It’s my morals versus my career”: Why musicians are boycotting The Great Escape

Over 120 artists have pulled out in solidarity with Palestine due to Barclays’ sponsorship of the Brighton festival. THE FACE speaks to five music acts who’ve decided to not perform.

On Tuesday 5th March, The Great Escape announced the third wave of artists on its bill, including the Belfast rap group Kneecap and Chvrches singer Lauren Mayberry. The Brighton festival is a coveted booking among up-and-coming artists. Previous years have boasted 15,000 people in attendance, and the festival is known to attract many music journalists, publicists and A&Rs who are eager to discover new talent.

Five days before the festival’s third wave announcement, 116 Palestinians had been killed and 760 injured when the Israeli Defence Forces shelled a crowd collecting food and aid south of Gaza City. The number of Palestinians killed since the 7th October massacre in southern Israel – during which more than 1,200 were killed by Hamas and other militant groups – now sits at approximately 34,000.

On the surface, it might not seem like a music festival in England and an ongoing conflict in the Middle East are linked, but they are. The Great Escape has been running since 2006, and as it has grown, the festival has taken on many sponsors. This year’s list includes Live Nation, Marshall, BBC Introducing and, notably, Barclays bank.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign reports that Barclays has contracts with nine companies which make and supply weapons to the IDF, and that these weapons are being used in the ongoing conflict in Gaza. In the FAQ section on the Barclays website, the bank claims it is not a shareholder’ or investor’” in Israeli arms companies. We trade in shares of listed companies in response to client instruction or demand and that may result in us holding shares,” the statement says.

In March, Bristol punk band The Menstrual Cramps, who were due to play The Great Escape, raised the alarm about the Barclays sponsorship. They teamed up with the promoter How To Catch a Pig to set up an open letter and send it to artists scheduled to perform. Hundreds of musicians, fans, labels, venues and community groups then signed the open letter demanding The Great Escape drop the bank. This was openly supported by Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), which is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality, The Musicians Union and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). Two weeks later, there was still no public statement from The Great Escape. Many acts started dropping out.

South by Southwest was hit with similar boycotts back in March. After it was discovered that the Texan music, tech and film showcase was sponsored by the US military, more than 100 artists pulled out. SXSW went ahead as planned, making a statement that attempted to justify their partnership by arguing that the Army’s sponsorship is part of our commitment to bring forward ideas that shape the world” while also claiming to support human rights for all”.

But do boycotts even work? History would say yes, they do. During the late 50s through to the 80s, thousands in the UK boycotted food and products from companies that supported the Apartheid in South Africa. They also targeted Barclays who had banks and subsidiaries in the country, supporting the Apartheid regime. After student protests, direct action, and swathes of institutions and individuals closing their bank accounts, in 1986 Barclays withdrew from South Africa.

At the time of writing, over 120 acts, the Dalton’s venue in Brighton and various record labels have pulled out of The Great Escape. 26 separate solidarity events have been organised across Brighton this week, many of which feature artists who are boycotting the festival.

Below, five artists have shared their reasons for pulling out of The Great Escape. I also reached out to a number of bands who are still choosing to play at the festival, but none of them wanted to speak on record. The Great Escape has not responded to a request for comment.


“[Me and my band] were part of a stage [curated by] ESEA music, which [aimed] to basically elevate East and Southeast Asian musicians. It was going to be a big slot, at Jubilee Square on Friday at 7.30pm. When we found out about the Barclays sponsorship, it was my morals versus my career. I couldn’t play the festival when there are people getting murdered, fucking tanks shooting tents in Rafa at the moment, you know? That was the reason. A boycott doesn’t work if you don’t strike. That’s essentially what we’re doing; withholding our labour. I want to see the boycott as a movement. We’re hoping that for future festivals going forward they’ll be more vigilant and get ethical sponsors.”

Tala Yunis

I’m Palestinian and I was born in Israel. When I first found out about the boycott I had a few thoughts that maybe I will play on that stage, and I will be an advocate and raise awareness about what’s going on in Gaza. But something didn’t sit right with me, so I pulled out. Seeing other people who are not even Palestinian running the boycott and speaking up for what’s going on in Palestine – that’s really moving to me. I’m really appreciative of that because in Israel, especially as Palestinians in Israel, we can’t really do that. We don’t have a voice because of the repercussions that would come if I stand for Palestine. I can go to prison for that. I’m not fully living in the UK, I go back and forth to Israel. I have more to lose and I have more at risk. So the fact that I see other people standing up for Palestine and getting behind the boycott too is really making me feel less helpless, and giving me more hope for the future. To me, being neutral is helping the oppressor.”

Tiberius b

The Barclays sponsorship is totally unsurprising to me. A lot of the things we [interact] with in our lives have involvement with nefarious businesses and practices. It’s a difficult thing to navigate – life and business are full of contradictions like that. I felt relieved when I pulled out. I want to make choices that I can look back on in the future and feel good about.”

Hang Linton

Barclays are putting money into weapons, and I just can’t support that. We have a choice where we spend our money. That could be supporting local businesses, local communities, whatever it might be. I think boycotts are an effective way of protest [that can make the] change that we want to happen, happen. The ideal situation would be that customers and people who go to festivals, understand that some of them are sponsored by people who fund genocide. You can choose not to support that.”



I’m a full-time musician so I rely on this as my main income. The Great Escape is a really excellent opportunity to showcase your music in front of the industry, so I think there’s a kind of career sacrifice in me giving this up. But I want to show my support for Palestine and for any movement that I think can have a positive collective impact. For me, art has always been a reaction to the world around us. I hope bands don’t see [the boycott] as a big sacrifice, but more as something to motor their inspirations and motivations.”

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