Controversy escalated at SXSW as bands pulled out due to military ties

Controversy surrounding the annual South by Southwest festival, known as SXSW, has escalated after more than 100 acts, most of them European, pulled out over the US military and defense contractors' sponsorship of the music and cultural event in Austin, Texas.

As of Wednesday, five music companies and 105 bands and individual musicians, including more than 60 acts from the UK and all 12 Irish bands scheduled to perform, had chosen to abandon the nine-day festival in protest of the Pentagon's support for the Israeli war. in Gaza.

More than 10 artists have decided to stay for financial reasons, but will make statements on stage or use their time to focus on Palestine, tracked the Austin Alliance for Palestine (AFPC), the organization leading the boycott.

Among the bands that have withdrawn are Chicago-based songwriter Ella Williams, known as Squirrel Flower, Los Angeles-based indie band Mamalarky, and hip-hop trio Kneecap from Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Zainab Haider, initiative leader at AFPC, told The Hill that the torrent of boycotts stems from a pressure campaign launched by AFPC on February 21, which asked artists to lobby SXSW about the participation of defense entities.

The group protested the military's extensive sponsorship of SXSW as well as the festival's inclusion of the military defense company RTX, also known as Raytheon, and its subsidiary Collins Aerospace, which manufacture weapons and equipment used by the Israeli military.

BAE Systems has also been called in to participate as an exhibitor in a related event known as the Startup Crawl at Capital Factory House. In a statement to The Hill, a BAE spokesperson said the defense company “has no plans to participate in any way” at SXSW.

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RTX and Collins Aerospace did not respond to requests for comment.

Army spokesman Matt Ahern said he is “proud to be a sponsor of SXSW, and to have the opportunity to showcase the U.S. Army. SXSW provides a unique opportunity for the Army to meet technology innovators and leaders, explore new ideas and visions, and create dynamic industry partnerships as we modernize for the future.”

AFPC's efforts quickly gained momentum, and since late last month, nearly 600 people have emailed SXSW “expressing their horror” at military-related sponsors, Haider said.

“These entities either sponsor, finance, or supply weapons to the Israeli attack on Gaza, in what the International Court of Justice is investigating as genocide in Palestine.”

In October, Israel launched an air and ground campaign in the Gaza Strip after Hamas, which controls the Strip, attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking 253 others hostage.

More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since then, the majority of them women and children, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

The United States, Israel's largest military backer, provides about $4 billion to Israel in defense aid annually, and has also sent additional weapons to the country since the beginning of the war for use in the conflict, such as American-made aircraft and bombs.

AFPC claims that RTX makes rockets, bombs and other weapons used by the Israeli military against Palestinians, while Collins Aerospace provides components for aircraft used by the IDF. Meanwhile, BAE Systems “supplied weapons and equipment used in the occupation of Palestinian territories,” it said. AFPC website.

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Haider said the group coordinated with the Austin Musicians Union, United Musicians and Allied Workers to spread their message, and also hand-delivered it to workers at the SXSW offices but did not receive a response.

The boycott quickly caught the attention of Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), who wrote: “Bye. do not come back” In a post on social media. “Austin remains the headquarters for future Army leadership. San Antonio is a military city in the United States of America. We are proud of the US Army in Texas. If you don't like it, don't come here.”

The official SXSW account quickly responded that it “disagrees with Governor Abbott.”

Festival organizers wrote that they “fully respect the decision made by these artists to exercise their right to freedom of expression,” while defending the military's sponsorship role in the festival.

“The defense industry has historically served as a proving ground for many of the systems we rely on today,” they wrote.

“These organizations are often leaders in emerging technologies, and we believe it is better to understand how their approach will impact our lives. Sponsoring the military is part of our commitment to advancing the ideas that shape our world. As for Collins Aerospace, this year they participated as a sponsor of two categories of Two SXSW Pitch categories, giving entrepreneurs visibility and funding for potentially game-changing work.

The conflict between Israel and Hamas was also acknowledged, although organizers did not take sides.

“We have and will continue to support human rights for all,” they wrote. “The situation in the Middle East is tragic, and it highlights the growing importance of standing together against injustice.”

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AFPC described the SXSW response as “empty” and “performative.”

“It was immediately clear to our coalition and the musicians who walked out that these empty words touting 'justice' did not do a great job of hiding the fact that SXSW is forcing musicians to be in bed with warmongers,” the group said.

The music portion of the SXSW festival kicked off Monday and will continue through Saturday.

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