Remembering Barron Machat, the Label Boss Who Took Pop In Wild, New Directions

The Hippos in Tanks founder who released music by Grimes and Oneohtrix Point Never passed away last week, but leaves behind an ever-expanding legacy.

Last week, famed music lawyer Steven Machat posted a photo of himself and his 27-year-old son Barron seated courtside at a Miami Heat basketball game with the caption: “Barron left us physically today. But he is hovering around all who know us asking me to tell you he is ok and loves you all.”

The news of Machat’s death in a car accident early Wednesday morning soon spread throughout the web and a generation of new music makers express their grief on social media. “Awful news this AM of Barron Machat’s passing,” Oneohtrix Point Never’s Dan Lopatin wrote on Twitter, while Kanye West and Björk collaborator Arca also tweeted, “One of the gentlest souls I’d ever met. Can’t believe this.”

Machat’s label Hippos in Tanks appeared out of nowhere in 2010 with a young roster and an aesthetic that embraced the sounds of Eighties pop, modern R&B, noise, folk, techno, new age and more without being beholden to the past. In less than five years, a strange new world of sound would emerge. The label (co-founded with Travis Woolsey) may have taken its name from an obscure collaborative work from beat writers Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs (1945’s “And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks”), but the label acronym ‘HIT’ spoke to Machat’s ultimate vision for the label.

His most prolific artists were James Ferraro and Dean Blunt, progenitors of the musical sub-genre “hypnagogic pop” that blended samples, leftfield songcraft, bass music and electronic washes in a manner that escaped easy categorization. A few HIT artists — ranging from Arca and Oneohtrix Point Never to indie ‘it’ girl Grimes and world beat-gobblers Nguzunguzu — have since risen to a position of prominence, their musical sensibilities now subliminally felt on the current pop landscape. In the last year alone, these artists have collaborated or toured with Björk, Nine Inch Nails, Lana Del Rey, FKA twigs and the Timbaland-vetted Tink, suggesting that HIT’s influence will only grow more pervasive in the years ahead.