On Oct. 17, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced Intersect, a festival that will take place on Dec. 6 and 7 at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds. Described as a place where “music, technology, and art converge,” Intersect’s lineup brings together top musicians from across several genres with headliners Kacey Musgraves, Beck, Foo Fighters, and Anderson.Paak & The Free Nationals. In the days following the announcement of this festival, musicians expressed outrage over Amazon’s involvement in the music festival due the company’s contracts with companies such as Palantir that provide the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), and the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) with software and other forms of technical support.
In response to Amazon’s Intersect Festival, several artists organized together to form No Music For ICE! and penned an open letter to formally express their concerns. More than 1,000 artists have now signed on to this letter pledging to not participate in Amazon–sponsored events and partnerships until Amazon commits to “terminate existing contracts with military, law enforcement, and government agencies that commit human rights abuses” and to “stop providing Cloud services & tools to organizations that power the US government’s deportation machine.” The letter also condemns work on “projects that encourage racial profiling and discrimination, such as Amazon’s facial recognition product.”
“I’ve seen for a long time many musicians comment about Amazon’s bad practices," said Sadie Dupuis, founding member of No Music For ICE!, speaking with Street about the movement. "Whether that’s labor, AWS’s hosting of Palantir and it’s known ties to ICE and law enforcement, but I hadn’t seen musicians collectively organize around these concerns. When the Intersect line–up was announced, I saw people on Twitter directing concern directly at the artists who were booked, many of whom informed us that Amazon was nowhere on their contracts. It seemed like we were generating a lot of noise and energy but not towards any specific goal.”
Drawing inspiration from similar causes including No Tech for ICE and Cartoonists Against Amazon, Sadie Dupuis, frontwoman of the Philly band Speedy Ortiz, reached out to Evan Greer, the Deputy Director of Fight For the Future, to organize musicians and raise concerns about working with Amazon. From there, Dupuis reached out to more artists to create an open letter that would more effectively voice musicians' views on this issue. In just a few days, the letter had accrued 1,000 signatures.
Some artists included in the line–up claimed that they were unaware of Amazon’s involvement in the music festival. The Black Madonna, one of these artists, took to Twitter to express her anger and that Amazon’s name was not on any of the offers or paperwork. Amazon Web Services went on to release The Black Madonna from their contract.
Although many artists have signed on to this boycott, some artists plan to continue to perform at Amazon–sponsored events. Independent artists like Snail Mail and Japanese Breakfast have been placed under particular scrutiny for their involvements with Amazon.
In response to backlash for playing at Intersect, Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner wrote on Twitter, “Everyone has a right to be upset. I will say like The Black Madonna it was brought to my attention this was an AWS event. But the line to draw in the sand when it comes to branded content feels a bit unclear to me when operating in an industry that relies on a lot of branded content and working within the systemic confines of tech companies being in control of a majority of our royalties.”
Many musicians are navigating difficult terrain when it comes to signing onto contracts and partnerships. Often, artists sign on to a lineup for a festival before the sponsor is revealed, and they later may realize that the sponsoring corporation practices do not align with their beliefs. Given this ambiguity, the goal of No Music For ICE! is not to single out specific artists to drop the Intersect Festival, but rather to express growing concerns over Amazon’s practices. In one tweet by No Music For ICE!, the organization called on musicians who had collaborated with Amazon in the past to sign the pledge, stating “it is not too late to join us & say NO to future engagements with Amazon.”
When asked where artists should draw the line with their involvements with Amazon, considering that many artists have their music available for streaming on Amazon Music, Dupuis responded, “It was something we are looking into and this [boycott] was the first step in clarifying artists’ viewpoints on what they are willing to do in support of Amazon. What we have chosen to focus on are explicit partnerships with Amazon.” One of these partnerships is Amazon Originals, singles produced exclusively for Amazon Music subscribers to draw in more customers to the streaming service.
Currently AWS is the world’s leading public cloud service, controlling nearly 40 percent of the cloud service market. Among contracts with governmental agencies and companies like Palantir are customers including Netflix, Verizon, and Apple. The reach of AWS in entertainment and music streaming services is nearly unavoidable, making it difficult for musicians and consumers alike to stop interacting and supporting the company in some way. Despite the company's massive scale, No Music For ICE! will continue to work against musicians' involvements with Amazon.