SXSW contract threatens artists with deportation

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The Austin, TX based tech and music festival allegedly includes an extremely troubling provision in their contract with SXSW showcase artists.

This afternoon Felix Walworth, frontman for sad boi indie band Told Slant posted an image to his Twitter that appears to include details of a contract between South by Southwest and their showcase artists. In this screenshot, SXSW threaten international artists that they will contact immigration authorities if the artist chooses to play an unofficial SXSW event. The language states, “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.”


This is fucked up for many, many reasons. Let’s examine a couple:

Austin is currently embroiled in a fight with federal authorities and Texas governor Greg Abbott over its status as a Sanctuary City for residents. The city and our sheriff, Sally Hernandez are fighting to protect innocent immigrants from being rounded up by the ICE agents that have been patrolling schools and roads for the past month. With this contract, it seems that SXSW is jumping in bed with the anti-immigrant attitudes of Donald Trump’s administration.

For those that have never attended SXSW, literally thousands of shows happen across the city over the course of a week or so. Most of them are unofficial, non-sanctioned SXSW events that are open to folks that aren’t industry connected or can’t plunk down thousands of dollars for a badge to attend the big SXSW showcase events. Threatening deportation upon artists that choose to perform additional shows at unofficial events is sickeningly unfair to the people that make the festival worth a damn in the first place.

As a longtime Austin resident that finds no charm in the yearly advertising orgy that pollutes the city and is still upset about the loss of a friend in the 2014 SXSW tragedy, this is another glaring reason for the city to put an end to the gross excesses of South by Southwest. Barring that, I hope the artists that make the event worthwhile reconsider their involvement with any festival that would stoop to such petty tactics.


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  • sweetooth0

    This would be like if MDF told bands they’d get them deported if they did any other shows in the US other than MDF. That fest is pretty much a launching pad for a lot of international bands to get into North America and do some additional tour dates while they’ve got a valid visa. I mean I got Melt Banana in fucking Saskatoon after the year they played MDF, and the only reason they came is because they got invited in for that fest. Fucking dumb

    • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

      Melt Banana >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  • If the band agreed to an exclusive performance, it’s one thing to threaten to revoke hotel reservations and/or guarantee money. But to threaten deportation? that’s just SXSW slapping musicians in the face with their dick

    • Wanna get international musicians to stop playing your fest? Cuz that’s how you get international musicians to stop playing your fest.

    • Elegant Gazing Globe

      It’s actually because the visa’s are granted on the sole condition that the work will be done for no one other than the specific sponsor of the visa, and if that is violated, the sponsor faces losing the right to be a visa sponsor in the future.

      • Elegant Gazing Globe

        My experience to back this up is the fact that I used to apply for, and manage the application process, and issuancec for B and P visa’s for international dance troupe that tours the US every year.

        • I think there’s a pretty stark difference between “losing the right to be a visa sponsor in the future” and actively reporting them to authorities for deportation

          • Howard Dean

            If your livelihood depends on being a visa sponsor, though, I kind of understand it. In Elegant Gazing Globe’s situation, I bet it would’ve been disastrous if he or his firm lost the right to sponsor visas for their touring dance troupes.

          • Elegant Gazing Globe

            Perhaps, but it’s a pretty solid stop gap deterrent.

        • sweetooth0

          The fact that a touring band has to get a work visa in the first place is stupid. And the idea that by limiting where bands tour fosters local talent is flawed. Guess what, the local talent is gonna be doin a whole lot better if they get to open up for bigger touring acts when they come through. The exposure is gonna be WAY better than the same old shitty bar gig with their 10 friends on Saturday night. ugh.

          • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

            The reason for the touring visa is that of national security. Basically, if a group of people are going to be traveling around the country and collecting money for performances, and individual or company (in this case the promoter) needs to be responsible for them and held accountable in case said group of individuals commit a felony or get involved in something outside the law. It is not really about trying to keep international bands from visiting the US or because they might “take the jobs” of local bands. If anything, touring bands foster the economy and provide jobs for promoters, venues, publicity companies, transportation, etc.

          • Howard Dean

            HEY! You’re making way too much sense with your measured responses and first hand experience with visas and immigration. NEEDS MORE OUTRAGE. RAWR.

          • sweetooth0

            Then i have to wonder why it is so bloody difficult for bands to get visas then? For example, every year a handful of bands cancels for MDF, and it’s always due to visa issues. I read an article once by a guy who handles getting visas for bands, and it sounds like an absolute nightmare. My government up here in Canada was even trying to make it MORE difficult, and the reason they cited was “protecting Canadian artists” as I described.

          • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

            Well, in order to apply for a visa, the organizer has to arrange everything first (dates, venues, expected revenues, method of transportation, etc) in order to show that indeed a tour/festival is going to happen. If you apply for a visa expecting to arrange everything later, it will be denied; everything has to be in perfect order. The criminal records of the artists are also taken into account, which is the reason why Samoth from Emperor and Frost from Satyricon have been denied entry into the US before.

            However, while the idea behind a work visa is perfectly sound, the execution isn’t always is. There are plenty of immigration officers who just love giving people a hard time (Lord knows I’ve had my share of those). The bit you mention about “protecting Canadian artists” does sound like bullshit. Canadian artists aren’t going to sell more records or have more fans just because you don’t let bands from other countries tour there

        • RJA
          • Lacertilian

            Hah, dude I went to school with is in that shit.

  • White House Deli – now serving shit sandwiches daily

  • sweetooth0

    Also, if the “sanctioned” SXSW show is completed packed, how does it become diminished if the band then plays another “unsanctioned” set somewhere else after for the people who aren’t writers for Pitchfork or whatever.

    • IT DOESN’T. Holy shit, thank you for getting what the organizers apparently cannot.

      • WOW IT’S ALMOST LIKE LAST MINUTE SURPRISE SETS HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO EFFECT ON SHOWCASE SETS HUH

      • sweetooth0

        The only way this sort of rationale makes sense is if it is a physical thing you obtain that is limited, and then after that sells out they just make more copies, thus devaluing the item because it is no longer as limited. But here, you aren’t taking the fucking band home with you. They got their money, no one can take it back after the show is done.

        • Howard Dean

          But you are limiting their ability to perform, so you are creating scarcity. From there you can increase ticket sales and/or ticket prices. It’s fucked up, but it does make sense.

          • sweetooth0

            yes, but i think this is a case of: the main show is sold out. It’s already a given. SXSW doesn’t need to create scarcity, because it’s sold out. The bands are doin’ additional shows after the fact so regular schumcks like me and you can see them, and not just a bunch of industry people.

          • sweetooth0

            It’s like how a band might add a date to their tour because a show sold out. The people who went to the first show aren’t being impacted, and the venue who put it on isn’t negatively impacted either, they already got the money from the tickets for the first show.

          • Also to get a little money, hopefully. Last I checked, SXSW showcase spots pay roughly $250 a group.

          • Howard Dean

            This clause eliminates the additional performances, so it forces those “borderline” attendees to commit and purchase a ticket. This increased demand also allows for the price of a ticket to increase, I’m not saying it’s fair or nice, just that it makes economic sense. The SXSW organizers understand that the demand for an event like this more than justifies the marginal cost (the marginal cost here being these strict contracts).

          • Depechemodeisgangsta

            Agree with you, It’s fucked up, but at the same time, if you want to see a specific artist and is only playing at the festival, then you are more likely to buy the ticket for the Festival.

      • GoatForest

        This whole thing is fucked up. The irony of a supposedly artistic festival trying to suppress art and unsanctioned expression is absurdly ironic.

  • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

    Well this is fucking stupid.

  • CyberneticOrganism

    That header image makes it look like pure hell. Fuck almighty I hate crowds.

    • My old office is in that picture. It was a bad time during SXSW.

      • CyberneticOrganism

        Good lord, I’m sorry

    • GoatForest

      That’s the same reason I stayed out of New Orleans earlier this week.

  • Howard Dean

    If SXSW is paying a premium to attract these artists (and paying for their travel, lodging, etc), I understand wanting to protect that investment with an “exclusive performance” clause. This is pretty harsh, but I’ve got to say that I understand where they are coming from. If you are essentially sponsoring an artist’s trip and they decide to give you the finger and break the contract, they should probably expect that their sponsor isn’t going to be too pumped about it.

    Probably most of the legwork/paperwork that got the band into the country were performed by SXSW. If the band then says “fuck you, we’re going to go and play other shows,” they break the contract (which is tied to their work/tour visa, I assume). The conditions are harsh, but it’s a good way to keep bands from breaking the contract.

    • Or to get international artists to boycott your festival.

      • Howard Dean

        That’s absolutely within the rights of international artists, and I imagine many of them will do so (and I don’t blame the ones that do, honestly!). But I also imagine SXSW is lucrative enough that many others will just grin and bear it. Business sucks, but sometimes you just have to accept stuff like this if you want to play ball.

    • sweetooth0

      I only agree with you if the other shows they’re playing have a negative impact on the main exclusive show. Once that’s sold out and done, what difference does it make?

      • Howard Dean

        I think it’s all about the potential for additional performances. If some fans understood that there was the potential that x band would perform an additional show outside of SXSW, and x was the prevailing reason they wanted to attend the festival, they would not buy a ticket and attend in hopes that x band would perform somewhere afterwards. A clause like this makes that potential very limited, since the penalty for an additional show is dire. This will force those “borderline” attendees or ones who wouldn’t attend at all (without x band in the lineup) to pull the trigger (and to probably pay significantly more for a ticket than they would otherwise).

        • I agree with you up to the “deportation” part of this whole thing

          • Howard Dean

            It’s definitely harsh, I just don’t know what else they (SXSW) could do in this situation to save their own asses in the event of a breach. Since the contract being broken would get them in hot water with immigration authorities (and potentially keep them from ever being a visa sponsor again), they kind of need to notify those authorities about the broken contract in order to avoid these negative repercussions.

            I agree that the “deportation” verbiage in the above contract language is definitely a bit fucked and seems petty. It kind of looks like they pulled it straight from some immigration code.

        • sweetooth0

          I guess so. But by the sounds of it, the unsanctioned shows aren’t really an advertised thing ahead of time, it’s an impromptu additional show after the main one is sold out. I suppose if it becomes common place then people would learn to expect it over time, but if every gig is already full of industry people and unattendable by normal concert goers already anyway, I’m not seeing people having much incentive to buy tickets for the fest in the first place.

    • Freedom Jew

      Those guidelines ARE in place to protect the festival’s investment, yes. Often, they’ll have language that says that the bands can’t play withiin x miles for 6 months before or after the festival appearance, especially when it comes to international artists that rarely or never come to the U.S. Generally, if someone turns around and breaks those agreements, they’re just not welcome back at the festival again, and many other promoters will not work with them because of the blatant breaking of the agreement.

      Threatening to deport a band for whipping out acoustic guitars at one of the various parties without permission is asinine, and yes.. the language would allow them to do that, since its an unsanctioned performance.

  • DARKBEARD

    im not sure theres a whole lot at SXSW for someone like me but, and i think its been touched on at the og before, it needs to be made easier for international bands to play here. threatening bands or exclusivity clauses or any of that, i would see as yet another hurdle or deterrent if i were one such band

    • The cost of coming to the US and do a tour is pricey. I know a couple UK bands that will not come here because they’ll wind up owing money once all is said and done.

      • Joaquin Stick

        >Be UK band who can’t afford to tour in the US
        >Go to SXSW
        >Play unauthorized show
        >Get banned from US
        >Get publicity for being banned
        >Have excuse for not being able to come back
        >???
        >Profit?

      • I think you need to think of it as a short term loss for a long term gain?

  • CyberneticOrganism

    Organizers Of Once-Cool Festival Ensure Festival No Longer Cool

    • *doesn’t vape*

      • CyberneticOrganism

        *gets sensible job at local government office*

        • *marries for profit*
          *copulates only for procreation*
          *retires to Gold Canyon, Arizona*
          *collects tobacco pipes*

  • JWG79

    Just need transporter technology to be invented. Future unofficial SXSW shows can be held in Alberta, which is basically mostly Far North Texas.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      All the bands can perform via hologram (like Dio and 2Pac) at enormous expense and underwhelming results.

      They’ll all have to be killed first though, which I’m sure the SXSW organizers would be happy to arrange.

      • Joaquin Stick

        TIL: Being dead is a requirement for hologramation

        • Gonna go see the guy from Blues Traveller’s hologram perform tonight. He’s not dead or nothin’. He’s just real lazy.

          • RJA

            you sure he’s not dead?!

        • CyberneticOrganism

          For goofy live performance cartoon holograms that make you questions what the fuck you’re doing there, yes.

      • JWG79

        First they came for the swoopy haircuts, and I did not speak out…

  • Butts4Gutts

    Joe, I’m sorry about your friend who passed in that horrible incident in 2014. Death has no place in these types of events that celebrate life and art. It’s extremely saddening when it rears its ugly head during such a time.

    • Óðinn

      Great comment.

  • Freedom Jew

    Sadly, I remember when SXSW was just starting out, and they’d have bands from around Texas and around the country come in to play shows. Now, its a huge tourist destination that makes a fuckton of money bringing in big label artists that don’t actually need the exposure that the festival originally provided in the early 1990s for up and coming bands..

    Welcome to Austinchella.

  • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

    I don’t think it is the organizers of SXSW, it is a condition of the visa itself. Just like I have a work visa sponsored by the company for which I’m employed. It is clearly stated that I’m not allowed to work for a different company (even if I remain employed to my sponsor, i.e. a part time job or PRN), or do any sort of work outside of my field. To do so would be a violation of immigration law, my visa would get canceled and I would indeed get deported

    • Howard Dean

      You get it. It’s not the best system, but it does make sense, and it’s honestly the way it has been structured for quite some time. This isn’t anything new. It doesn’t matter if the employer/sponsor is SXSW sponsoring a band or Tesla Motors sponsoring a mechanical engineer. If the worker being sponsored breaks the contract, the sponsor is on the hook with immigration. They need to put deterrents in the contract for that reason. It’s harsh, but it makes sense.

      I think everyone is just really fired up and “rah-rah” about this right now because immigration/deportation is such a charged and hot button issue at the moment in the U.S. Hell, that language has probably been in the SXSW contract since the festival’s inception. Now is just a really good and opportune time to get outraged by it.

      • DARKBEARD
      • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

        Exactly. Given the political circumstances, words like “deportation” sound pretty nasty, but the again, its a legal contract, so it needs to be absolutely clear about what is going to happen. No sugarcoating

        I also find it absolutely unprofessional of this Felix Walworth gentleman to blast the organizers on social media rather than privately discuss any concerns about the contract. I guess it makes for a good publicity stunt. It sure worked for Havok

        • Howard Dean

          Agreed, totally screwed up. If you have a contract dispute, there’s no reason to put someone on blast–just don’t sign the damn thing and/or try to renegotiate it. But it doesn’t work that way anymore. In today’s world you are considered complicit in something unless you publicly and loudly state your opposition to it and put everyone on blast. Resolving the issue isn’t the focal point; making sure you are heard and drawing attention is the most important.

          • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

            What I do find hilarious was that the guy appears to be from Brooklyn (or at least his band is). If he is a US citizen, he is free to play wherever and whenever he likes. If he is trying to make a stand for international artists, that’s cool, but do the fucking homework and at least make an attempt to understand how things work before you shit on people all over the internet