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Boycotting Barclays and The Great Escape Festival

by Josie Reaney

Over 100 acts pulled out of Brighton based music festival The Great Escape in solidarity with the ‘Boycott Barclays’ campaign. The campaign claims that the bank chain has increased their investment in companies that trade arms with Israel since the conflict began. 

The Great Escape has a cemented reputation in the British music scene. Notoriously a long weekend where exciting emerging talents are drawn out of grotty Brighton basements and into the pages of the NME. Anna Calvi, Stormzy and Kae Tempest are just a few examples of artists who upstarted their careers at the festival. 

This year has proven to be very different in light of the Barclays Boycott with 25 percent of acts droppingout of the festival in solidarity with Palestine. 

A spokesperson for ‘Bands Boycott Barclays’ stated: “Barclays is bankrolling the genocide against Palestinians in Gaza and then laundering its reputation by partnering with music festivals like the Great Escape. As musicians, we think that’s despicable.”

The likes of Jarvis Cocker, Massive Attack, and Brian Eno have supported the boycott, signing a joint statement against the festival’s partnership with Barclays. A statement released by Massive Attack expressed how “it’s extraordinary to think that in 2024 promoters and festivals still don’t understand that as artists, our music is for sale but our humanity and morality is not.”

One of the festivals more established acts set to perform, Alfie Templeton, stated, “Mymorals cannot and will not align with the amalgamation of entertainment and human suffering.” 

It is clear for Templeton, as it is with all the boycotting artists, that the solution is black and white - but this is not the stance of every musician involved.

The boycott is certainly the most obvious act of resistance, a joint strike with musicians standing in solidarity against the war, but perhaps it isn’t that simple. Many artists who went forward with their performance expressed their distress in their decision, arguing that using their stage to voice their concern may indeed be the most powerful form of protest.

Dead Oceans played the festival on Friday, beginning their set with a shout - “Fuck Barclays!” 

The band then donated their fee made from the festival to the Palestine children’s relief fund and expressed their horror at the atrocities in Gaza. 

Dutch act ‘Sarah Julia’ also chose to go forward with their set, yet admitted they felt “conflicted about playing here.” 

The duo collected donations for Heal Palestine and sold handmade, crochet water melons, the fruit that has come to symbolise Palestinian resistance. They stated “It’s hard to do anything that does not support some hollow corporation devoid of morals. By design, to step outside of the system is to banish yourself and your voice to the wilderness.” 

This is difficult activism, though not one to be dismissed. Of course, boycotting equals clarity. By choosing to perform, these artists sit in a grey area. Their clear discomfort throughout the set and their charitable efforts seem to patch up any doubt regarding their opinions on the war. Nevertheless, their choice to play should remain up for debate. 

Cultural boycotts are nuanced, as is the integration of the musician with politics. Problems can often arise with artists political expressions. 

Their actions and statements are ceaselessly dissected. One thing is certain, there is nothing worse than remaining silent. 

Whatever the level, all artists have a platform and an audience thus carry the responsibility to speak out on issues as significant as the Israel-Gaza conflict. The boycott of the Great Escape is exemplary of this, as musicians join to fight against the atrocities in Palestine.  

Though some people may not be interested in war; it is certainly interested in all of us. The onus is on artists to look up from their naval gazing and use their voice and actions to increase awareness and activism. The Barclays Boycott has been a striking example of that, and we should salute the artists involved and remain in the hope that the world will begin to lighten. 


Edited by Emily Duff

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