Scores of Musicians Who Dropped Out of SXSW Protest for Palestine in Austin

"You can see how artists and collective power can indeed break this festival if they don't meet the demands of kicking out these warmongers," the founder of United Musicians And Allied Workers told Jezebel.

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Scores of Musicians Who Dropped Out of SXSW Protest for Palestine in Austin

On Sunday, a slew of celebrities like Billie Eilish, Ramy Youssef, and Ava DuVernay showed up to the Oscars sporting pins made by Artists4Ceasefire, a coalition of artists and advocates in opposition to the humanitarian crisis “unfolding in Israel and Palestine.” For some watching at home, the red pins might’ve been a welcome sight amidst a sea of others who’ve either been silent, offered middling condemnations of violence on social media, or staunchly supported Israel’s sins. For others, though, wearing a pin to a fancy party where actual protestors were relegated to the perimeter of the red carpet is well, just celebrity culture.

This week in Austin, several musicians sought to show their solidarity with Palestine more explicitly at South By Southwest. Per Politico, five music labels and 105 bands and individual musicians—including over 60 acts from the U.K. and all 12 Irish bands originally scheduled to perform—opted out of the nine-day festival in protest of its controversial sponsors: The U.S. Army; military defense firm, Raytheon; and its subsidiary, Collins Aerospace, which has drawn recent protests for supplying weaponry used to kill and harm thousands of Gazans. Some of these artists, however, turned up in Texas anyway to make their voices heard on a different stage—a protest co-organized by the United Musicians And Allied Workers (UMAW) and Austin For Palestine Coalition.

On Thursday, scores of artists and allies of Palestine like New York City punk band cumgirl8 gathered on 800 Congress Ave, the U.S. Military’s official stage, to call for a divestment from profiteers of war, as well as fair pay and free attendance at the festival for the artists who perform there. The night before, UMAW and Austin For Palestine put on a showcase that featured a number of the bands that pulled out of the festival.

“Initially the campaign was just to pressure South By not to have the U.S. military sponsor the festival, but then it kind of grew into this organic boycott of artists pulling out of their official showcases,” Tessa Mitterhoff, an organizer with Austin For Palestine Coalition told Jezebel in a phone interview.

“Artists have been complaining about South by Southwest for 15 years,” Joey La Neve DeFrancesco, UMAW founder and organizer said. “As far as you can look back on Twitter you can find artists complaining about the corporatization, the low pay, and the exploitation going on at the festival.”

Until this year, the independent musicians who traveled—some, internationally—to play at SXSW went largely unpaid save for a free badge to the festival’s events. They could choose cash compensation instead, however, the festival’s rate is hardly paying anyone’s rent let alone their gas to get to Austin. For over a decade, SXSW offered solo artists $100 and bands $250. This year, due largely in part to the efforts of UMAW and collective pressure from the community and artists, the festival—slightly—raised the rate: $150 per solo artist, and $350 per band.

“It’s an insultingly small raise,” DeFrancesco said, before noting that though conditions have been this way for years, the ongoing genocide in Gaza has given already angry artists yet another reason to rage against the defense-funded festival machine. The turnout this year, DeFrancesco noted, has been “unprecedented.”

Among the acts who pulled out of the festival was the indie folk band, Squirrel Flower. On Instagram, the band’s frontwoman, Ella O’Connor Williams wrote: “A music festival should not include war profiteers. I refuse to be complicit in this and withdraw my art and labor in protest.”

Similar posts have followed, so much so that even Texas Gov. Greg Abbott responded on Tuesday: “Bye. Don’t come back,” he wrote on X.“We are proud of the U.S. military in Texas. If you don’t like it, don’t come here.”

SXSW, too, shared a statement on X that disputed Abbott’s stance yet refused to denounce its ties to the defense industry.

“We fully respect the decision these artists made to exercise their right to free speech. Music is the soul of SXSW, and it has long been our legacy,” it read in part. “We have and will continue to support human rights for all,” the festival said. “The situation in the Middle East is tragic, and it illuminates the heightened importance of standing together against injustice.”

Other actions uniting artists and allies for Palestine like an Anti-SXSW showcase will continue until the end of the festival.

“It’s been really inspiring to see some of my favorite artists and local bands pulling out,” Mitterhoff told Jezebel. “And that’s a huge sacrifice for them. A lot of people have spent thousands of dollars, they’ve traveled across the world, this—a lot of times—is an opportunity for them to get signed by a label. It’s an amazing act of solidarity.”

One might not think there are intersections between organizing for Palestinian liberation and worker’s (more specifically, musicians’) rights. DeFrancesco begs to differ, citing the importance of building worker power within respective industries will allow employees to collectively rail against the decisions of those made up top—including who and what executives support. DeFrancesco specifically harkens to mind the risks financially insecure musicians are making in support of Palestine because a corporatized event that generated $381 million to the economy of Texas in 2023 won’t divest from the defense industry.

“I think you see clearly the class divide on this issue, DeFrancesco said. “You have all the workers, all the artists, who are willing to put themselves out there to take this big risk, drop out of the festival, and take this kind of action in support of Palestine, whereas corporate is too cowardly to even say the word Palestine.”

“I think you really see the festival breaking,” he continued. “And you can see how artists and collective power can indeed break this festival if they don’t meet the demands of kicking out these warmongers. “

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