I didn't want to write anything about Barron Machat's death; until a couple of hours ago, I was half-expecting him to pop up online, teasing everyone for believing the rumors. Barron could go from very serious to very silly in the bat of a eye—discussing conspiracy theories in wide-eyed detail and then collapsing into giggles after providing his own take on it—and that was one of the things I liked about him. While we're yet to see an official statement outside this post on his father Steven Machat's Instagram, the Wikipedia page for the record label he founded, Hippos In Tanks, states the following: "It was confirmed that its founder Barron Machat died in a car crash in Miami on April 8th, 2015."
We first met in May 2011, when he and his then-partner in Hippos In Tanks, Travis Woolsey, were accompanying two of the acts on the label, Laurel Halo and Gatekeeper, on tour in Europe. I got the impression that he was never happier than when he was on the road with his artists, whether he was carrying their bags or hatching grand plans into the small hours after the show.
At the time I was helping to run London music site Dummy, working part-time alongside editor Charlie Jones (now at Dazed Digital) and Tamara El Essawi (now at Warp sister company, Bleep). The three of us were all enamored with Hippos: here was a tiny label putting out beautifully weird records and expecting you to embrace them like they were missives from above. Of course, things didn't always work out the way he wanted to them to, but Barron came up in a time when independent music was staring a huge opportunity in the face: the old system was crumbling, and no-one had any solid ideas on what the new way was. That meant anything was game, and he went for it.
For a businessman, he took everything very personally. Hippos wasn't just a label to Barron, it was a platform for his dreams—and they were big. The faith that he had in his artists' ability to transcend the underground could occasionally come across as naivety, but his ears were astute, maybe even ahead of their time. While more recently he had switched his focus from the label to managing Swedish rapper Yung Lean, his legacy is a back catalog that reads like a who's-who of those truly pushing the envelope in electronic music: alongside Laurel Halo and Gatekeeper, there was James Ferraro, Arca, Daniel Lopatin and Joel Ford's side-project Games, d'Eon, Autre Ne Veut, Physical Therapy, Nguzunguzu, Sleep Over, White Car, Hype Williams, and solo releases from both Inga Copeland and Dean Blunt. These are all records that stand up today: bold, moving, and full of ideas. Through Hippos, he introduced me to so much thrilling music that, hand on heart, changed both the way I listen and what I look for in a record.
But personally, the memory that that will always stay with me is Barron promising Charlie and I he was gonna take us to "the spot" in east London one very late night a few months after that first meeting. The spot turned out to be behind an incredibly high wall that Barron insisted we climb over by scrabbling atop a parking meter and reaching to a ledge to pull ourselves up on. On the other side was a thick perpendicular wall running above the train tracks below. We sat on that wall, drank some beers and talked about life and love and music. A little later it transpired why it was "the spot": the night sky gave way to the most beautiful dawn view, and I saw London through Barron's eyes for a minute.