Foreign Artists Hoping to Play SXSW Could Face a Serious Crackdown This Year

Ahead of SXSW 2018, Italian Singer Damien McFly’s detention and deportation may signal what could happen to foreign artists and bands.

Early last year, independent artists from other countries started freaking out.

Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration was the unfortunate backdrop.  And SXSW was accused of changing the language in contracts with bands.  The suspect terms and conditions suggested that South by Southwest organizers would report international artists to federal authorities.

Roland Swenson, SXSW’s co-founder and CEO, vowed to protect foreign artists last year.  And he pointed to boilerplate language that really hadn’t changed.  Separately, CBP officials denied at least three bands entry into the US.  Some reports put that number at 10.

With Trump’s immigration policies now in full-effect, a new report has put foreign artists with ESTA or tourist visas on-edge.

Authorities have deported Italian singer Damiano Ferrari, better known by his stage name, Damien McFly.  He had taken a flight from Venice to Los Angeles on January 26th to perform at the NAMM show, the world’s largest trade event for music products.

After getting off the plane, DHS officials detained and interrogated Ferrari for 26 hours.  Speaking with PadovaOggi, an Italian magazine, the singer explained,

ESTA is a very restrictive visa – actually I think it’s 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.

Ferrari also described his stay in the detention room.

“I was stuck without phone and luggage in a room with other people with problems much worse than mine.  I ate a pizza delivered by a policeman, and the following morning I received a call from the Italian Consulate.”

Following last year’s controversy, however, SXSW organizers told artists that they can perform unpaid showcases with a tourist visa.  Yet, some foreign indie artists may not afford to pay.  Fees for performance, or nonimmigrant worker, visas have skyrocketed in the past several years.  At the end of 2016, the fees reportedly rose 42%.

Explaining the difficulty in paying for these visas, Matthew Covey, an immigration lawyer, wrote in IQ Mag,

“The process is so slow that almost everyone has to pay the government’s $1,225 ‘premium processing’ expediting fee… It’s so complex and unreliable that almost everyone has to hire a lawyer to get through it.”

The costs for a lawyer, added Covey, range from $800 to $8,000.


Featured image by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Public Domain)

4 Responses

  1. from the bunker

    With revenues for Indy artists being so low from recorded music sales/streams it’s hardly worthwhile flying halfway across the world and going through all the hassle.

    It’s not like the days when Records really sold a lot of records and there was rich pickings to be had..

    • anonymous

      lol what is this comment why does everyone on this website seem like old people stuck in the old ways of the music industry with no perspective on how the modern business works?

  2. Jim

    Reality sucks, doesn’t it?

    The really old people on this site remember when only the people you call the “1%” were the only people supporting the arts.

    Grow up and face the real world.

    • nostrodamna

      They remember when things really functioned well. The younger folk have a natural ignorance and no clue of what they are missing or rapidly losing. In fact the younger ones don’t even know there is no more industry for them, full stop. It is fading fast and not coming back. What you think is there is only the residual outcome of the past and disappearing rapidly.

      The paradigm of the recording artist making a substantial profit and cultural impact–all in the past now–is slipping out of the hands of the younger generation. No one wants to pay for your music now; the record companies, publishers and facsimiles are going to scoop the majority of your revenue and dump or shelve you faster than ever. Gigging is still OK, but live music is a creation of the older world too–younger generations don’t know how to socialize in the same way; they play with video games and their toy phones. The young have little to look forward to and no future in the industry per se–that belonged to the older generation.