From Iceland — Gróa Scrapped Their SXSW Performance In Solidarity With Palestine

Gróa Scrapped Their SXSW Performance In Solidarity With Palestine

Published April 12, 2024

Gróa Scrapped Their SXSW Performance In Solidarity With Palestine
Photo by
Anna Maggý/Supplied Photo

Over 100 artists and panellists dropped their shows over festival’s military sponsors

On March 7, Reykjavík-based punk trio Gróa announced the cancellation of their scheduled performance at the South by Southwest Conference and Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.

“We will protest by not attending and cancel both of our official SXSW shows in support of the Palestinian people,” Gróa posted to their social media profiles at the time. “This is because yesterday we found out that the US army [sic] is SXSW’s main sponsor and SXSW is platforming defense [sic] contractors like [RTX]. [RTX] profits from the genocide by supplying weapons to the IDF, the IDF has now killed at least 1 in every 75 inhabitants of Gaza, including 12.300 children.”

SXSW, which ran until March 16, is an annual event celebrating film, music and comedy. It attracts upwards of 300,000 visitors every year, including industry professionals from all over the world, who split their attention between over 1,000 artists vying for their big break.

By pulling out of SXSW, the young group joined more than 115 other artists and speakers who cancelled their performances due to the U.S. Army’s festival sponsorship. Every Irish and Nothern-Irish artist scheduled to perform at the festival dropped out in support of Palestine.

It was not an easy decision to cancel, even though now I wouldn’t have done anything differently. It’s so obvious and I felt it in my gut.

Gróa’s announced change of plans came just two days ahead of their flight stateside. “I randomly saw a suggested Instagram post from the Austin for Palestine Coalition and found out that RTX had a platform at SXSW. I thought, ‘Well, fuck,’” remarks Gróa drummer Hrafnhildur Einars Maríudóttir. “I’d heard bad things about the festival itself and how they treat artists,” she continues, referring to the festival’s pay rates, but she didn’t expect anything of this calibre.

The band went back and forth in their decision to cancel, momentarily considering alternative means of protest. “First, we thought if we should go perform in T-shirts sporting the Palestinian flag,” Hrafnhildur explains. “It was not an easy decision to cancel, even though now I wouldn’t have done anything differently. It’s so obvious and I felt it in my gut.”

Musicians who side with their conviction during moments like these are often torn between choosing boycott and making a statement. Fans of the Eurovision Song Contest might remember Icelandic contender Hatari’s protest actions in Tel Aviv in 2019, when the artist brandished the Palestinian flag.

Despite the apparent support, the international BDS movement campaigns for the cultural boycott of projects involving Israel, its lobby groups and cultural institutions.

“When we pulled out, there weren’t a lot of artists that had called it off, and we sort of decided to believe in the boycott. To believe that more people would join in,” says Gróa bassist Fríða Björg Pétursdóttir. “We realised that our bottom line is the fact that we would never want to associate our name with a festival where weapons manufacturers are given a platform.”

Despite notifying Iceland Airwaves and the other Icelandic showcase artists about their decision and encouraging others to follow suit, the rest of the Icelandic delegation went on with their scheduled performances, including JFDR, Axel Flóvent, Myrkvi and Árný Margrét.

Asked about the festival’s decision to go ahead with the showcase, Iceland Airwaves director Ísleifur Þórhallsson responded the following:

“We did not feel pressured to cancel the event. In collaboration with Business Iceland (Íslandsstofa) and the Icelandic Music Centre, considerable efforts and expenses were put towards introducing Icelandic music to the outside world. As four out of five artists were ready to perform, we determined that it would not be a good decision on our part to call the event off with next to no notice, producing financial harm for everyone involved.”

Out of the five Icelandic artists performing, Gróa was the only one to cancel their performance. Will the band’s decision affect their relationship with Iceland Airwaves and their chance to perform at the festival in the future?

“Of course not. We respect their decision.”

What are Iceland Airwaves’ views towards the SXSW artist boycott?

“We support musicians who fight for what they think is right. Naturally, they follow their conviction. About 1,200 artists were booked for SXSW and we also respect the viewpoints of those who decided to perform.”

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