Amid growing protest to change its official contract, which threatens to notify immigration authorities if an artist plays official or unofficial showcases without proper visas or otherwise break festival rules, SXSW has pledged to reword the document next year.
Adding fuel to a growing protest over a clause that effectively threatened deportation if an artist broke SXSW’s rules, dozens of artists and leaders in the indie music community including Ted Leo, Rage Against The Machine frontman Zach de la Rochaa and Talib Kweli signed an open letter calling on the festival to remove the wording and “cease any collusion with immigration officials that puts performers in danger.”
“As artists and part of the musical community of SXSW, we’re outraged to learn that the festival has been threatening artists who are not U.S. citizens with targeted immigration enforcement and deportation for playing at unofficial showcases. In light of recent attacks on immigrant communities, this practice is particularly chilling. We are calling on SXSW to immediately drop this clause from their contract, and cease any collusion with immigration officials that puts performers in danger.” (Full text and list of signees below.)
After previously defending the growing outrage as overblown – “You have to really fuck up for us to do this stuff,” said SXSW Managing Director Roland Swenson – the festival apologized and promised to change its wording next year.
In a statement posted on its website, SXSW organizers wrote:
“SXSW opposes discrimination of any kind, and has taken a public stand against President Trump’s travel ban and proposed legislation like SB6 in Texas. We have and will continue to support human rights for all. In this political climate, especially as it relates to immigration, we recognize the heightened importance of standing together against injustice.
SXSW has never reported anyone to any immigration authorities, including Customs & Border Protection (CBP), the agency that deals with participating artists entering the United States.
… The language in our Performance Agreement is intended to facilitate U.S. entry for international artists and to show CBP that SXSW takes visa issues seriously. This language has been part of the contracts since the summer of 2013, and we will be reviewing and amending it for 2018 and beyond.”
The festival also apologize to Todd Slant, the indie musician who first pointed out the offensive contract language: “In regards to the situation surrounding Told Slant, before we had clarity on the situation we believed this artist had taken our language out of context. We apologize for this error.”
Full Text Of The Open Letter
An Open Letter to SXSW:
As artists and part of the musical community of SXSW, we’re outraged to learn that the festival has been threatening artists who are not U.S. citizens with targeted immigration enforcement and deportation for playing at unofficial showcases. In light of recent attacks on immigrant communities, this practice is particularly chilling. We are calling on SXSW to immediately drop this clause from their contract, and cease any collusion with immigration officials that puts performers in danger.
Austin, TX is a sanctuary city and these actions by SXSW show a disrespect for municipal policy. SXSW is a well respected institution and has a responsibility to show leadership by refusing to collaborate with the government’s campaign of fear and hate toward non-citizens.. This is a growing open letter with concrete demands that SXSW needs to take.
WE the artists who make SXSW possible demand the following:
- SXSW must rescind the portion of their contract that states that if they found out that an artist is playing an unofficial showcase they will “notify the appropriate U.S. Immigration authorities of the above actions,” and “accepting and performing at any non-sanctioned events may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport, and denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US points of entry.”
- SXSW must publicly apologize to the community for their attempt to collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
- SXSW must affirm that it is a welcoming space for all artists, including immigrants and international performers, and commit to protecting the rights of all performers.
“SXSW has directly contributed to growing gentrification in our city. SXSW is responsible for the ongoing destruction of families homes and businesses. Locals here who play music and directly contribute to the economy can no longer live here due to stagnant wages and rising rental costs. We are one of the largest growing cities but all of our PoC are getting forced out because this ongoing culture is unsustainable. ICE is targeting hard working people in Austin so this comes as a slap in the face to everyone that lives here when we are already vulnerable and the administration wants to make an example of us because we a sanctuary city” Milo Royal, a musician and worker in Austin
We are white US citizens using that privilege to engage with you, sxsw, to reconsider colluding w/ ICE and thus, the Trump’s regime racist agenda. Please change your language and actively support and protect immigrant and non-white artists. -Priests, Sister Polygon Records
“I realize that this language has been in your agreement for many years (though that doesn’t mean it was ever right). This year, you have put on a showcase featuring artists from countries listed in the Muslim ban. The language in your artist agreements should reflect your support of these artists rather than besiege them. Please do the right thing and adjust your language to appropriately reflect the current political climate.” Joe Steinhardt, Don Giovanni Records
“Music knows no borders. SXSW bullying bands who have members that are not U.S. citizens is chilling, and frankly racist. It undermines artists’ basic rights to free speech, and sends the wrong message at a time when immigrant communities are facing an all out assault from the U.S. government.” – Evan Greer, musician and Campaign Director of Fight for the Future
“Seriously SXSW this is ridiculous. I’m urging fellow artists to not play there until this is fixed.” – Immortal Technique
“SXSW should support, not eliminate the voices of the marginalized. Stop collaborating with federal forces removing those who need to be heard most urgently” – The Kominas
“The recent statement issued by SXSW Founder Roland Swenson reads as intimidation masked as concern. This is most apparent in clause 1.4., which stipulates that foreign artists may not play unofficial shows outside of SXSW, lest they face immediate deportation. This language is used with the intent to mislead and intimidate foreign artists into complying with SXSW’s exclusivity clause – which, as with any festival, is written to protect SXSW’s profits, not the safety of international artists. These artists should be left to perform and make additional income at their own discretion, not cornered into exclusivity under the threat of US Customs and Border Patrol.” —Suzy Exposito, journalist
“SXSW host’s a festival that has some potential benefits for artists. While it is a great time to get your music and possibly message out, there is a huge cost to artists. Many of us have to play underpaid shows in hopes that it can give our careers a boost in the future. If we had responsible arts and culture funding and support, we would not have to play SXSW in order to secure a financially viable future as touring musicians. So many of the artists playing the festival are addressing and confronting the very power structures that SXSW is perpetuating through their threats towards international musicians. We demand an end to their threats and a public apology for their anti-immigrant and therefore racist stated policy. Cities, counties, and states have all been urged to cease collaboration with ICE, we demand the same of music festivals.” Victoria Ruiz and Joey L DeFrancesco, Downtown Boys
With Much Concern,
Sister Polygon Records
Don Giovanni Records
Try the Pie
Allison Crutchfield and the Fizz
Patrick Ferguson (drummer in Mike Mills, Powder Room, more)
Shannon and the Clams
Hank Wood and the Hammerheads
Miriam Hakim and Roger Medina of Giant Kitty
Hand Grenade Job
Casey (from Mitski and Bully)
Zach de la Rocha