Barron had this apartment in Shoreditch that he used as a place for bands to crash. The building was nice, but the apartment was a mess. After months of bands coming through for just a couple days at a time, the floors were streaked with a grey coating, and there were miscellaneous sleeping bag stuff sacks in various corners. A lone full-size mattress sat in the corner of one room, with a fully outfitted bed in the next. Barron didn’t much seem to mind, even though a broker would come through and show the apartment every so often. The place was convenient, and it was open to anyone that needed it. When Jamie and I planned to come to London for a couple days, we already had a place to stay, but I remember Barron insisting that we stay at his place just for one night. The lead up didn’t feel too far off from when you’re a kid and you’re getting invited to a slumber party — the fact that you’re sleeping under one roof is not really the point, it’s more that you’re all going to hang out together.
After eating literally the worst pizza I have ever had in my entire life, Barron, Jamie, and I headed back to his place. The iPad had just been released, and I remember Barron showing his off, still unsure what he was actually going to do with it, but telling me he mostly used it for Fantasy Sports, before tossing it on that mattress, telling me that I “had to get one.”
Barron was an anomaly. He came from a family of music industry experts, and that came with a rare kind of power not normally afforded to people that were interested in releasing left-field electronic music and conceptual art. The fact that Barron was able to do this made me suspicious. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting to hear about whatever the catch was — and maybe there was a catch for some. For me, it was just genuine kindness — a recognition in those gleaming eyes that we both liked a very specific kind of music and that that was worth holding on to.
After London, Jamie and I were heading to Barcelona for a couple days, and then had to end the trip to come back to the States to work. I rememer Barron telling me that I had to keep going, to keep exploring, like the whole job thing wasn’t important. Coming from most people, this would have been annoying — a sort of “I don’t understand how you can’t live like me,” but that was the moment when I figured that Barron didn’t exactly look at the world the same way as I did.
For him, it was all about what you wanted to do. He seemed to look at his label, Hippos in Tanks, as a place where you could live out your wild music fantasies and still retain control. He wanted to release challenging, independent music with the power of a major label behind it.
His records were all high production value and they were everywhere. It’s impossible to state how big a deal this was at the time. A lot of the stuff by similar artists was often hard or impossible to find, and when you did find it, you were paying egregious import prices. Suddenly, I could walk into a Virgin Megastore and find a Laurel Halo record. It would have felt like a new frontier if it wasn’t so isolated from everything else that was happening at the time.
What I will always remember about Barron is how he trusted me. When I expressed interest in Hype Williams — the notoriously reclusive (when it came to interviews) duo — he got me on a garbled Skype call with Dean Blunt, which went pretty well until I had to admit a few minutes in that I could only hear like every fifth word. Blunt and I both said we’d pick it up again, but never did. I remember not thinking that it was too big a deal, but Barron emailed after, apologizing for it not working out.
Another time, around the release of James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual, an album that I am still not sure I even like but am definitely fascinated by, Barron asked if I would be up for interviewing him. I said I was, and Barron set up the interview at Union Square tourist trap Max Brenner: Chocolate by the Bald Man. We didn’t end up doing the interview there, instead heading next door to a Cosi — a much more low-key chain that specializes in weirdly addictive flatbread — but the sentiment was there. Barron recognized something in me and wanted me to engage with the art he was releasing on my own terms, just like how he wanted the artists he signed to do the same with their music.
I am 100% certain that I’m not the only writer that felt this same mix of suspicion and gratefulness. It was a tension that Barron carried in himself. You can see it in pictures where he’s appropriating mall fashion — gaudy rhinestone baseball hats — even as he released records that toyed with the entire concept of consumerism that were then distributed by a major label.
I now chalk that suspicion up to my own cynicism. Barron genuinely believed in what he was doing, and he was creating a road map to get there. That faith in music, and in the artists he loved, was and is so important. Maybe he had his doubts deep down, maybe he wasn’t ever sure if he was doing the right thing, but every time I talked to him, he was excited about what he was going to release, or what he couldn’t release, or what he hoped to someday release.
Not so long ago, I was packing up my apartment to move. I was in the process of getting rid of books I didn’t want to move with — a very difficult task for me. At the end I came upon a fat, torn-up paperback I’d never read. It was a collected version of Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus Chronicles that I’d bought used after that stay in Barron’s Shoreditch apartment. It was not something I’d normally ever pick up. But there it was on the notes in my phone. Barron recommended it to me by telling me about why he loved it. Mostly it boiled down to the fact that he enjoyed reading about conspiracies and the illuminati — things I didn’t care much for at all. But his enthusiasm, his genuine love for what he was talking about, sold me.
Hippos in Tanks was like that too. There was a slippery aesthetic to the label. A sort of neon-coated smoothness that I see in a lot of new art these days. It didn’t all quite cohere, but it didn’t need to. The aesthetic was that Barron loved it, because it fit into his unique, conflicted world view. Barron was not like anyone else I’ve ever known. I’ll miss him.