As SXSW 2017 looms ever closer, it appears some controversy has broken out over some of the language in the festival’s long-standing contractual policy regarding unofficial showcases. Felix Falworth, who is better known for his musical project Told Slant announced via Twitter today that the band would pull out of the Austin, TX festival because of statements that they found to be problematic:
After looking through this contract sent to me by sxsw I have decided to cancel Told Slant's performance at the festival pic.twitter.com/rI2Xv0duJl
— Told Slant (@Felixixix666) March 2, 2017
In a series of Tweets, the full statement reads as such: “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 [of] 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?”
They went on to add, “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.”
The crux of the controversy lies here: SXSW includes in their performance contract language that gives the festival sole discretion to report bands to immigration control officers if “showcasing acts or their representatives have acted in ways that adversely affect the viability of their official SXSW showcase,” which, according to the Tweet includes the stipulation “International Artists entering the country through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), B-visa or any non-work visa may not perform at any public or non-sanctioned event SXSW Music Festival DAY OR NIGHT shows in Austin from March 13-19, 2017. Accepting and performing unofficial events may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport and denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US Ports of Entry.”
With tensions running high in the United States in regards to border enforcement under the new president, it is unsurprising to hear this would be upsetting to many foreign and domestic acts.
SXSW President Roland Swenson spoke with the Austin Chronicle to discuss the contracts and the allegations set forth by Falworth. He explained that the restrictions have been on the books for around five years, and not once has the festival had to enforce them. He describes the language as protective of the SXSW brand name, and intended for someone who does something truly egregious like starting a fight, disobeying pyrotechnic rules or even killing someone. To hammer home the point, he says “You have to really fuck up for us to do this stuff.”
He says that Falworth pasted together two separate portions of the contract into one tweet, making the out-of-context language look even more insidious than intended. He added the fact that the festival talks to immigration about every band that comes from other nations to Texas, stating “most of these bands are here because we sort of sponsored them,” and that if any of the aforementioned heinous (and probably law-breaking) acts occurred, the festival would be obliged to notify immigration authorities anyways.
Falworth has uploaded a video scrolling through the contract on their phone to prove it is not pieced together:
the managing director of sxsw accused me of pasting together two parts of the contract to make it sound worse than it is. Here's a video: pic.twitter.com/wDaCBiCDBx
— Told Slant (@Felixixix666) March 2, 2017
The language has certainly had ramifications, and in an email from an agent of an unnamed Japanese punk band to booker Ashley Bradley, a band voices concern over the language being enforced against them: “Sorry the band are restricted to official SXSW showcases as they have a ‘visa waiver’ as a USA work permit costs more than flights, meaning they can be deported/5 year ban if they play any unofficial shows & they have more big showcases TBA.”
Swenson confirmed that the festival is within their rights to do such a thing, but that it is not something they are actively trying to pursue. In short, it is protective language in case a band from abroad acts in a way that could be damaging to the SXSW brand.
He writes off Falworth’s posts as an effort to garner additional publicity and defended the festival’s track record when it comes to progressive immigration stances. The first statement might come off as a bit accusatory, but the second sentence is certainly a good point: “I think that everybody has figured out that a quick way to get your name out there is to accuse us of conspiring with immigration authorities, but we’ve been on the right side of immigration issues. We’re doing a show with bands from the seven banned countries and we came out publicly against the immigration ban last month. I don’t know why this guy did this – he’s just confusing this very complicated subject.”