RIP: Barron Machat, Co-Founder of Hippos In Tanks

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Hippos in Tanks logo

Hippos in Tanks logo

I met Barron about 4 years ago at El Coyote.

Like a cliche, I totally walked in super late and I looked around the empty restaurant and all I saw was this smiling kid in a booth.

I looked right at him, the only dude in the room and was unsure if I was looking at Barron because A) he was so remarkably young and B) his social media avatar was a picture of Whoopi Goldberg in Burglar, so some part of me was expecting her maybe.

He had this baby face with a five o’clock shadow, and a dark shock of curls popping out from underneath his crisp Kings cap, he was seated in a booth with 2 sweating margaritas already on the table.

Barron was incredibly polite and had a tender hyperbolic sweetness that disarmed me. My cynical self needed a moment to adjust to, because I initially thought he was putting me on.

We exchanged appreciative platitudes and we spoke briefly about radio and the birth of his label Hippos in Tanks at KXLU but conversation shifted pretty quickly to his artists and their releases. Not as a hard sell, but because he was soooooo incredibly excited about their work…at that moment he had stars in his eyes comparing Laurel Halo to Aphex Twin and talking about how James Ferraro’s upcoming Far Side Virtual is an undeniable masterpiece.

How he spoke about artists/friends and the label made me feel that what drove him and the label was an all consuming need to make a space where their work could exist and shine.

He wasn’t trying to be fashionable and/or cash in. Or trying to “be cool.”

He was curating a label because he believed in the beauty and importance of the work.

It was the most naively idealist and simultaneously bold and mature way of being/thinking I’ve experienced from someone, anyone in the music industry.

It’d be a lie to say that profitability wasn’t an aspect he was hoping for, I mean, the impression he gave me was that all of his artists were superstars just waiting to be discovered.

I just gathered that getting paid wasn’t the driving force. He knew and acknowledged that they were artists first and foremost.

Nowadays, this word gets bandied about and applied to virtually anyone with a social media account like some ol’ bullshit, but I defy anyone to listen to any Halo, Ferraro, Arca, Blunt and tell me it’s not more art than pop.

That artful quality makes them a bit weird, but also frames them outside of time.

In 10 years time, we’ll listen back to the miserable pop dreck (both indie and commercial) and it’ll sound so painfully now.

But The Narcissist II and Far Side Virtual will be harder to pin down.

Is this weird new age synth cyberworld stuff from before Y2K? Is Dean Blunt pre trip-hop? Post-trip-hop? What is this? And that only after one’s already lost themselves in the sumptous experience of listening to them over and over again.

In talking about a little bit about LA and movies and art, although he didn’t outright say so, I got the feeling that what he was enthralled by was the feeling of it being a physical Virtual Reality. Not in some hokey, negatively charged false video-game way, but rather that quality of it having it’s own strange rules and endless possibilities.

How LA feels like a waking dream where one can invent and reinvent oneself.

At the time, and even now, I couldn’t see/hear people championing Hippos in Tanks as much as people should.

The mere act of it being is reason enough to champion it, let alone the output.

That Hippos in Tanks was, served as a firelight and reminder you don’t have to do it anyone else’s way. You can do you and when you do and do it well, it’s undeniable and unforgettable. It is a testament to the incalculable value of being true to the art instead of the “game.”

Sadly, specifics of our conversation elude me. We ate a lot of chips and salsa and the margaritas were pretty freaking solid. And when we left the spot we stood out front under the neon and just kept kicking it for awhile til we said our goodbyes.

Barron’s good heart really struck me and inspires me. A gentle soul and remarkably good dude, I ran into him a number of times out and about at shows and he was always always as excited and warm and effusive as he was that night at El Coyote.

Every Facebook chat was full of CAPITAL letters and exclamation points…

It broke my heart to hear of his passing because not only did families and friends lose a loved one but genuine, thoughtful and thought-provoking music lost a friend and a champion.

Barron Machat was a real good one and he’ll be missed and I’m grateful for the output, spirit and legacy of Hippos in Tanks.