Since 2002, Tax Lo has grown from a regular party at the now-defunct Good Love Bar in Canton to a weekly party at the Talking Head to a renown brand name and promotions live-wire, recognized last year by Blender as the country's "Best Dance Party." It began with Justin Sirois, a Good Love bartender, and a collection of DJ friends (Jason Urick, Tonie Joy, and Mike Singer), and over the years has changed hands to the duo of Cullen Nawalkowsky (Cullen Stalin) and Simon Mertz (Simon Phoenix). This week, Tax Lo celebrates its seventh anniversary and City Paper took the opportunity to check in with the pair, Mertz via an e-mail conversation and Nawalkowsky, on the road returning from a tour-managing gig for Diplo, via telephone.
City Paper: What is Tax Lo at this point? It was a weekly party, and now . . .
Cullen Nawalkowsky: I would say that it's an event-based party as well as a promotional entity. Sometimes we present things that aren't the "Tax Lo party," but are still being curated by us.
Simon Mertz: We could have kept doing it weekly, but it was time to try something new. Being event-based makes each party more special. There's a lot more focus on the talent we bring in now rather than it just being "indie dance night" at Sonar.
CP: And what do you want it to be?
CN: I'd like there to be regular big blowout parties that bring together a lot of different types of people and a lot of different types of music, or present music that people are familiar with in a different way with a different attitude or at a venue that they're not expecting to see it. And also to exist as a kind of brand that people trust that always has its ears open and is going to bring new stuff to the table all of the time.
CP: For a relatively do-it-yourself entity, Tax Lo does a remarkable job of keeping up with much larger promotions companies. This week's Simian Mobile Disco show is a great example. How has it gotten this big?
CN: It mostly was because acts that we were working with before they were big we kept working with them--Diplo being a major example. [He's] someone I brought down when we were doing Monday parties at the Talking Head when he was a local Philly DJ, but also someone who had just come out with a record on Ninja Tune. He didn't have an agent, didn't have a manager, or anything like that. We brought him down for more or less gas money and just had a great time and continued to book him as he rose through the ranks. Same with a lot of other acts. Dan Deacon is another one. Things can flip over like that. The Death Set being another example.
CP: Talk about party scenes in general. I know Tax Lo got "Best Dance Party" in Blender, but I wonder how you think Baltimore compares to, say, D.C., where there's like two hipster dance parties to a block or Philly with its kind of historic party culture with Hollertronix/Mad Decent and Making Time. It seems like dance parties will pop up here and then fizzle pretty quickly.
SM: I don't think Baltimore's party scene is that different from either of those cities in the sense that dance parties will pop up and then disappear. Everyone is a DJ and everyone has a party these days. I think this is the case in most major cities. D.C.'s got a million parties, but there are a handful that have been around for a long time and will be remembered fondly. Philly is the same way. It might have some more well known parties, but Philly also has its share of random DJ nights. On that level it's all the same. As far as "historic" parties, each one had something that made it special and that's why they are "historic." Baltimore, D.C., and Philly also all have historic parties, and they're all musically very different from one another.
CN: It's been a struggle, definitely, to have a regular event with this kind of longevity. But the thing that has always been important to us and the thing we've actively worked for in a self-conscious way is to try and desegregate it as much as possible, bring as many different types of people into the same space with something that's new to them. Like, put a Baltimore club artist and a local independent musician, say Ponytail or Cex, and you put them in the same place and you promote it to everybody and you try and get everybody partying together, and I feel like we've had a fair amount of success with that, and I think that has rippled out a bit in the Baltimore community and allowed other people to do more integrated parties as well, and that's really exciting. In a city as diverse as Baltimore, it doesn't even make business sense to only promote to one type of person. Really, it's not pigeonholing yourself, not try to target one group of people because you think they're the cool people or whatever.
CP: What is Tax Lo's position on corporate sponsorship? Cullen, in particular, as an activist with Red Emmas . . .
CN: It's something we shy away from but don't completely eschew. With some of the Scion stuff we did, they're bringing a tour with acts we would book anyway and they say we're going to pay for this entire show and they're going to pay to promote it. I'm not going to turn that down. But there are certain types of sponsorships that I would probably avoid. If they want to chase us and really made it worth our while and we can make it a free show or a cheaper show or in some way that there is an incentive not only to us but to the crowd, then that's something we'll at least consider. If a liquor company wants to give free drinks for an hour, as long as they're not like asking us to wear their T-shirts and go around singing their praises, we might do it.
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