SXSW pulls a Trump card — language in artist contact threatens to deport international acts for playing unofficial shows

Felix Walworth

Felix Walworth of Told Slant – Photo: Richard Gin

According to a recent article by the AV Club, it looks like Austin’s “SXSW may refer international artists to immigration for playing unofficial shows.” Basically, in a disgusting Trump-esque move, SXSW is threatening to deport international acts who take part in any “non-sanctioned” SXSW event.

Musician Felix Walworth—of bands such as Told Slant, Eskimeaux, and Bellows tweeted an image this morning of the contract they were sent regarding Told Slant’s scheduled performance at South By Southwest.

Check it out for yourself below:

SXSW goes trump deportations

Told Slant were slated to perform at this year’s SXSW as an official artist for the first time, but they ain’t having this nonsense.

Here’s what Walworth had to say via Told Slant’s Twitter today:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”#FF78FF” class=”fistclass” size=”15″]“After looking through this contract sent to me by sxsw I have decided to cancel Told Slant’s performance at the festival…I’m not interested in aligning myself with an institution that interacts with immigration authorities as a means of controlling where art is shared and performed, and who makes money off of it. this festival uses an imperialist model and prioritizes centralizing and packaging culture over communities & people’s safety […] it’s no secret that sxsw has played a huge role in the process austin’s rapid gentrification. the whole festival exists to the detriment of working class people & people of color in Austin. that they’re willing to threaten deportation is enough evidence for me that they don’t care about anyone including the artists that lend them their legitimacy […] when we allow our alignment with institutions like this to be our metric for success as artists we are seriously failing I’d like to add that all artists received this contract. It’s the standard sxsw official showcase contract. did y’all read it? art friends: we don’t need to offer up our work in service to sxsw or any larger institution. we need to set up alternatives […] I’d like to urge everyone I’m close with to talk and think about this. Also it would be great if we all bailed on this at once.”[/perfectpullquote]

Well, this is a nasty bowl of bull shit. Unofficial shows at SXSW are what keep the spirit of SXSW alive. We all know how SXSW, along with festivals like Coachella are no longer what they used to be. I remember working on my first SXSW event as a college intern in 2004, and it was nothing like the corporate music festival it has become today. People that actually worked in the music industry made the pilgrimage to Austin to discover new acts, to network with like-minded music folks, and to get all the latest trends and innovations in music. It WAS an amazing place. Between the tragedy that happened in 2014, the 2011 Death From Above riot and now this, SXSW just ain’t worth it.

After countless years of unofficial shows, why now SXSW? You’re only hurting the artist and the indie / underground music community. And that fucking sucks.

Though this contract clause is nothing new, it has never been so aggressive. International acts, and domestic acts have always played unofficial shows. Seems like a gross power move to me, and like many disappointments in the music industry, it’s probably all because of money and corporate sponsorships.

Deporting international artists for playing unofficial shows is a facist move, especially considering the recent immigration ban sought out by Donald Trump… shameful.


Attributable to Roland Swenson, SXSW CEO and Co-Founder

SXSW has been vocal in its opposition to President Trump’s Travel Ban and is working hard to build a coalition of attorneys to assist artists with issues at U.S. ports of entry during the event. We have artists from 62 countries from around the world performing and have always supported our international music community. We have never reported international showcasing artists to immigration authorities.

We were sorry to learn that one of our invited performers chose to cancel his performance at this year’s SXSW Music Festival due to a misunderstanding of our policies regarding international artists.

We understand that given the current political climate surrounding immigration, the language that was published seems strong. Violating U.S. immigration law has always carried potentially severe consequences, and we would be remiss not to warn our participating acts of the likely repercussions.

Language governing SXSW’s ability to protect a showcase has been in the artist Performance Agreement for many years. It is, and always was intended to be, a safeguard to provide SXSW with a means to respond to an act that does something truly egregious, such as disobeying our rules about pyrotechnics on stage, starting a brawl in a club, or causing serious safety issues.

The SXSW Performance Agreement states:

If SXSW determines, in its sole discretion, that Artist or its representatives have acted in ways that adversely affect the viability of Artist’s official SXSW showcase, the following actions are available to SXSW:
○      Artist will be removed from their official SXSW showcase and, at SXSW’s sole option, replaced.
○      Any hotels booked via SXSW Housing will be canceled.
○      Artist’s credentials will be canceled.
○      SXSW will notify the appropriate U.S. immigration authorities of the above actions.

We hope never to be put in the position to act on this. Indeed, we spend a great deal of time communicating with international artists concerning numerous issues, including how to avoid issues at U.S. ports of entry.

Moreover, there is language in the Performance Agreement which is included to inform foreign artists that the U.S. immigration authorities have mechanisms to create trouble for artists who ignore U.S. immigration laws. For example, those acts coming to SXSW to perform without a work visa are limited, by U.S. immigration law, to performing their showcase event only. If an artist wishes to perform elsewhere, they will require a work visa.

As such, both to protect SXSW and the interests of all the participating artists, we long ago added this language to our Performance Agreement:

1.4. Foreign Artists entering the country through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), B visa or any non-work visa may not perform at any public or unofficial shows, DAY OR NIGHT, in Austin from March 10-19, 2017. Accepting and performing at unofficial events (including unofficial events aside from SXSW Music dates during their visit to the United States) may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport and denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US ports of entry. For more information, please visit these pages:
1.4.1.(B Visa / ESTA) t/visas/en/business.html
1.4.2.(Work Visas) t/visas/en/employment/temporar y.html 1.4.3.SXSW general visa FAQ: a-faq



Walworth of Told Slant responds to Swensons’ statement.

UPDATE via AV Club:

South by Southwest managing director Roland Swenson has commented on Slant’s cancellation and call for boycott in an interview with Austin 360, saying the image posted to Twitter is an amalgamation of “two different parts of the artist agreement” that portray “a much worse impression than what is real.” Swenson says the section about non-work visa violations is just “telling the acts what immigration (authorities) would do” if terms of their visas are violated, while the upper part applies to performers or management who “have acted in ways that adversely affect the viability of their official SXSW showcase.” However, Swenson says all of the harshest penalties threatened in the contract—including notifying immigration authorities—would only be invoked “if somebody did something really horrific, like disobey rules about pyrotechnics, starting a brawl, or if they killed somebody.”


[This post has been updated to include the arguments of Told Slant and SXSW. The headline has also been updated to reflect that the language in the artist contract is what threatens to deport international acts playing unofficial shows.]

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