SXSW Is Reportedly Threatening International Artists with Deportation If They Play Unofficial Shows

SXSW Is Reportedly Threatening International Artists with Deportation If They Play Unofficial Shows
Unofficial parties go along with mountains of Doritos and questionable free energy drinks as some of the most interesting parts of Austin's annual SXSW festival. That said, organizers have understandably tried to crack down on the non-branded events over the years. Ahead of their 2017 edition, however, the fest has apparently taken things a little too far.

Felix Walworth, a member of the bands Told Slant, Eskimeaux and Bellows, shared the booking contract for the festival on Twitter. One part of the alleged document suggested that international artists that played unofficial parties could be immediately deported. As a result, Walworth revealed that Told Slant would not longer be playing SXSW.
 

Walworth went on to encourage other artists to withdraw from playing SXSW's official shows as well.
 

Expanding on that thought, Walworth offered a lengthy statement on Twitter:

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 (3/2, 5:45 p.m. EST): In response to the claims, SXSW has now spoke out. Speaking to the Austin Chronicle, the festival's managing director Roland Swenson wrote the accusations off as a publicity stunt and said the following:

We've had these restrictions in the agreement for about five years and never had to enforce them. 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.

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 also added:

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.


UPDATE (3/2, 8:00 p.m. EST): SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson has now also responded to the controversy in an email. You can read excerpts of his statement below.
 
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.

Further, he said that the United States law prohibits artists to perform anywhere other than SXSW if they don't have a work visa: 
 
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.