On the Music Boycott of SXSW

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel has saluted the announcement that ALL of the Irish bands that were due to play at SXSW (South by South West) in Austin, Texas have cancelled their official showcase shows after the festival’s links with the US Army and defence companies emerged. The boycott mirrors the controversy over sponsorship of cultural and music festivals that emerged lat year over the backing of the Edinburgh Book Festival by Baillie Gifford because of their investments in fossil fuels (‘Writers Threaten Edinburgh Book Festival Boycott’).

This action was kicked off by the Belfast-based band KNEECAP and then followed by Irish acts Sprints, Soda Blonde, Gavin James, Robert Grace, Mick Flannery, and Chalk and then Gurriers, Cardinals and NewDad.

Now more than 80 music artists and multiple panelists have cancelled appearances at South by Southwest Festival over the U.S. Army’s sponsorship of the event. The California punk band Scowl, Brooklyn-based artist Okay Shalom and indie band Lambrini Girls are among the dozens of performers who have called off shows this week.

The United States is the largest supplier of military aid to Israel.

SXSW is a big deal especially for new and merging acts, they describe themselves as “South by Southwest® dedicates itself to helping creative people achieve their goals. Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW® is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of tech, film, music, education, and culture.”

On Sunday, the Belfast hip-hop trio Kneecap, announced they would no longer be playing the annual Austin, Texas showcase in “solidarity with the people of Palestine”. Kneecap’s move to cancel their three shows at the festival was made to “highlight the unacceptable deep links the festival has to weapons companies and the US military”. Their statement read:

Given that Raytheon (Glenrothes) and BAE Systems (Edinburgh and Glasgow) have Scottish-based operations its surprising that Scottish acts haven’t followed suit. Currently, going to publish the following Scottish acts are to appear:

I get that – as panned out with the Book Festival – some writers kicked back saying ‘This is the only opportunity I’ve ever had’. But I am interested in why Ireland (and NI, both are involved and have different sponsors) have the confidence to say no, and Scottish artists don’t have that political savvy or politicisation. For me the times are so dark and the issues so clear that I can’t see why artists wouldn’t boycott this event.

Interested to hear peoples responses on this one.

Comments (12)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Mark Howitt says:

    Fair play to KNEECAP and the rest of the Irish artists on deciding to boycott. I suspect, as you allude to Mike, the decision for some of the Scottish performers might be clouded by them being only having travelled for SXSW. (KNEECAP are also setting out on an extensive tour of the States.)

    It will be interesting to see if those authors who said they would boycott the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year do. Bailie Gifford’s website still lists them as sponsors and only last month The Ferret reported them as still investing £ 670m in firm aiming to drill oil near the Amazon.

    1. Tam Dean Burn says:

      As far as I know Kneecap are the only band also touring the US so I can’t see how that has anything to do with it either way.
      I’d suggest the Irish as a people who have been colonised have an understanding of culture as resistance. This could be the spark that really sets the worldwide cultural intifada alight.

  2. Tam Dean Burn says:

    This really could be the spark alighting the worldwide anti-apartheid movement needed. What an inspiration this action by the Irish music community is. The fact Keecap are doing a US tour is brilliant as that will galvanise this further. I really hope Scottish musicians at SXSX join in solidarity.
    I’d say the reason the Irish are doing this is because they know and understand what a culture of resistance means. It’s been spinning round my head today as I saw this on Al Jazeera last night- https://www.aljazeera.com/program/the-stream/2024/3/12/how-is-israel-using-cultural-erasure-as-a-weapon-of-war
    In it Ahmed Tobasi, director of the Freedom Theatre spoke the words of its founder Julian Mer Khamis – the third intifada will be cultural- and that’s the inspiration for the talk I’m giving on 21 March – https://labourleft.org/?p=3645 Today, inspired by Kneecap et al I thought about Bobby Sands poetry and what it meant to that struggle and how much that culture of resistance mattered, certainly to me.
    And now this really does. It really does.

    1. Mark Howitt says:

      Just re-reading the article and clicking through on some the links that I didn’t the first time. What sort of music festival has the U.S. Army as a “featured partner” ? https://schedule.sxsw.com/2024/brands/6975

      The other thing worth noting is the positive backing the Irish artists considering a boycott received from Music From Ireland: “If an artist chooses not to participate in SXSW this will not have a bearing on future showcasing opportunities for those artists. We will support whatever decision they make and update our plans accordingly.” Fantastic.

  3. Thrown Out says:

    Tam Dean Burn is closer to the truth than Mark Howitt, but I still think there’s more to it. The shared experience of colonialism in both Ireland & Palestine is important, but the actual relationships created between Palestinian & Irish anti-colonialists are critical, as there are many colonized populations where such acts of solidarity are less widespread. The relationship between careerism & political activism will continue to be shaped by global responses to israel’s bloody counterinsurgency in Gaza.

  4. Satan says:

    It’s certainly not just Irish acts that have decided to give the Austin fest a bodyswerve. Why on earth is the US army sponsoring a music festival? That’s wierd, and I doubt that any of their bands will be performing, although I can’t see that being that much different from arts council funding – they are both getting their cash from the same place. A music festival that features a conference on Advertising & Brand Experience sounds as much fun as gravel, but that particular conference migh be popular with musicians.

  5. Niemand says:

    I don’t understand why this is being seen along nationalistic lines but is typical of that mentality that sees everything through a nationalist lens.

    I agree this is a festival I would not want to patronise for all the reasons stated. It is a no-brainer really. But why is it being turned into a thing about ‘Irish’ and ‘Scots’ bands rather than just ‘bands’? Do all bands from Scotland have to do the same thing then, ‘By Order’ of Nationalist Sensibility? I notice the bands have been named and shamed. It should be up to the conscience of the individual bands and that’s it.

    1. It’s not being seen though a nationalist lens at all, its being seen though a solidarity with Palestine lens. It is also however telling and interesting that the Irish acts have the political clarity and confidence to boycott, with the full support of Music from Ireland, who state: “If an artist chooses not to participate in SXSW this will not have a bearing on future showcasing opportunites for those artists. We will support whatever decision they make &update our plans accordingly.” Can you see such a statement from Creative Scotland? No, me neither.

      1. Tam Dean Burn says:

        The Music From Ireland statement came in response to the action not the other way round as you seem to be asking for here from CS. Also the Irish culture politician seems to have still attended SXSW despite the Irish band boycott.
        What would be amazing is if all this tips the balance on the Irish delegation taking part in Biden’s White House St Patricks Day gathering. There’s clearly pressure to pull out and that would be such a statement of solidarity with Palestine.

  6. Jimmy Brough says:

    I’m pretty sure funding is a main reason why more Scottish acts have not followed the Irish acts and cancelled their shows. I know of one young Scottish band on the list who recently played a fundraiser for Palestine. It might be better to ask the acts why they did not pull out rather than speculate. But huge solidarity with those musicians who refused to play.

    1. Tam Dean Burn says:

      So you start with a speculation then end with saying we mustn’t…surely there’s lessons to be learned and of course a blame game useless but we must all redouble our efforts to contribute to the most vital cause in the world right now. As Julian Mer Khamis said – the third intifada will be cultural – and or enemies are preparing for that too with all sorts of sudden cancellations going on and I expect there’s attempts to convince us not to take action…

  7. SleepingDog says:

    I notice this week’s BBC Click chose to go big on SXSW (before seguing to a puff piece on Dounreay):

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.