SXSW Threatens Deportation for Foreign Artists Playing ‘Non-Sanctioned’ Events

Felix Walworth, drummer for Told Slant, cancels band’s concert over language in festival contract

Last Updated: March 2, 2017 @ 3:31 PM

The South by Southwest Music Festival is threatening foreign-born music acts with deportation if they participate in “unofficial” performances during the Texas gathering, TheWrap has learned.

Any acts from outside the U.S. that accept side gigs — fringe events with deep-pocketed sponsors that pay well for artists in town — are subject to immigration action for violating the SXSW terms, according to terms of the festival’s official contract.

What’s more — this year’s festival is spotlighting artists from countries affected by President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

At least one act, the Brooklyn-based band Told Slant, has decided to cancel its scheduled performance at this month’s festival as a result. “After looking through this contract sent to me by SXW I have decided to cancel Told Slant’s performance at the festival,” drummer Felix Walworth tweeted on Thursday.

“Can our first step toward coalition as artists with radical politics be to cancel all our official showcases at SXSW? I’m serious just do it,” Walworth continued.

The contract reads, “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.”

In a statement, SXSW CEO and Co-Founder Roland Swenson noted that festival officials had “never reported international showcasing artists to immigration authorities” and that “Language governing SXSW’s ability to protect a showcase has been in the artist Performance Agreement for many years.”

Swenson added, “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.”

International performers “coming to SXSW to perform without a work visa are limited, by U.S. immigration law, to performing their showcase event only,” he noted. “If an artist wishes to perform elsewhere, they will require a work visa.”

The contract clause could be seen as incendiary given this year’s special music program is called “ContraBanned: #MusicUnites.” It was organized with international outreach group Tamizdat, and specifically highlights “artists from the diaspora communities of the nations banned by the January 27th Executive Order,” according to a release.

World trance vocalist Mamak Khadem (Iran/US), EDM composer Ash Koosha (Iran/UK), hip-pop and pop duo Faarrow (Somalia/Canada) are among those in the lineup.

Non-sanctioned events have been a sticking point for years at SXSW, and in fairness at many other festivals — the micro-economy surrounding a gathering of celebrities, political figures and thought leaders can balloon considerably.

In 2010, Twitter almost lost a festival keynote address for throwing its own non-sanctioned rager, AdAge reported at the time.

Weezer, Wu-Tang Clan and folk artists the Avett Brothers are among this year’s headliners at the music festival, which also includes Film and Interactive portions.