Live Music

SXSW defends military partnerships in the wake of artists’ boycott

Music festival South by Southwest (SXSW) has defended its association with the US military and armaments manufacturers after this year’s event in Texas was marred by widespread boycotts.

At least 80 artists and panellists have pulled out of the nine-day festival, which is set to conclude this weekend in the city of Austin. Those boycotting cited the involvement of several weapons companies and agencies tied to the US Department of Defense according to the Austin for Palestine Coalition, which helped to organise the protest.

The event has taken place each year in Austin since 1987 and has been seen as a springboard for up-and-coming artists since its inaugural edition. Last year, the festival attracted more than 345,000 attendees.

SXSW said: “We are an organisation 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.

“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.

“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.”

It has been reported that SXSW organisers sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Austin for Palestine Coalition as it sought to rally support.

The letter said the group had used trademarked SXSW art in their social media posts and threatened legal action.

One of the protesting artists, musician Ella Williams, who is known as Squirrel Flower, said: “I have decided to pull out of my official SXSW showcases in protest of SXSW’s ties to the defense industry and in support of the Palestinian people.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott also hit back against the boycott.

“Bands pull out of SXSW over US Army sponsorship,” he wrote on social media. “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 U.S. military in Texas.

“If you don’t like it, don’t come here.”

SXSW distanced itself from Abbot’s comments, saying: “SXSW does not agree with Governor Abbott.”

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