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British artists rock virtual SXSW 2021

The British Music Embassy, South by Southwest (SXSW)’s venue for hotly tipped UK artists, hosted 35 artist showcases during last week’s SXSW Online, which took place from 16 to 20 March.

The British Music Embassy – a joint venture between AIM, the BBC, BPI, the Department for International Trade, PPL, PRS for Music and PRS Foundation – typically takes over a venue every year at SXSW in Austin, Texas, putting a spotlight on the best new music from around the UK. With the showcase festival going online only for 2021, the embassy recorded live performances which could be watched during the event on the SXSW portal.

A selection of performances will also be made available for all to view on SXSW’s YouTube channel.

Among the performers at the British Music Embassy, which is also supported by ATC, media partner DIY Magazine and Belfast City Council, were Onipa, Olivia Dean, Chubby and the Gang, Phoebe Green, 404 Guild, Tayo Sound, Finn Askew, the Goa Express, Lilla Vargen,  Squid and Black Country, New Road.

“For 15 years, the global industry has been able to rely on the British Music Embassy to discover what’s next in British music at SXSW,” comments James Minor, SXSW’s head of music festival.

“I am delighted that we are continuing to support UK artists during the pandemic and can ensure the UK remains a world leader in music’

Graham Stuart, exports minister at the Department for International Trade, says: “The UK music industry is one of the greatest British exports, bringing millions to our economy each year. We are proud to have worked over many years with industry partners to promote new talent at SXSW, including Bastille, Celeste, Rag’n’Bone Man, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Dave, Sam Fender and more than 450 others. I am delighted that we are continuing to support UK artists during the pandemic and can ensure the UK remains a world leader in music.”

“Showcasing in overseas territories has proven to be a crucial stepping stone to progressing talented UK music creators’ careers and their sustainability, which is why at this unprecedented time it is so important we have adapted our International Showcase Fund support to enable export-ready artists to still be able to showcase at key overseas events such as SXSW,” adds Joe Frankland, CEO of PRS Foundation.

“I’m delighted that we are supporting at least 15 artists to showcase their performances at this year’s event and that the International Showcase Fund partners, together with our friends at the Department for International Trade and the BPI, have forged a UK Sounds opportunity and platform for export-ready music creators and to shine a spotlight on talented underrepresented groups in the UK.”

Since 2008, the British Music Embassy has hosted over 450 UK artists, positioning them in front of a global audience in order to help them to break into new markets and advance their careers. The British Music Embassy also uses UK-only production and equipment, giving artists from the UK an unparallelled platform on the world music stage.

 


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Virtual event to replace cancelled Burning Man 2020

Burning Man is the latest US festival to be called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, with organisers announcing that the famous Black Rock City will take the form of a “virtual metropolis” instead this year.

The countercultural gathering was set to take place from 30 August to 7 September in Nevada’s Black Rock desert.

“After much listening, discussion, and careful consideration, we have made the difficult decision not to build Black Rock City in 2020,” reads a statement on the Burning Man website.

“Given the painful reality of Covid-19, one of the greatest global challenges of our lifetimes, we believe this is the right thing to do.”

The event, often dubbed as an “anti-festival”, will go ahead online, however, with fans invited to enter the Virtual Black Rock City 2020, in keeping with the event’s 2020 theme, the Multiverse.

“Given the painful reality of Covid-19, one of the greatest global challenges of our lifetimes, we believe this is the right thing to do”

Unsure what form the online gathering will take, the Burning Man team says although it “will likely be messy and awkward with mistakes”, the virtual event will also be “engaging, connective, and fun”.

The first round of Burning Man ticket sales took place last month, with 4,000 tickets prices at $1,400 sold during the ‘FOMO’ ticket sale in March, as well as those sold through Direct Group Sale (DGS). The event’s main ticket sale was postponed earlier this month.

Organisers state they are “committed” to providing refunds to “those who need them”, adding that they hope some “will consider donating all or a portion of your ticket value, and/or making a tax-deductible donation to (non-profit festival organiser) Burning Man Project”.

“Substantial” staff layoffs, pay reductions and other cost-cutting measures will be needed to ensure the organisation remains operational into next year’s event season, say organisers.

Burning Man joins other major US events to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak, including South by Southwest, Governors Ball, Boston Calling, Firefly Festival and Ultra Miami, with Coachella, Bonnaroo, BottleRock, New Orleans’ Jazz Fest and Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas all pushed back to later in the year.

Photo: Bureau of Land Management/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)


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Byron Bay Bluesfest to go ahead as planned

The organisers of Byron Bay Bluesfest have confirmed that the festival is going ahead as planned from 9 to 13 April, despite the spread of Covid-19.

“We are all aware of COVID-19 in Australia and want to update you. Bluesfest Byron Bay will be going ahead as planned,” reads a post on the festival’s Facebook page, last updated today (12 March).

“Both NSW Health and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), the federal body, report that attending public events such as Bluesfest are low risk.”

Fan are assured that their tickets are “fully insured” in case of a coronavirus-related cancellation.

The New South Wales festival, organised by Peter Noble, is entering its 31st year in 2020, featuring acts including Lenny Kravitz, Dave Matthews Band, Kool and the Gang and John Butler.

“We are all aware of COVID-19 in Australia and want to update you. Bluesfest Byron Bay will be going ahead as planned”

Extra safety measures and additional facilities, such as hand sanitisation stations, will be put in place at Bluesfest to further safeguard the health and safety of guests.

Covid-19 was yesterday declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Major festivals including Coachella, Ultra Miami, South by Southwest and Tomorrowland Winter have been cancelled or postponed due to the virus.

Events affected in Australia include Miley Cyrus’ cancelled headline performance at the World Tour Bushfire Relief concert in Melbourne, Victoria. However, Robbie Wiliams’ appearance as part of the same event series is going ahead as planned, along with the Australian grand prix.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian today said there will be a “further review of mass gatherings” across the state, saying, “there is no need to massively change what you are doing but it’s not business as usual. We are asking everybody to be alert.”

13 new cases of the virus were reported in NSW yesterday alone, bringing the state’s total to 78, half the total number of cases reported across the whole country.

 


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Mixed fortunes for live events as Covid-19 spreads

The live music industry is being affected differently in markets around the world by the continuing spread of coronavirus (Covid-19), with over 110,000 cases now reported worldwide.

Politicians in the UK today (9 March) reiterated that there was no need to cancel large events to prevent further spread of the virus.

At the International Live Music Conference (ILMC) last week, top agents expressed their resolve to carry on with business as usual, with CAA’s Emma Banks saying the agency would not take shows off sale “unless we have to”.

Reacting to a suggestion from Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn that all events over 1,000 capacity be cancelled due to Covid-19, DEAG today announced that “all events will be carried out according to scheduled dates regardless of the number of participants.”

“DEAG will carry out a responsible analysis of each event in close coordination with the respective artists, their partners and of course the local authorities and will make an appropriate decision on a case-by-case basis,” reads the statement.

A spokesperson from German powerhouse CTS Eventim, which operates in 15 markets across Europe, states that Covid-19 is having only “isolated effects” on its business, such as in Italy and Switzerland.

“The majority of our events and functions take place in the summer and in the second half of the year,” continues the Eventim spokesperson. “Based on the current situation, there is no reason to believe that the major festivals will not be held outdoors in the summer. We cannot observe an increased return of purchased tickets.”

“Based on the current situation, there is no reason to believe that the major festivals will not be held outdoors in the summer”

The Italian government recently extended its ban on all public gatherings in the north of the country until 3 April, whereas all events in Switzerland over 1,000 capacity have been banned until 15 March, in a measure deemed “disproportionate” by Swiss Music Promoters Association (SMPA).

In France, a ban imposed on events over 5,000 capacity led to the cancellation of Tomorrowland Winter, set to take place from 14 to 21 March at the Alpe d’Huez ski resort.

“It is with a heavy heart that we have to inform you that the French government has decided to cancel this year’s edition,” reads a post on Tomorrowland Winter’s Facebook page.

“The French government is taking drastic measures regarding the Covid-19 virus in France. Therefore they are enforcing the cancellation of large events, bringing together people from different nationalities on closed festival grounds and event locations.”

Asian tour dates by international acts including Avril Lavigne, Green Day, BTS, Mariah Carey, Stormzy and Khalid are among those to have been called off amid coronavirus concerns.

A joint statement issued by Japanese music bodies reads: “We have decided to cancel or call off the majority of shows, following a recent request to cancel or postpone events from the government.”

The bodies, including Japanese promoters’ association (ACPC), federation of music producers (FMPJ) and association of music enterprises (JAME), state they will work to provide all the appropriate information to the public and “deliver high-quality entertainment again soon”.

Events in the United States have also taken a hit recently, with the cancellations of Austin showcase festival and conference SXSW and the Miami edition of EDM event Ultra Music Festival.

 


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P-C Rae joins Music+Sport & Jockey Club Live team

Music+Sport, the company behind ‘Jockey Club Live’ – the successful joint venture with Jockey Club Racecourses, as well as several successful partnerships with other major sporting venues – has announced a major new addition to their executive team.

P-C Rae, who is best known for his work as an artist booker for a diverse portfolio of events around the world, including festivals such as Slottsfjell in Norway and SXSW in Austin, Texas, has joined the Music+Sport team as Artist Booker with responsibility for overseeing and acquiring talent for the company’s wide range of live music events at sporting venues.

The partnership between Music+Sport and The Jockey Club was established in 2013 to increase the popularity and commercial success of live music events at the 15 Jockey Club owned racecourses around the UK.

In 2015, the company expanded its portfolio and has a number of rugby partnerships in place while actively looking at promoting similar shows at a range of other sporting events moving forward.

“I am relishing the opportunity to help them secure the right artists for their shows moving forward.”

P-C Rae says, “I’ve enjoyed watching the emergence of Music+Sport as a major player in the UK live music market over the last four years. They have come a long way in a short space of time and have done an amazing job bringing sporting and music audiences together. They know what they are doing and they have a very clear vision of what they want, so I am relishing the opportunity to help them secure the right artists for their shows moving forward.”

Andrew Wilkinson, CEO of Music+Sport adds, “Bringing someone with the experience and expertise of P-C Rae on board to oversee our Artist Booking is a fantastic coup for Music+Sport and puts us in a really strong position as we start thinking about our 2019 programme of events.”

 


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StubHub to invest $3m into music education

Through its charitable StubHub Foundation, secondary ticketer StubHub is to invest US$3 million over the next three years into buying musical instruments for US state schools, it announced at South by Southwest today.

Building on a 2015 commitment that has already put more than $2m in instruments into schools, the latest round of funding extends the company’s partnership with the Mr Holland’s Opus Foundation (MHOF) charity to provide more “at-risk [state] school music programmes” with new musical instruments.

“We believe that music needs to be a core component of education in America,” says Perkins Miller, StubHub’s North America GM. “Numerous studies have shown the benefits that music education plays in student enrichment and development, which is why we are proud to support the efforts of Mr Holland’s Opus Foundation and all those who help keep music alive in schools across America.”

The initiative, known as the Next Stage programme, kicks off at SXSW today, with the first school, Bedichek Middle School in Austin, Texas, receiving more than $12,000 in musical instruments. Bedichek students are today invited to a private acoustic SXSW performance by Jukebox the Ghost, and will then serve as the opening ‘performers’ for StubHub’s two-day SXSW Next Stage showcase at Banger’s in Austin.

Schools interested in the Next Stage programme are invited to inquire directly through MHOF.

 


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Italian artist on ESTA deported from US

In news that bodes ill for international acts hoping to play South by Southwest 2018 with ESTA or tourist visas, Italian singer Damien McFly was forced to cancel a planned appearance at the NAMM Show in Anaheim, California, after failing to gain entry to the US under the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) visa waiver programme.

Padua-based McFly (real name Damiano Ferrari) was booked to play a set at the NAMM Show, the world’s biggest musical instrument/pro-audio industry conference, on Saturday 27 January, but found himself detained for 26 hours at LAX then sent back to Italy after authorities denied him entry.

He explains: “I left Venice thinking about the sense of freedom I feel every time I tour the US, performing in the land of folk, country, blues – all the music that inspires me. Unfortunately, this time that was not the case. After passport control the Department of Homeland Security decided to further check my documents and the type of performance I had to attend at NAMM Show.

“ESTA is a very restrictive visa – actually I think it is not even a real visa. And my showcase was not officially sponsored by the Italian government. So they declared me inadmissible, seized my phone and baggage and kept me in a detention room until I could take the next flight home, 26 hours – and some regret – later.”

“They declared me inadmissible, seized my phone and baggage and kept me in a detention room until I could take the next flight home”

The incident has echoes of South by Southwest 2017, when at least ten artists were barred from entering the country after attempting to enter on ESTAs or tourist visas – a previously common practice for showcases or other non-commercial shows.

Fees for performance (or “nonimmigrant worker”) visas for the US have skyrocketed in recent years, most recently jumping a huge 42% at the end of 2016. Writing in IQ shortly after, Tamizdat’s Matthew Covey, an immigration lawyer, explained that the increase in fees is “not the [only] problem with the US artist visa process. The problem is that the process is so slow that almost everyone has to pay the government’s $1,225 ‘premium processing’ expediting fee, and it is so complex and unreliable that almost everyone has to hire a lawyer to get through it (costing anywhere from $800 to $8,000).”

Amid last year’s controversy, SXSW took the side of the performers, saying a tourist (‘B’) visa should be sufficient for playing unpaid showcases. Following the hike in visa fees, it is likely many artists decided to try their chances on B visas or ESTAs – although it remains to be seen how many foreign acts will risk doing so in 2018.

 


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Visas and work permits

“One thing that you can always count on is that everything is in a constant state of flux, and the changes will probably happen quicker than you can keep up with,” says Michelle Rubio about navigating the many challenges and potential pitfalls that exist within the complex world of visa services, immigration and work permits.

“The goalposts are always changing, and very often people aren’t on the same page,” elaborates Rubio, a senior manager for Los Angeles-based Creative Mind Access Visas & Passport Services. She casts her mind back to this summer for an example of just a few of the many unexpected complications that can derail the process and – in the worst-case scenario – potentially lead to delayed or cancelled shows.

“I had just submitted some visa applications to the Russian consulate in San Francisco when President Trump ordered its immediate closure,” recalls Rubio. “Thankfully, there was a delay with the courier and they didn’t show up on time, so the applications couldn’t be submitted. Otherwise, all my [clients’] passports would have been stuck there.

“I’m normally cursing couriers, but, oh, my god, that was a wonderful mistake.”

“In the current political climate, with increasing local labour protectionism, planning strategically … is more important than ever”

The incident also gives some small insight into the wealth of unpredictable hurdles that immigration specialists can face on a day-to-day basis when applying for permits.

“In the current political climate, with increasing local labour protectionism, looking ahead, planning strategically and understanding the visa process requirements and consulate processing times is more important than ever,” agrees Sophie Amable, director of AE Visas USA, which primarily deals with UK and European artists and crew travelling to North America.

“Immigration is changing globally, and US immigration is also changing all the time, so getting expert advice before the time of booking is really important and can save you a lot of time and money,” she states.

 


Read the rest of this feature in the digital edition of IQ 74:

 

 


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SXSW update: Ten artists now denied entry to US

The number of South by Southwest (SXSW) performers turned away at the US border has risen to ten, with an Egyptian-Canadian post-hardcore band, a Danish producer and a British jazz combo among those forced to cancel their showcases.

The latest round of cancellations follows the deportation last week of Italian trio Soviet Soviet, who planned to play a promotional showcase under the ESTA visa waiver programme, as “illegal immigrants”.

At the centre of the dispute is whether musicians can enter the US and play free, non-commercial shows under tourist visas or ESTAs. Soviet Soviet thought so, saying they did not require a performance visa (known as a P-2) as their SXSW showcase was for promotional purposes only, and that they would receive no payment for playing; immigration authorities disagreed.

Three members of Massive Scar Era, a post-hardcore act based in Vancouver and Cairo, ran into the same problem, saying they were denied entry even after showing the immigration officer a waiver from the festival they say “proved we don’t need a P-2 visa to perform” at SXSW.

“Why weren’t we let in? Our names? The music? The colour of our skin?”

Massive Scar Era frontwoman Cherine Amr speculates her Egyptian passport may have been a factor in their being turned away. “My passport (Egyptian) could’ve been the issue,” she writes on Facebook.

She adds that the band’s bassist, who is First Nations (Canadian Indian) and should be able to enter the US visa-free under the 1794 Jay Treaty, was told his “official First Nations card, released by the Canadian government, doesn’t prove he is First Nations and he needs to get DNA test […] He told him that he did this already to get the card in the first place!”

“What really kills me at this point,” she continues, “[is] that the band/the genre wasn’t welcomed by the Egyptian society. Every now and then the government would use metal bands to create false propaganda to distract the people from major political events. We were called a Satanic band and we had our picture in the newspapers once! They would even arrest musicians and metalheads and jail them!

“I moved to Canada to be closer to the music industry […] We thought that by me going there, I would be able to grow our band, play shows and live a healthy free artistic life.”

Danish EDM producer Eloq, meanwhile, was, like Soviet Soviet, detained overnight after being deemed to have the wrong documentation, despite being “informed by SXSW I had the right visa”.

Three members of British jazz four-piece United Vibrations – brothers Yussef, Ahmed and Kareem Dayes – were also denied entry “at the 11th hour”, according to label Brownswood Recordings, forcing the cancellation of the band’s set at tonight’s British Underground/Jazz Re:freshed showcase, which is backed with UK public money.

“We are sad to announce we will NOT be performing at SXSW in Texas because our ESTAs have been revoked under [president Donald Trump’s] new executive order,” reads a statement from the band, who said they believe the decision to be based on racial/religious discrimination. “We were looking forward to connecting with our brothers and sisters stateside to share our music. Why weren’t we let in? Our names? The music? The colour of our skin?”

“Our bassist was told his official First Nations card doesn’t prove he is First Nations and he needs to get DNA test”

Dave Webster, the UK Musicians’ Union’s (MU) national organiser for live performance and chair of the Music Industry Visa Task Force, comments: “We have escalated this to the highest level in the UK to try to ascertain what is going on. It is appalling that these artists have been denied the opportunity to showcase at SXSW. The US Embassy in London has provided no explanation. A letter from Nigel Adams MP and Kerry McCarthy MP requesting an urgent meeting with the US officials has been sent.

“Since the formation of the Music Industry Visa Task Force in 2015 some progress on these issues has been made; however, this latest development represents a huge setback.”

MU assistant general secretary Horace Trubridge adds: “The amount of public funding that has gone into getting our UK artists to perform at SXSW this year will have been wasted. It is outrageous that these ESTAs have been revoked and more outrageous that the musicians affected have not been told why.”

“The US Department of State has long recognised that entertainment groups may enter the US to ‘showcase’ on a B visa”

For its part, SXSW has taken the side of the performers, saying a tourist (‘B’) visa should be sufficient for playing unpaid showcases.

In a statement, its lawyer, Jonathan Ginsburg, says: “US immigration law allows foreign nationals to enter the US using a B visa or the visa waiver programme to conduct business, but not to render services. The US Department of State, accordingly, has long recognised that entertainment groups may enter the US to ‘showcase’, but not to perform under contract with US venues or other employers.

“SXSW is working in concert with other US organisations in an effort to ensure that both the State Department and CBP [Customs and Border Protection] continue to treat showcasing as a valid activity in B or visa waiver status. In the meantime, SXSW remains confident that the vast majority of consular officers and CBP officials understand and respect the need for, and the principle of, showcasing at promotional events such as the official SXSW event.”

 


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SXSW-bound Soviet Soviet jailed, deported from US

Soviet Soviet, an Italian band en route to Texas showcase festival South by Southwest (SXSW), have been deported as “illegal immigrants” by US immigration authorities.

The trio were judged to be lacking the proper paperwork after arriving in Seattle on an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation), a visa waiver programme for citizens of several, most European, countries.

Although ESTA travellers are barred from undertaking commercial activities, Soviet Soviet and their US label, Felte Records, argued unsuccessfully that their SXSW showcases were for promotional purposes only, and that they would receive no payment for playing.

In a joint statement, the band say immigration officers “interrogated [us] individually, in three different rooms. We were able to have the agents speak directly to the owner of our American label, without any success.

“After almost four hours of questions they told us their verdict: They had decided to deport us back to Italy and deny us entry into the United States. They declared us illegal immigrants, even if our intention was by no means to look for work in the United States nor never go back to Italy.”

Although Soviet Soviet say they “accepted the decision, as it seemed final at that point”, the band were – as ‘illegal immigrants’ – then treated as such, spending the night in prison.

“We spent the night in jail, escorted there as though we were three criminals”

“They took our digital fingerprints and took mugshots of us for their file,” the statement continues. “They confiscated our cellphones and we were denied the possibility of contacting our families and loved ones. Around 10.30pm, two prison officers frisked us, handcuffed us and brought us to jail in a police car. We spent the night in jail, and had been escorted there as though we were three criminals.

“The following day, after having completed all jail-related procedures (mugshots, declaration of good health and signatures), two other agents came to get us. We were searched, handcuffed and again escorted in a police car.

“They took us to the customs office we were in the previous day and we waited for our return flight, which was scheduled for around 1.00pm local time. Only a short while prior to taking off were we able to get back our cellphones and bags, and we were escorted right up to the aeroplane. We were relieved to fly back home and distance ourselves from that violent, stressful and humiliating situation.”

The incident comes after SXSW itself was criticised earlier this month for appearing to threaten foreign bands with deportation if they play unofficial shows around the conference.

Told Slant, a musician booked to play SXSW, pulled out after finding a clause in his contract stating the event “will notify the appropriate US immigration authorities” if an artist acts in a way deemed to “adversely affect the viability of their official SXSW showcase”.

 

 


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