Culture Is A Weapon. Join the Fight:

Artists Demand SXSW Drop Deportation Threats

Talib Kweli, Kimya Dawson, Ted Leo, Moor Mother, and others join public letter to the festival

/ March 3, 2017

UPDATE 3/7/2017: SXSW conceded to artists’ demands and have apologized, promised not to work with immigration authorities, and sworn to change their language for new year’s contract. This is a big win. 

A coalition of artists is calling on the SXSW music festival to drop language from their contract which threatens to deport foreign artists if they perform at shows which are not sponsored by SXSW. The artists are also asking anyone concerned to sign a petition to be delivered to SXSW demanding that the language be dropped. Musicians such as Immortal Technique, Kimya Dawson, Algiers, Ted Leo, Sammus, Downtown Boys, Sad13, Priests, Evan Greer, and more have signed onto the open letter, and the list continues to grow. Spark Mag joins these artists in calling on SXSW to apologize and to strike the contract language.

Our partners at Future of Music have published a thorough legal analysis of the contract language along with recommendations on what SXSW can do to immediately remedy the situation.

We will continue adding names to the letter as they come in.

An Open Letter to SXSW:

As artists and part of the musical community of SXSW, we’re outraged to learn that the festival has been threatening artists who are not U.S. citizens with targeted immigration enforcement and deportation for playing at unofficial showcases. In light of recent attacks on immigrant communities, this practice is particularly chilling. We are calling on SXSW to immediately drop this clause from their contract, and cease any collusion with immigration officials that puts performers in danger.

Austin, TX is a sanctuary city and these actions by SXSW show a disrespect for municipal policy. SXSW is a well respected institution and has a responsibility to show leadership by refusing to collaborate with the government’s campaign of fear and hate toward non-citizens.. This is a growing open letter with concrete demands that SXSW needs to take.

WE the artists who make SXSW possible demand the following:

  • SXSW must rescind the portion of their contract that states that if they found out that an artist is playing an unofficial showcase they will “notify the appropriate U.S. Immigration authorities of the above actions,” and “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.”
  • SXSW must publicly apologize to the community for their attempt to collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • SXSW must affirm that it is a welcoming space for all artists, including immigrants and international performers, and commit to protecting the rights of all performers.

“SXSW has directly contributed to growing gentrification in our city. SXSW is responsible for the ongoing destruction of families homes and businesses. Locals here who play music and directly contribute to the economy can no longer live here due to stagnant wages and rising rental costs. We are one of the largest growing cities but all of our PoC are getting forced out because this ongoing culture is unsustainable. ICE is targeting hard working people in Austin so this comes as a slap in the face to everyone that lives here when we are already vulnerable and the administration wants to make an example of us because we a sanctuary city” Milo Royal, a musician and worker in Austin

“We are white US citizens using that privilege to engage  with you, sxsw,  to reconsider colluding w/ ICE and thus, the Trump’s regime racist agenda. Please change your language and actively support and protect immigrant and non-white artists.” -Priests, Sister Polygon Records

I realize that this language has been in your agreement for many years (though that doesn’t mean it was ever right). This year, you have put on a showcase featuring artists from countries listed in the Muslim ban. The language in your artist agreements should reflect your support of these artists rather than besiege them. Please do the right thing and adjust your language to appropriately reflect the current political climate.” Joe Steinhardt, Don Giovanni Records

“Music knows no borders. SXSW bullying bands who have members that are not U.S. citizens is chilling, and frankly racist. It undermines artists’ basic rights to free speech, and sends the wrong message at a time when immigrant communities are facing an all out assault from the U.S. government.” – Evan Greer, musician and Campaign Director of Fight for the Future

“Seriously SXSW this is ridiculous. I’m urging fellow artists to not play there until this is fixed.” – Immortal Technique

“SXSW should support, not eliminate the voices of the marginalized. Stop collaborating with federal forces removing those who need to be heard most urgently” – The Kominas

The recent statement issued by SXSW Founder Roland Swenson reads as intimidation masked as concern. This is most apparent in clause 1.4., which stipulates that foreign artists may not play unofficial shows outside of SXSW, lest they face immediate deportation. This language is used with the intent to mislead and intimidate foreign artists into complying with SXSW’s exclusivity clause – which, as with any festival, is written to protect SXSW’s profits, not the safety of international artists. These artists should be left to perform and make additional income at their own discretion, not cornered into exclusivity under the threat of US Customs and Border Patrol.” —Suzy Exposito, journalist

“SXSW host’s a festival that has some potential benefits for artists. While it is a great time to get your music and possibly message out, there is a huge cost to artists. Many of us have to play underpaid shows in hopes that it can give our careers a boost in the future. If we had responsible arts and culture funding and support, we would not have to play SXSW in order to secure a financially viable future as touring musicians. So many of the artists playing the festival are addressing and confronting the very power structures that SXSW is perpetuating through their threats towards international musicians. We demand an end to their threats and a public apology for their anti-immigrant and therefore racist stated policy. Cities, counties, and states have all been urged to cease collaboration with ICE, we demand the same of music festivals.” Victoria Ruiz and Joey L DeFrancesco, Downtown Boys

With Much Concern,

Screaming Females


Downtown Boys

Aye Nako

Sheer Mag


Sister Polygon Records

Glory Fires

Evan Greer

Adam Torres

Don Giovanni Records



Sadie Dupuis/Sad13

La Neve

Helado Negro

Malportado Kids

Try the Pie


AJ Davila

Hari Kondabolu

Allison Crutchfield and the Fizz

Pygmy Lush


Patrick Ferguson (drummer in Mike Mills, Powder Room, more)

Yucky Duster


Immortal Technique

Shannon and the Clams


Dark Blue

Hank Wood and the Hammerheads

Jay Som

Emily Reo



Ted Leo

Chastity Belt

Mega Bog

Hand Habits

The Kominas

Moor Mother

Dirty Fences


Power Trip


Kimya Dawson


Zig Zags

Miriam Hakim and Roger Medina of Giant Kitty

Marching Church

The Shondes

Spark Mag

Publicist UK

Told Slant

Lisa Prank

Hand Grenade Job


Big Thief

Navy Gangs

Joey Bishop


Stef Chura


Street Eaters


Brother Ali

Meredith Graves

Snail Mail


Outer Spaces

Talib Kweli

Zach de la Rocha

Mega Bog

Hand Habits

Mal Blum