It was in June 2008, when an infant spark erupted within the back lot of Universal Studios in Hollywood; and before there was a moment to even blink, a massive fire engulfed the film studio. For almost an entire 24 hours, the fire lapped up everything within its path, greedily gorging on the film studio’s assets from iconic films. As the studio and theme park burned, along with the Video Vault (which luckily only contained duplicates of the film library) over 500 firefighters braced the flames which took a staggering 12 hours to be contained; with few even suffering minor injuries.
Although this was the ninth fire in the studio’s history (dating back all the way to 1932) this is thought to be one of the most damaging in their history; not only due to the lost of various iconic sets from films such as Back to The Future, but the pain of archived footage left in ashes. An estimated 50,000 copies of Universal’s film history was lost. However at the time, it was announced by Universal President Ron Meyer:
“Nothing irreplaceable was lost. We have duplicates of everything that was lost.”
Although devastating, this news at least provide some comfort and they began to rebuild. However, 11 years later; the studio has been outed as keeping the true extent of the damages to themselves. This month, thanks to a New York Times article – it’s been revealed that the studio failed to mention that a warehouse, named Building 6197, had too been engulfed in flames. The significance of this is staggering considering the severity of the damage caused, with absolutely no public knowledge of this incident. Building 6197 did contain a video vault as previously mentioned, however – it seems there was a failure to mention that the massive archive of music accumulated throughout many years by the Universal Music Group, was left in embers and ashes.
The building contained a massive archive of master recordings by some of the most famous, iconic artists and bands in modern history; none of whom were, until now, even aware that their work (including unheard tracks from the likes of Nirvana, R.E.M and more) were engulfed in flames and completely destroyed. It has also been revealed that earlier, ‘forgotten’ acts from a myriad of genres across the years were lost – completely destroyed, likely never to be heard again – only documented.
It has been estimated that approximately 500,000 tracks (Yes, five hundred thousand songs) were lost – from alternate versions of tracks, to master tapes, outtakes, documentations, and unreleased material. With such a catastrophic loss of the archives of music history, one would think this would have graced every single news station and publication when the extent of the damages were shared with the public in 2008. Unfortunately, it took an astonishing 11 years for this information to be released – all the artists affected left in the dark until this month; which is quite surreal.
In response to the news, Universal Music Group are now being hit by lawsuits from artists for this very reason; aside from the shocking, gut-wrenching news of such extreme damages – the fact that this was kept from affected musicians for over a decade is perhaps one of the most upsetting facts to surface from this debacle.
Bands such as Hole and Soundgarden are amongst those who have filed class-action lawsuits, and this even extends further to the estates of Tom Petty and 2Pac – seeking compensation of at least $100 million in damages. Although the record giants have stated that this never affected the commercial release of the artists music or compensation; Universal were allegedly required to share income from the insurance payout.
The lack of transparency by Universal Music Group is quite astounding, especially considering the severity of the damages; and the time it took for this issue to not only be addressed – but to become public to those who were directly affected.
At this rate, we sincerely hope that a tenth fire does not occur in Universal Studio’s foreseeable future.
Words by Jenna Dreisenstock