Why have a quarter of The Great Escape’s line up pulled out?

Why have a quarter of The Great Escape’s line up pulled out?

At least 126 acts have withdrawn from the Brighton festival in protest at the inclusion of Barclays as a sponsor because of the bank's alleged links with atrocities in Gaza, Ben Smoke explains.

It was a long, hard winter in Britain. With the exception of perhaps the last week, spring has also been a dud – the cold, grey bleakness of January seemed to bleed right through to May. For those of us not blessed to live in other more tropical parts of the world, or without means to get there, the promise of Summer – of pints with your mates, of beaches, park days and festival season have been all that have seen us through.

Today, May 15th, is supposed to mark the beginning of the season as The Great Escape festival kicks off in sunny Brighton. The curtain raising event is, according to their website, “the festival for new music, showcasing 500 emerging artists from all over the world in 30+ walkable venues across the city and a pop-up festival site on Brighton Beach.”

The festival is also attended by many in the music industry, who use the showcases to hunt for the “next big thing.” A conference is run alongside the gigs featuring “insightful panels, topical debates, keynote speeches and networking opportunities.”

It is a major point in the UK music landscape, and presents a huge opportunity to many new and emerging artists to catch the eye of industry executives. This year, however, the festival has been thrown into chaos. At the time of writing, it is estimated that around 25 per cent of all those billed to play have withdrawn from doing so. The 126 acts include all those scheduled to play at the opening party this evening, as well as high profile names like Alfie Templeton, Bimini, Lambrini Girls and more.

The boycott comes in protest at the inclusion of Barclays bank as a major partner of the event. A spokesperson from Bands Boycott Barclays, who have been coordinating the action, said, “Barclays is bankrolling the genocide in Gaza and then laundering its reputation at home by partnering with music festivals. As musicians, we think that's despicable and needs to stop. There is no festival without the artists and we stand unconditionally in solidarity with Palestinians in refusing to allow our music to be used as cultural cover for a bank that supports genocide. Barclays has no place at any music festival.”

A spokesperson from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) told Huck:Palestinians salute the dozens of principled artists, record labels and others who have boycotted The Great Escape festival in Brighton, UK over its partnership with Barclays, which has over £1 billion invested in weapons manufacturers that are arming Israel’s #GazaGenocide.

According to new research by Campaign Against the Arms Trade, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and War on Want, Barclays has over $2.5 billion in shareholdings in companies associated with the IDF's ongoing military activity in Gaza. Israeli military forces have so far killed over 35,000 people according to Palestinian authorities, 70 per cent of whom are women and children. In January, the ICJ ruled that there was a “real and imminent risk” of genocide carried out by IDF against Palestinians.

Inside Gaza with the para-cycling team distributing bread under siege

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The data was obtained by Profundo, an independent research organisation using financial databases to identify the loans and underwriting services provided by Barclays for companies supplying weapons and military technology to Israel for the period from January 2019 to December 2023. The companies include the London Headquartered BAE Systems, which is one of the world’s largest arms producers.

The Research by CAAT, PSC and WoW alleged that weapons containing components manufactured by BAE systems, and fighter jets and drones developed by the company in collaboration with Lockheed Martin have been used in the current assault in the strip and the naval blockade of Gaza, which has been in place since 2007.

It is alleged by activists that Barclays had over $1.3 billion in shareholdings in February 2024 and had provided almost $600 million in loans and underwriting to the arms company between January 2019 and December 2023.

Barclays did not offer specific comment on the allegations above but pointed to recently released Q+A they published on the subject. In it they state, “Barclays has been the subject of criticism in relation to Gaza based on two arguments: that Barclays is an investor in these businesses, and that we provide a range of financial services to clients which produce equipment used by the Israeli Defence Force.

“We have been asked why we invest in nine defence companies supplying Israel, but this mistakes what we do. We trade in shares of listed companies in response to client instruction or demand and that may result in us holding shares. We are not making investments for Barclays and Barclays is not a “shareholder” or “investor” in that sense in relation to these companies.”

One of those companies Barclays is alleged to be financially embroiled with is Israeli Arms company Elbit Systems. At its AGM the bank confirmed that it has a corporate banking relationship with the UK business, Elbit Systems UK, which is a separate company. The Israeli iteration of the company, which campaigners allege the Bank has $3.4 million in shareholdings in, is said to be one of the primary weapons suppliers to the Israeli military, providing armoured drones, bombs and munitions to the IDF.

It is claimed that, alongside aiding in the construction and maintenance of Israel’s illegal Apartheid wall in the occupied West Bank, the company has also been associated with the production of banned cluster bombs.

On the subject of Elbit specifically, Barclays have stated, “An associated claim is that we invest in Elbit, an Israeli defence manufacturer which also supplies the UK armed forces with equipment and training. For the reasons mentioned, it is not true that we have made a decision to invest in Elbit. We may hold shares in relation to client driven transactions, which is why we appear on the share register, but we are not investors. We note also that Elbit is highlighted because campaigners claim it makes cluster bombs. We would cease any relationship with any business where we saw evidence that it manufactures cluster bombs or components.”

In March 2010, the largest Swedish pension fund, Foersta AP-Fonden, banned investment in Elbit due to its alleged links “to violations of fundamental conventions and norms”. In July 2014, Dutch company Delta Lloyd Asset Management excluded Elbit from its portfolio, citing the company’s role in the production of controversial weaponry.

In December 2018, global banking giant HSBC divested from Elbit following months of pressure from human rights campaigners. AXA Investment Managers also withdrew direct investments in Elbit Systems in the same month citing the companies involvement in the production of ‘banned cluster munitions’. Less than a year later Norway’s largest pension scheme KLP published a position paper outlining Elbit Systems’ exclusion from its portfolio for “breach of weapons criterion.” The company also excluded General Dynamics, Raytheon and Rolls-Royce for “gross and/or systematic violations of generally accepted standards of responsible business conduct.”

Barclays is alleged to have shareholdings and/or provided loans and underwriting to all three companies.

In March 2022 Australia’s Future Fund banned investment in Elbit systems citing its involvement in the production of banned weapons and in February of this year (2024) Itochu aviation, a division of Japan’s Itochu Corporation, and Nippon Aircraft supply co. both ended their respective partnerships with Elbit Systems, citing the ICJ’s interim ruling.

The Gaza breakdancing crew helping children escape the horrors of war

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Barclays has been the target of boycott protests for many years because of its alleged complicity with the above. These protests have only increased in the wake of the death and destruction in Gaza at the hands of the IDF. The campaign for The Great Escape to drop Barclays as a sponsor was launched 5 weeks ago with a letter signed by over half the line up and many other bands and acts. With the letter appearing to be ignored by the festival, bands began to announce they would no longer be appearing.

One such act, who confirmed on her Instagram that she would not be performing is Drag superstar Bimini. In a story posted this morning she stated “I believe music has the power to connect us but I cannot support the sponsorships that profit over the loss of innocent lives. Humanity is not for sale.

The boycott has been the source of some controversy. Australian singer, Nick Cave – who previously called cultural boycott of Israel “shameful and cowardly” when he played in the country in 2018 – told an anonymous band who questioned whether they should boycott to “play”.

Elsewhere, other music industry giants, many of whom signed the open letter to The Great Escape, have been more supportive. One of those is Massive Attack, who told Huck, “We’ve endless, special respect for younger artists or artists at earlier stages of their careers who choose to take a stand against corporate support for apartheid and now genocide in Palestine.

“Whether it’s apartheid and genocide in Gaza, or the funding of new fossil fuel extraction worldwide, Barclays has repeatedly proven it is without conscience. Barclays therefore has no place in any music festival or any cultural event. Solidarity with and total respect to all musicians who’ve taken this stand.”

Many who have pulled out are at an early stage in their careers, in a notoriously difficult and closed industry. Hang Linton, an emerging interdisciplinary artist from Leeds, stated, “I will be pulling out of my showcase in solidarity with the boycott. I can only urge us all, as grassroots musicians and organisations, to collectively remove our labour. Performing at The Great Escape this year will not define our careers. Without us there will be no festival, we have the power to say no. Free Palestine and boycott Barclays.”

Despite multiple efforts to reach out to the festival and its parent company Live Nation, organisers of the boycott have said they have been met with silence. Neither The Great Escape or Live Nation responded toHuck’s request for comment.

Delilah Bon, another artist who has pulled out, stated, “Seeing the horrors happening currently in Gaza, Palestinian solidarity should be at the forefront. I’m shocked that The Great Escape festival have not responded to calls to drop their partner Barclays, who are actively funding genocide, forcing artists like myself to pick between ‘business’ and my own ethics. I stand with the BDS movement and Palestinian solidarity, and will sadly no longer be performing at the festival”

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Bon is an alum of Music for the Many, a campaign run by the Peace & Justice Project, which was founded by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn MP. On the boycott, Mr Corbyn stated, “The many artists and venues who have pulled out of The Great Escape over the festival’s ties to the financiers of war shows us there is a growing movement against the culture-washing of those funding some of most disgraceful atrocities in human history.

“The reality is that artists and venues, many of whom face financial insecurity, should never have been put in a position where their creativity and talent is used to launder the reputations of those enabling the global arms trade. Festival organisers should stand on the side of humanity and cut ties with those aiding and abetting death and destruction in Gaza and around the world.”

Convener of the Music For The Many and Art Against The Arms Trade campaigns Samuel Sweek added, “For too long, the blood soaked hands of the war machine have used our music and culture to launder their reputations and absolve themselves of their sick profiteering from the devastation in Gaza and other conflicts.

“Artists and fans alike are fighting back against culture-washing with Art Against The Arms Trade demanding UK festivals cut ties with Barclays and those funding genocide. We stand in solidarity with all artists who have called for The Great Escape to cut ties with Barclays – and particularly those who have dropped out. We will continue fighting for the arts, for the people, not the profiteers.”

BAE Systems, Elbit Systems, The Great Escape and Live Nation were all contacted for comment. None had been provided at the time of publication.

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