Mar 13, 2024 2 min read

Texas governor tells SXSW boycotters “don’t come back”

South By Southwest has commented on the decision of 60 acts to pull out of this year’s festival because of the involvement of the US Army and defence companies in the event. Organisers defend those partnerships but say they respect the decisions of the artists who have decided to join the boycott

Texas governor tells SXSW boycotters “don’t come back”

Organisers of South By South West have defended their decision to involve defence companies and the US Army in the showcase festival, but added that they "fully respect" the decision made by some artists to boycott the event because of those organisations' connections to the conflict in Gaza. The festival issued a statement after the governor of Texas tweeted to those acts joining the boycott, "bye - don’t come back". 

As well as being home to the Austin-based music conference and showcase festival, Texas also houses various military bases, governor Greg Abbott was keen to note in his social media post. "Austin remains the HQ for the Army Futures Command, San Antonio is Military City USA", he wrote. "We are proud of the US military in Texas. If you don’t like it, don’t come here". 

This is the same Abbott who once said "we will always defend the freedom of speech in Texas", when signing into law regulations restricting the censorship of posts on social media. So you'd think the governor would welcome artists exercising their freedom of speech by critiquing SXSW's military connections on their social platforms of choice. A hypocritical politician, who'd have thought it possible? 

Referencing this week's post by the currently anti-free speech Abbott, SXSW's statement says, “SXSW does not agree with Governor Abbott. We are an organisation 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”. 

As the music side of SXSW got underway earlier this week, it emerged that about 60 acts had pulled out from official showcases because the US Army is a 'super sponsor' of the event this year, and some defence companies also have a presence in the conference. 

One of the acts joining the boycott, Belfast-based Kneecap, wrote on social media, "We cannot in good conscience attend an arts festival that has the US Army as a ‘super sponsor’ and is platforming RTX (formerly Raytheon), Collins Aerospace and BAE Systems, the very companies selling the weapons that have murdered 31,000 Palestinians, over 21,000 of them women and children".

Dealing with the specific criticism made against it, SXSW's statement continues, "Across the globe, we are witnessing unspeakable tragedies, the rise of repressive regimes, and the increasing spread of violent conflict. It’s more crucial than ever that we come together to solve these greater humanitarian issues". 

Defending its military connections, it goes on, "The defence industry has historically been a proving ground for many of the systems we rely on today. These institutions are often leaders in emerging technologies, and we believe it’s better to understand how their approach will impact our lives”. 

“The Army’s sponsorship is part of our commitment to bring forward ideas that shape our world”, it adds. “In regard to Collins Aerospace, they participated this year as a sponsor of two SXSW Pitch categories, giving entrepreneurs visibility and funding for potentially game-changing work".

The statement concludes, "We have and will continue to support human rights for all. The situation in the Middle East is tragic and it illuminates the heightened importance of standing together against injustice".

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