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Artists Withdraw From SXSW To Protest Defence Partnerships

6 March 2024 | 3:30 pm | Mary Varvaris

"I don’t believe in the US Army, and I don’t believe they belong at a music festival (or anywhere) as a super sponsor."

SXSW 2024

SXSW 2024 (Source: Supplied)

Texas’s SXSW has been struck by cancellations ahead of the festival this week, with artists showing support for Palestine and protesting against the music conference event’s alleged connections to the defence industry.

Artists including US indie rocker Squirrel Flower, American punk rock act Proper., North Carolina singer-songwriter Eliza McLamb, Brooklyn-based, South Africa-raised artist Shalom, and Austin indie rock band Mamalarky have pulled out of this year’s event.

The 2024 edition of SXSW is set to begin this Friday, 8 March, and run until Saturday, 16 March.

As Vulture reports, the US Army holds an exhibit at SXSW, while Collins Aerospace, a company under the umbrella of defence contractor RTX Corporation (formerly Raytheon), will appear at the event. Ella Williams, AKA Squirrel Flower, has alleged that Raytheon has supplied weapons to the Israel Defence Forces.

Squirrel Flower was the first artist to openly pull out of appearing at SXSW, writing in a social media post, “I have decided to pull out of my official SXSW showcases in protest of SXSW’s ties to the defence industry and in support of the Palestinian people.”

The statement continued, “There are many ways SXSW is harmful to working musicians, but I am pulling out specifically because of the fact that SXSW is platforming defence contractors including Raytheon subsidiaries as well as the US Army, a main sponsor of the festival.

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“Genocide profiteers like Raytheon supply weapons to the IDF, paid for by our taxes. A music festival should not include war profiteers. I refuse to be complicit in this and withdraw my art and labour in protest.”

Proper. added, “We’ve decided to drop off of our official SXSW showcase. They’re already shitty enough to artists; so learning yesterday that they’re working with Raytheon, who supplied missiles & bombs to the IDF was alarming but somehow not surprising anymore.”

The band then mentioned three other shows they will be playing, suggesting that their fans show “a little grace” for the acts that still perform at SXSW.

Taking to X (formerly known as Twitter), Eliza McLamb also mentioned shows she will perform upon announcing her departure from the festival. “I have pulled out of my official SXSW showcase after learning that the US Army is a major sponsor of the event,” McLamb wrote.

“I will never put my name on or perform my labour for an event in service of the US war machine, and especially not now as they continue to fuel the ongoing violence against Palestinians. Blood money has no place in music.”

In a powerful Instagram statement, Shalom began by discussing her upbringing: after being born to Nigerian parents in the US, she was raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. Due to her experiences in life, Shalom shared, “I know too much about the effects of colonialism and apartheid to sit idly by.

Writing that she’s seen too much to be a bystander, she continued, “I believe in the freedom of all oppressed people everywhere. I don’t believe in the US Army, and I don’t believe they belong at a music festival (or anywhere) as a super sponsor.

“I am not able to go along with something I know is fundamentally wrong. I am not able to abandon my morals for the sake of exposure. I am not able to process the insurmountable grief and cruelty the Palestinian people face on a daily basis. I don’t think they are able to either. Who is engineered to bear witness to daily massacres and an apartheid state-inflicted famine? Who is engineered to survive that?”

Also posting on Instagram, Mamalarky thanked Squirrel Flower and Shalom for sharing their decisions to drop out of the festival, writing that leaving the event was “a very easy decision to make”.

Artist union United Musicians And Allied Workers (UMAW) and advocacy group Austin For Palestine coalition have shown support for artists dropping off SXSW, with the UMAW writing: “Warmongers have no place at SXSW”.