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Gruff Rhys pulls out of major US festival in solidarity with Palestine

14 Mar 2024 6 minute read
Gruff Rhys

Stephen Price

Gruff Rhys has pulled out of his involvement in one of the world’s largest festivals in an act of protest against the festival sponsors’ ties to Israel’s war on Gaza.

Gruff Rhys was due to take part in South by Southwest (SXSW) this month in Austin, Texas.

The event is billed as a “convergence of tech, film, music education and culture” which is among the most prominent entertainment festivals in the southern US.


SXSW has, however, been mired in controversy, since it was revealed that the U.S. Army is a “super sponsor” of the festival this year and will host multiple sessions on technology and sponsor other events.

Collins Aerospace, a subsidiary of RTX Corporation, one of the world’s largest aerospace and defense suppliers, sponsored two SXSW showcases. RTX, formerly Raytheon, and L3Harris, a defense contractor also sponsoring an event at SXSW, have both come under fire for supplying weapons and weapon-related components to Israel.

Gruff Rhys

Taking to Instagram, celebrated Welsh artist, Gruff Rhys shared a lengthy statement, saying: “In horror at the hyper violence inflicted on civilians in Gaza and beyond, I feel the best use of my platform at the official showcases at SXSW this year is to withdraw my music”

He continued: “I’m personally disappointed as I love playing music & the band is in full flow right now. I played this festival many times and love it here, always having a great time immersed in its kaleidoscopic array of music and film.

“I feel somewhat hypocritical as I’m no doubt tied in to other numerous imperfect capitalist constructs in my active and enthusiastic participation in the music industry.

“Historical moment”

“I do however feel this is a distinct and very sobering historical moment. And there is value to symbolic gestures.

“I’ve been on tour for much of the last few months since early October and have felt somewhat impotent as an artist, watching wave after wave of grotesque news unfold from afar, somewhat behind the news cycle in my chaotic travel and admiring the response from committed anti-war activists and citizen reporters. In fact it has changed my entire relationship with the media I consume.

“I’m a musician not a politician but as a voter and participant in a democracy and given what I’m sure is a limited understanding of a complex situation, I’m still in dismay at the utter collapse of coherent diplomacy in the West that has helped facilitate unimaginable violence.

“It is in that context that my decision may be a more useful one than actually making music in a venue in playing a tiny part in concentrating minds in my own country to engage with the severity of the humanitarian moment and calls for a ceasefire rather than expecting it to make any concrete difference to the people that are hurting.

“My wish is for peace and dignity for all people.”

Focus Wales

Acknowledging the impact the artistic boycott will have on smaller Welsh bands taking part, Gruff wrote: “A difficult personal bind in all of this however is my love of the Focus Wales organisation and pulling out of their showcase in particular, as firstly I feel those slots for musicians are precious and I don’t take it lightly or for granted.

“Another factor bugging me is that although I’m in a position to withdraw my labour without major financial repercussions being on a longer tour in the US, this isn’t the case for many Welsh artists whose travel grants are dependent on them playing showcases and I imagine pulling out could put artists into severe crippling debt in having to repay travel fares, visa payments, wages and so forth.”

“Impossible bind”

He added: “Many will be in an impossible bind and I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus. Perhaps money and energy is best spent on humanitarian aid than on helping to pay debts of destabilised peace loving young artists when they could be thriving, singing and developing their activism in alternative ways.

“Many artists have committed to use their stage as a space for protest and I admire these eloquent artists who are more nimble performers and spokespeople than I could ever be. We all flew to the US in good faith and the cultural tectonic plates have moved fast in the meantime.”

“To clarify, I’m pulling out of all three of my official showcases.”

He ended his statement saying: “Peace and dignity for ALL people.”

Growing boycott

As of Wednesday, at least 80 artists and panellists have pulled out of the nine-day festival, including many other Welsh acts such as Cardiff-based band Islet and all Irish bands that were scheduled to take part.

To date, at least 31,272 Palestinians had been killed in Israel’s operations in Gaza, the vast majority of them women and children, according to local authorities.

The fighting has left the enclave on the brink of famine, with human rights groups accusing Israel of slowing the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has continued to pledge political and material support to Israel, despite issuing stronger criticism of its military campaign in recent weeks.

The growing SXSW boycott effort, however, prompted a rebuke on Tuesday from Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

“We are proud of the US military in Texas,” he wrote on social media. “If you don’t like it, don’t come here.”

Festival response

The festival defended the artists who chose not to participate in this year’s festival, responding directly to Governor Abbott’s comments.

“SXSW does not agree with Governor Abbott,” SXSW wrote on social media on Tuesday. “We fully respect the decision these artists made to exercise their right to free speech.”

In the same thread of messages, however, SXSW also attempted to justify its ties to the defence industry.

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

Gruff Rhys’ full statement can be read here.

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Doctor Trousers
Doctor Trousers
4 months ago

an exceptionally eloquent, thoughtful, humane and humble statement. respect.

Dai Rob
Dai Rob
4 months ago

Da iawn Gruff!! Parch!!

John Brooks
John Brooks
4 months ago

Well done Gruff. We all do what we can.

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