SXSW Threatens Deportation for International Artists Who Play Unofficial Shows

A clause in the SXSW artist contract appears to threaten global artists by giving festival staff the right to contact immigration authorities. Felix Walworth of the bands Told Slant, Bellows and Eskimeaux tweeted a photo reportedly of a portion of the standard contract that is sent to all performing artists. The event will showcase artists from the seven predominantly Muslim countries included in a stalled executive order on immigration.

"Some of this about playing shows other than their showcase, which, if they come in on the kind of visa that majority get - they're not supposed to do that", confirms Swenson, pointing out that SXSW never threatens global artists with immigration over playing extracurricular shows.

"We understand that given the current political climate surrounding immigration, the language that was published seems strong", he said in a statement.

Downtown Boys' Victoria Ruiz started an online petition today asking SXSW to remove this clause from the contracts.

Many bands try to maximize their time in Austin by playing as many shows as possible, often playing multiple sets in a single day for official and non-official showcases. "Language governing SXSW's ability to protect a showcase has been in the artist Performance Agreement for many years".

If it's really not about punishing bands for playing unofficial shows, perhaps they should change the language to make that clearer. Although the violations for artists from the US are minor, this is an aggressive penalty, which could ruin an artist's career by not being able to return to the U.S.

But SXSW Managing Director Roland Swenson says that the images of the contract that Walworth posted are two different parts of the agreement cut and pasted together in a way that is misleading and out of context. 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. 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.

Told Slant also tweeted a call to other artists to boycott the event.

"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", Walworth tweeted. In short, it is protective language in case a band from overseas acts in a way that could be damaging to the SXSW brand. 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. One artist has withdrawn from the festival over promises to report performers to immigration authorities who do not stick to their contracts. "That keeps them from having to go through getting a work visa and all that, which is time-consuming and expensive".

What is South by Southwest festival's attitude toward immigrants? Walworth responded to this accusation on Twitter with a video showing him scrolling through the contract.

The clause isn't new, according to Stereogum, but it's much more of a threat in the wake of President Donald Trump's crackdown on immigration.

  • Zachary Reyes