Tri Works' Soundcloud page.

To read a heartwarming story of how the above photograph taken in Times Square came back into Tomioka's possession, see here.

For more of our tributes to the victims of the Oakland warehouse fire, please visit our remembrances page here.

For a printable poster of the illustration above, see here.