Dozens of bands and panellists pull out of SXSW Festival: Here’s Why

World News

Dozens of musical artists and some panellists have pulled out of the SXSW music, film and media festival underway in Austin, Texas, this week, protesting the festival’s ties to the U.S. Army and other defence companies who the artists say are enabling violence against Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas War in Gaza.
AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 08: Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (L) and Katie Couric speak onstage during the Breaking Barriers, Shaping Narratives: How Women Lead On and Off the Screen panel during the 2024 SXSW Conference and Festival at Austin Convention Center on March 08, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images)
Key Takeaways
  • The protest appears to have started in February after a local group, the Austin for Palestine Coalition, called attention to the involvement of several defense companies that the group says manufactures weapons and military equipment used in Gaza, including BAE Systems and RTX Corporation’s subsidiary Collins Aerospace.
  • The group called on SXSW to “disinvite” companies from the conference and to “use its platform to raise awareness about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza”—Collins Aerospace was involved in events, including as a sponsor of two “SXSW Pitch” categories this year, SXSW said Tuesday, while a BAE Systems spokesperson told Rolling Stone the company “has no plans to participate” in this year’s festival.
  • Since then, dozens of mostly independent musicians have announced their withdrawal from the festival, citing the involvement of those companies at panels and exhibits as well as the U.S. Army’s sponsorship of the event.
  • Several panelists have also withdrawn their appearances from the festival, including Amazon Union President Christian Smalls, who announced an alternative event sent for Wednesday night in Austin, psychologist Devon Price and Princeton University Professor Ruha Benjamin.
  • Austin for Palestine says that, as of Tuesday, more than 80 artists had dropped the event, with a full list included on Instagram.
  • In a statement to CNN, U.S. Army spokesperson Ellen Lovett said it was “proud to be a sponsor of SXSW, and to have the opportunity to showcase America’s Army.”
What To Watch For

Austin for Palestine teamed up with United Musicians and Allied Workers, another organization that advocates for better pay for musicians, to host a rally Thursday evening in support of “fair pay and no warmongers at SXSW.” Many artists have announced alternative shows in light of their withdrawal from the festival.

Contra

News of the boycotts prompted a social media dust-up between Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and SXSW organizers. In response to headlines of bands pulling out of the festival, Abbott wrote on X: “Bye. Don’t come back.”

He argued that Texas is proud of its ties to the U.S. military and added: “If you don’t like it, don’t come here.” But SXSW responded on Tuesday to Abbott’s post with its own statement on the boycotts, writing: “SXSW does not agree with Governor Abbott.” The festival organizers said that the organization “welcomes diverse viewpoints” and the festival would “fully respect the decision these artists made to exercise their right to free speech.”

While the organization acknowledged “unspeakable tragedies, the rise of repressive regimes, and the increasing spread of violent conflict,” it also argued that the defense industry is a “proving ground for many of the systems we rely on today.” SXSW wrote: “These institutions are often leaders in emerging technologies, and we believe it’s better to understand how their approach will impact our lives.”

The United Musicians and Allied Workers was unimpressed by the SXSW statement, sharing screenshots of it and writing on X: “both sides-ing defense contractors as they profit off a genocide…cowards.”

Chief Critics

Musician Ella O’Connor Williams, also known as Squirrel Flower, wrote on Instagram that she’d be pulling out of the festival due to its links to RTX Corporation and the U.S. Army, telling her nearly 20,000 followers on instagram “a music festival should not include war profiteers.” Hip hop group Kneecap from Northern Ireland announced to its 135,000 followers that it would halt plans to travel to Austin, claiming it could not “in good conscience” attend an event sponsored by the Army and featuring defense contractors. “That the organisers of SXSW have taken the decision to mix the arts with the military and weapons companies is unforgivable,” the band wrote.

Key Background

SXSW features a variety of music and arts performances, conferences, film premiers and other events and kicked off in Austin on March 8. It’s set to run through Saturday. The U.S. has provided military support to Israel in its war against Hamas following the group’s Oct. 7 attack that killed more than 1,200 people and led to hundreds being held hostage. But many world leaders—including President Joe Biden and other U.S. leaders—have more recently called on Israel to reduce civilian casualties, as global scrutiny of the war’s humanitarian toll and access to food has mounted. Last week, the U.S. provided humanitarian airdrops of food to Palestinians in Gaza, though some humanitarian groups said the effort didn’t go far enough. The Gaza-based health ministry has said that more than 31,000 Palestinians have died since the conflict began.

This article was first published on forbes.com and all figures are in USD.

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