The Off Beat: South by South Protest

Official fest flooded with grassroots organizing and anti-SX showcases


cumgirl8 drummer Chase Lombardo at Hotel Vegas on March 13 (photo by David Brendan Hall)

By the end of South by Southwest, over 100 musical acts pulled out of their official shows. Most opted to perform at unofficial gigs, if not ones in direct SXSW opposition. In the wave of grassroots activity, they had plenty of opportunities.

Joining local artists including Lucía Beyond, Madison Baker, Being Dead, Buffalo Nichols, and the Stacks – Good Looks singer Tyler Jordan announced the band’s decision live on Spectrum News 1 on March 13.

“It was a really hard decision to make, but ultimately, we were super bummed out at South By’s inclusion of Raytheon and BAE Systems and Collins Aerospace,” Jordan said. “They held events at the festival, and they are directly supporting the Israeli war machine. And we just felt like, with the ongoing genocide in Gaza of the Palestinians, that it was totally unacceptable for that to take place. And so we are actually dropping out, withdrawing our labor, withdrawing our art.”

It started with four artists. Days before SXSW 2024 began, Ella O’Connor Williams, who performs as Squirrel Flower, announced on Instagram that she would not be participating. “SXSW is platforming defense contractors including Raytheon subsidiaries as well as the U.S. Army, a main sponsor of the festival,” she wrote. Collins Aerospace – a subsidiary of RTX Corporation (formerly Raytheon), which has supplied weapons to the Israeli government – hosted panels about defense innovation at the fest.


Brooklyn band Proper. performs at the Austin for Palestine Coalition's ANTI-SXSW showcase at City Hall on March 14 (Photo by Carys Anderson)

Within hours, Eliza McLamb, Shalom, and Mamalarky followed suit, backing out of their official showcases in support of Palestine. Word spread by SXSW’s day one, which wrapped with a protest outside the Convention Center. On the corner of Fourth Street and Red River, the Party for Socialism and Liberation demanded that SXSW disinvite Department of Defense affiliates, while musicians, including Connor McCampbell of TC Superstar and Jon Siebels of Eve 6, encouraged their fellow artists to join the boycott.

“They’re not getting paid shit anyway, so they might as well [drop out],” Siebels said, referencing past efforts to increase SXSW’s artist pay.

On March 13, Brooklyn emo trio Proper. performed at Cheer Up Charlies alongside Alexalone, Blvck Hippie, cumgirl8, and more artists demanding fair pay at the festival. (Ahead of the protest curve, Cheer Ups had already opted for all-unofficial dates this year.) Showcase organizers the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers launched a campaign last year, after which the festival increased artist pay for the first time in a decade. This year, the union continued to demand SXSW pay all artists $750 for performances and provide a wristband.

Proper. bandleader Erik Garlington told the Chronicle that the band learned of SXSW’s military ties through Squirrel Flower’s post.

“I’m in an all-Black, all-queer band, so it’s very important to us to come back down south to try and inspire other artists to play. So we thought South By would be a no-brainer,” Garlington said. “[When] we heard what they were up to, we dropped out of our official showcases and decided to keep all of our unofficial stuff. We’re here in solidarity, trying to get some money for Palestinian relief in some of the shows.”

The artist spoke while watching his fellow artists perform on the plaza in front of Austin City Hall as part of the Austin for Palestine Coalition’s ANTI-SXSW Fest. The outdoor locale became an indie rock who’s-who as the multiday mini-festival looped in emo label Topshelf Records. The demonstration also featured a pop-up from the Falasteen Street Museum, a public education project detailing the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Beyond boycotting SXSW, the protest aimed to pressure Austin City Council into passing a cease-fire resolution. “What do weapons have to do with music anyway?” Currls bassist Jack Smith asked.

On Friday, the APC and UMAW joined forces for a protest on Eighth Street and Congress Avenue, outside the U.S. Army’s This Is Our House activation. Dozens gathered at the busy Downtown intersection, while inside the collaboration with the U.S. Navy and SPIN magazine, where recruiters handed out 45s from the Six-String Soldiers Army field band, appeared pretty empty. Outside, demonstrators held signs reading “Music should never fund murder,” “War profiteers out of music,” and “SXSW funds genocide.”

Impacts to the fest showed in shuffled showcase schedules, last-minute lineup replacements, and plenty of online conversation. Early in the week, New York post-punks cumgirl8 posted a meme about whether protesting the festival in person or boycotting would make a stronger statement, captioning the post, “We lose money either way.” They later opted to drop out.

Coming from a show to Friday’s Congress Avenue protest, drummer Chase Lombardo, in fishnets and a cowboy hat, borrowed some internet slang for her megaphone statement: “We’re standing on business.”

Before later joining the boycott, London darkwaver Nabihah Iqbal originally followed through with her official showcases – performing at the Palm Door on Sixth in a custom-made “Free Palestine” T-shirt alongside bandmate Aldous RH, who donned a keffiyeh. UK art rockers Dry Cleaning carried on with their official performances, though vocalist Florence Shaw commented on the conflict at all of the band’s shows. At a Friday gig at Radio/East, the singer doubled down on her decision to speak out “in environments that might feel intimidating, especially in cultural spaces.”

Before the festival began, online organizing also led to a cease-and-desist sent to the Austin for Palestine Coalition, stating the activists had used SXSW trademark art without permission. After not responding to requests for comment from outlets like The Guardian and the Chronicle, SXSW addressed the past week of artist dropouts on March 12. It only took a tweet from the governor to get them there.

SXSW wrote: “We are an organization that welcomes diverse viewpoints. Music is the soul of SXSW, and it has long been our legacy. We fully respect the decision these artists made to exercise their right to free speech.” The statement added that SXSW invited defense companies to the conference in order to “understand how their approach will impact our lives.”

“The situation in the Middle East is tragic, and it illuminates the heightened importance of standing together against injustice,” the statement concluded.

Editor’s note: SXSW co-founder and part owner Nick Barbaro also co-founded and owns The Austin Chronicle.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

South by Southwest, Good Looks, Squirrel Flower, Proper., Erik Garlington, Jack Smith, cumgirl8, Chase Lombardo, Nabihah Iqbal, Florence Shaw

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