SXSW threatens to call ICE on international artists who play unofficial shows

It’s a universally accepted truth among musicians that South By Southwest sucks. From the high cost of traveling to Austin, to the punishing schedules, to the low chance that anyone will notice you, the annual industry showcase is a necessary evil at best, an unnecessary one at worst. It sucks even more for musicians who are not from the United States, as this country is not exactly an easy one to gain admittance to for broke young people.

But did you know that in addition to all of that, international artists who are caught playing unofficial shows are being threatened with deportation?

In a passage of the SXSW artist contract tweeted by Told Slant drummer Felix Walworth, the festival makes a number of threats against artists who “adversely affect the viability” of their official SXSW showcases by playing unofficial events. (This is a fairly common practice, as artists don’t get paid much to play the festival and want to maximize both cash and exposure by playing as many shows as possible.) The penalties for Americans — showcase cancelation, loss of housing — are bad enough, but the record really scratches when you get to the last part:

“SXSW will notify the appropriate U.S. Immigration authorities of the above actions…Accepting and performing at any non-sanctioned events may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport, and denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US points of entry.”

I understand the South By’s desperation not to be outdone by the unofficial programming that’s grown up around it, but is it really appropriate to have someone arrested by Trump’s ICE, shackled, and deported, possibly for good, just because they made an appearance at the Fader Fort? 

In addition to turning down his band’s offer from the festival, Walworth is urging likeminded artists to join together in a boycott of its official events:

Music writer Liz Pelly is asking the press to join in the boycott, to the degree that they haven’t already:

Of course, the language in the contract is probably not new, and the fest probably has to have some kind of stipulation in there against violating the terms of one’s visa, so as to cover its own ass. Still, the wording makes it sound like it’s threatening to snitch on struggling artists as punishment for nibbling away at the festival’s bottom line.

UPDATE, 5:55pm: In a statement to Austin360, South by Southwest managing director Roland Swenson said the stipulations were taken out of context.

Via Austin360:

South by Southwest managing director Roland Swenson said Thursday afternoon that the language posted to Twitter comes from “two different parts of the artist agreement” that were pasted together to portray what he called “a much worse impression than what is real.”

Regarding the lower section that cites rules for international artists entering the country through various non-work visa programs, Swenson said this is simply SXSW “telling the acts what immigration (authorities) would do” if terms of the visa were violated.

“Most South by Southwest acts are able to perform here on the condition that they’re not getting paid and they’re not doing any other shows than ours, “Swenson said. “That keeps them from having to go through getting a work visa and all that, which is time consuming and expensive.”

On the rather intense-sounding threats in the contract, he says they would only be invoked “if somebody did something really horrific, like disobey rules about pyrotechnics, starting a brawl, or if they killed somebody,” and says they’ve never taken those actions against anyone.

If it’s really not about punishing bands for playing unofficial shows, perhaps they should change the language to make that clearer.

[Photo: Getty]

Tags: deportation, ice, SXSW
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