Told Slant Cancels SXSW Appearance Over Contract’s Deportation Threat, SXSW Responds

Brooklyn-based act Told Slant were scheduled to perform at this year’s SXSW as an official artist for the first time. But they have just cancelled their appearance at the Austin-based festival because of the organization’s policy to notify US immigration authorities if SXSW determines that “[participating] acts or their representatives have acted in ways that adversely affect the viability of their official SXSW showcase.” In regards to artists that have traveled to the festival from out of the country, the contract, in part, reads:

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 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, or denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US points of entry.

Official artists frequently play unoffical shows that are not sanctioned by SXSW. This clause is not a new part of the artist contract, though it does bear more weight in a presidential administration that has encouraged a crackdown on immigration. One of the official showcases at the festival this year, ContraBanned: #MusicUnites, is highlighting artists that are targeted by Donald Trump’s immigration ban.

“After looking through this contract sent to me by sxsw I have decided to cancel Told Slant’s performance at the festival,” the band’s Felix Walworth posted on Twitter earlier today, along with the following statement:

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

UPDATE: SXSW managing director Roland Swenson told Austin 360 and The Austin Chronicle that the screenshot of the contract in the tweet that Walworth sent was compiled from “two different parts of the artist agreement” and pasted together. Stereogum has obtained a copy of the official invitation email that was sent to artists, and can confirm that is not true. Here is the portion verbatim:

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 5.42.42 PM

Swenson also says: “It’s intended for someone who does something really egregious like disobeying our rules for pyrotechnics, starts a brawl in a club, or kills somebody. You have to really fuck up for us to do this stuff.” He continues:

What people don’t understand is that we’re already talking to immigration about all these bands. Most of these bands are here because we sort of sponsored them. So if somebody did something bad enough that we had to enforce this part of the contract, we would probably be obliged to notify immigration that ‘Hey these guys are trouble,’ but we’ve never had to do that.

He adds that the festival does not threaten international artists with deportation over playing unofficial shows: “Some of this about playing shows other than their showcase, which, if they come in on the kind of visa that most of them get – they’re not supposed to do that. All this stuff in there about getting deported and immigration – that’s just us telling them this could happen if you’re doing this other stuff. It’s not us saying we’re going to try and have you deported, it’s us warning them that if they violated the terms of the visa that got them here, that’s what could happen.”

In addition, Victoria Ruiz of Downtown Boys (who are an official artist at this year’s festival) has started a petition demanding that “SXSW remove this clause from their contract and stop threatening bands with immigration investigations and deportation.”

UPDATE 2: CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson has issued an official statement that reiterates his earlier comments, and adds some new context:

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) http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/business.html
1.4.2.(Work Visas) http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/employment/temporary.html 1.4.3.SXSW general visa FAQ: http://www.sxsw.com/travel/visa-faq

UPDATE 3: Downtown Boys, PWR BTTM, Sheer Mag, and many other bands have signed an open letter to SXSW demanding that they remove the deportation clause. You can read more about that here.

Tags: SXSW, Told Slant