“After careful consideration, we are revising our sponsorship model”: South By South West ditches sponsorship by Army and defence contractors

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(Image credit: SXSW)

Reverberations from the nine-month-old Gaza conflict continue to be felt amongst music festivals around the globe.

This time it’s Austin’s annual South By South West jamboree that has had to back down over its choice of sponsors. It has announced that it is discontinuing its partnership with the US Army and the defence contractor RTX Corporation after criticisms that led to a number of artists withdrawing from the 2024 festival.

A simple statement on their website the festival announced: “After careful consideration, we are revising our sponsorship model. As a result, the US Army, and companies who engage in weapons manufacturing, will not be sponsors of SXSW 2025.”

The 2024 edition of the festival, which runs annually in mid-March, was hit by over 80 artists pulling out over SXSW’s partnership with the Army and defence companies RTX, Collins Aerospace and BAE Systems. Those who boycotted the festival included Northern Irish rappers Kneecap, New York garage rockers Bodega and the Ninja Tune-signed artist Yaya Bey.

BODEGA - Tarkovski (Official Music Video) - YouTube BODEGA - Tarkovski (Official Music Video) - YouTube
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At the time the Republican Governor of Texas Greg Abbott waded into the controversy, issuing a blunt statement to the bands in question: “We are proud of the US military in Texas. If you don't like it, don't come here."

You might well ask yourself what was one of the (reputedly) coolest festivals on Earth, a renowned shop window for global left-of-centre talent, doing in bed with the uncool squares from the US Army anyway? At the time SXSW defended its reasoning by saying: “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 backtrack comes two weeks after pressure from a number of artists forced Barclays Bank into pulling out of their sponsorship of UK festivals including the Isle Of Wight, Latitude and Download. Barclays has been a notable investor in defence companies.

The protest group Bands Boycott Barclays told The Guardian: “This is a victory for the Palestinian-led global BDS movement. As musicians, we were horrified that our music festivals were partnered with Barclays, who are complicit in the genocide in Gaza through investment, loans and underwriting of arms companies supplying the Israeli military.”

“Hundreds of artists have taken action this summer to make it clear that this is morally reprehensible, and we are glad we have been heard.”

Will Simpson
News and features writer

Will Simpson is a freelance music expert whose work has appeared in Classic Rock, Classic Pop, Guitarist and Total Guitar magazine. He is the author of 'Freedom Through Football: Inside Britain's Most Intrepid Sports Club' and his second book 'An American Cricket Odyssey' is due out in 2025