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SXSW: Irish Artists take a united stand, collectively boycotting official showcases in Austin

En route to Austin for SXSW it became clear that a controversy was developing. Lambrini Girls, Scowl and Lip Critic had announced they were not partaking in the official SXSW showcases in Austin. By the time I stepped off the plane in Austin this was an ever-growing list. Irish bands such as Sprints, Chalk and Kneecap were quick to join the boycott. The reason for these withdrawals was the nature of some of the sponsors and funders of the festival. They included the US Army as a “Super Sponsor” plus arms manufacturers such as Collins Aerospace, and defence contractors RTX (Raytheon).

As the week progressed it was an evolving situation and by the time it came to the Music From Ireland showcase, all the Irish artists had joined the boycott. Indeed there was a dramatic moment when members of Cardinals, Chalk, Enola Gay, Gurriers and NewDad gathered at Austin’s Velveeta Room to show solidarity with Palestine amid the ongoing war in Gaza. A statement was read by Gurriers drummer Pierce Callaghan condemning the festival:

“To be clear, we as Music From Ireland bands are not partaking in any official SXSW shows. We stand in complete solidarity with Palestine and others who have spoken out against and boycotted SXSW. Sponsorship of the festival from defence contractors and those sending arms to destroy innocent lives is an act we find disgusting and reprehensible. We as Irish people have a lot of solidarity with the people of Palestine as we share a history of occupation and oppression by colonialist countries.”

Continuing, he referenced the Dunnes Stores strike, which began in Dublin in 1984 and lasted for three years after shop worker Mary Manning was suspended for refusing to handle South African fruit in protest of the country’s apartheid policies. “This one act triggered a blanket boycott in Ireland which was mirrored worldwide. If we could all band together then and make a real change we definitely can now,” he said.

“It is inherently wrong to taint the celebration of art with links to the genocide going on in Palestine. This situation is so much bigger than us as bands, it is so much bigger than music, art, politics. The excuses given by SXSW have been pathetic and reprehensible. There is no excuse for supporting the ongoing genocide in Palestine.

“We hope by taking this stand that festivals will rethink their sponsorship choices and who they choose to give a platform to, and keep arms contractors out of the world of music. We call on all of you to stand up and make your voices heard. Silence in the face of oppression is siding with the oppressor,” he said, before adding an Irish translation.

In response Texas governor Greg Abbott took to X (formerly Twitter) to respond:
“Bands pull out of SXSW over US army Sponsorship. Bye. Don’t come back. Austin remains the HQ for the Army Futures Command. San Antonio is Military City USA. We are proud of the US military in Texas. If you don’t like it, don’t come here.”

However SXSW choose to distance itself from Abbott’s comments stating:
“SXSW does not agree with Governor Abbott. We are an organization that welcomes diverse viewpoints. Music is the soul of SXSW, and it has long been our legacy. We fully respect the decision these artists made to exercise their right to free speech.”

SXSW continued: “Across the globe, we are witnessing unspeakable tragedies, the rise of repressive regimes, and the increasing spread of violent conflict. It’s more crucial than ever that we come together to solve these greater humanitarian issues.”

Explaining its sponsorship with the US army, SXSW wrote:
“The defense industry has historically been a proving ground for many of the systems we rely on today. These institutions are often leaders in emerging technologies, and we believe it’s better to understand how their approach will impact our lives. The Army’s sponsorship is part of our commitment to bring forward ideas that shape our world. In regard to Collins Aerospace, they participated this year as a sponsor of two SXSW Pitch categories, giving entrepreneurs visibility and funding for potentially game-changing work.”

SXSW concluded:
“We have and will continue to support human rights for all. The situation in the Middle East is tragic, and it illuminates the heightened importance of standing together against injustice.”

Music from Ireland, the body responsible for enabling the Irish artists to participate at SXSW, wholeheartedly supported the boycott stating:
“A number of artists participating in the SXSW Music From Ireland Showcase have decided not to participate due to concerns around SXSW sponsors. One of Culture Ireland’s (funders of Music From Ireland) and Music from Ireland’s core values is that of artistic freedom of expression and we do not mediate or advise artists in relation to choices they make on any matter whether political, artistic or otherwise.  

If an artist chooses not to participate in SXSW this will not have a bearing on future showcasing opportunities for those artists. Music From Ireland and Culture Ireland actively supports artists’ right to freedom of expression, which is fundamental to their role as agents of change in society.”

Artists from other countries found themselves constrained by their contractual funding obligations, whilst others chose to give all their earnings from merch sales to organisations supporting Palestine and the relief effort in Gaza.

There was slight confusion outside of the SXSW as onlookers could see that some of the artists who had joined the boycott were still performing in Austin, but to be clear, SXSW has a huge unofficial section, with venues such as Hotel Vegas, Lazarus Brewery and Hole in the Wall putting on shows which are not officially affiliated with the festival. They are taking the opportunity to support artists by giving them extra shows enabling the artists to perform to a wider audience. One example is Sprints who choose to honour their commitment to play a fundraiser for KUTX in support of a foodbank, as well as Lazarus Brewery who had supported the band in the past.

In the end over 100 artists boycotted the official festival showcases, with some calling for a wider boycott in 2025 if the sponsorship and funding model of SXSW is not altered. It remains to be seen if there will be an impact on SXSW next year, and if indeed the festival will make any adjustments. However, the voices grew louder as the week progressed and with alternatives such as New York’s New Colossus a possibility for both audiences and artists, SXSW will have to decide how it wants to operate in the future.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.