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Bands pull out of SXSW over U.S. Army sponsorship, Gaza war

Multiple bands and musicians scheduled to perform at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival are pulling out because of the U.S. Army’s “super sponsorship” of the event, and America’s ongoing support of Israel’s war on Hamas.

The Belfast, Ireland-based rap trio Kneecap — the most recent departure — called the relationship “depraved” in light of the war in Gaza.

“We cannot in good conscience attend an arts festival that has the U.S. 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,” the group said in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Kneecap joins other slated SXSW performers like Lambrini Girls, Scowl, Gel, Okay Shalom, Squirrel Flower and Sprints in pulling out of the event to protest.

The artists were set to perform at the festival in Austin, Texas from March 11-16. The festival typically attracts over 300,000 people each year, and Kneecap said backing out will have “a significant financial impact” on the group.

“But it isn’t an iota of hardship when compared to the unimaginable suffering being inflicted every minute, every day on the people of Gaza,” Kneecap said.

Lily Macieira and Phoebe Lunny of Lambrini Girls, a Brighton-based band, said on social media that their boycott of SXSW was necessary to avoid “becoming totally inauthentic” in their claims of solidarity with Palestine.

“We were considering going to the festival and protesting on stage, but there isn’t a way to do that doesn’t feel performative or inherently exploitative,” they said.

“There’s always a right thing to do and it’s almost never as complicated as the establishment wants you to believe. And sometimes it costs you a dream, but a dream is a dream and not a life,” Brooklyn-based artist Okay Shalom said in a statement to social media announcing her departure from SXSW.

“A music festival should not include war profiteers. I refuse to be complicit in this and withdraw my art and labor in protest,” Ella Williams, also known as Squirrel Flower, said in her social media statement.

The U.S. is currently the foremost supplier of weapons to Israel, and several of those systems are being deployed in the conflict. President Biden has become increasingly critical of the civilian toll of the war, and said last week he expects a “Come-to-Jesus meeting” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The U.S. Army is also spearheading the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, and will construct a seaport, as announced by Biden during his State of the Union address.

“This war has taken a greater toll on innocent civilians than all previous wars in Gaza combined,” Biden said during the address. Biden called on Israel to “do its part” to facilitate aid in the region.

The Hill has reached out to the U.S. Army for comment.

In a statement to BBC, the US Army said it was “proud to be a sponsor of SXSW, and to have the opportunity to showcase America’s Army… explore new ideas and insights, and create dynamic industry partnerships.”

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