#NoMusicForICE: Why Artists Should Drop Intersect Festival


by Kenneth Cox

In just a few short weeks, Las Vegas will become home to a brand-new music festival, Intersect. Describing themselves as a “new kind of festival,” Intersect claims to bridge the gaps between art, technology, and music, combining them together across a two-day event at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds. Admittedly, the lineup is pretty great. Massive acts like Kacey Musgraves and Anderson .Paak are headlining, and the undercard is filled with some of music’s most exciting acts at the moment: Sophie, Toro y Moi, Snail Mail, Japanese Breakfast, Kelsey Lu, the list could keep going on. There’s just one major problem with this festival — its sponsor, Amazon Web Services.

At its core, Intersect is the music festival of Amazon Web Services, or AWS for short. AWS functions as a cloud computing host, with servers that store and send data for businesses of all sizes. A seemingly infinite number of websites use AWS to collect and store data, and the company is the biggest cloud computing group in the world as of now. They are also the company that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has partnered with to store and collect massive amounts of biometric data. AWS is the primary host of ICE’s databases, and as the two continue to work together, it appears that AWS will give ICE the computing power to implement facial recognition technology and iris scanning software in the near future.  This data includes information like eye color, fingerprints, facial features, tattoos, and other means of identification assisting ICE in deportation raids and detaining undocumented immigrants. 

AWS’s ties to ICE, along with the recent announcement of Intersect Festival, has led to outrage within the music community. More than 1,000 artists have signed an open letter pledging to boycott Amazon-sponsored events like Intersect and refusing to partner with the company until they cut ties with ICE. The “No Music For ICE” movement includes artists such as Car Seat Headrest, Speedy Ortiz, Diet Cig, Jay Som, and countless others across various genres. Many in music are appalled by the festival, but what about the artists performing at it?

Out of the nearly thirty artists on the lineup for Intersect, only three have joined the cause of “No Music For ICE” — self-proclaimed activist DJ The Black Madonna. In an open letter on Twitter, The Black Madonna called Intersect a “moral and ethical transgression” against her work, and pledged to not play the festival. She also claims that there was no mention of AWS’s ties to the festival in the contracts she signed. JPEGMAFIA recently dropped off the festival’s lineup but has provided no statement as to why at this time. Japanese Breakfast briefly discussed her ties to Intersect, claiming that she too was not made aware of AWS’s ties to the festival, and saying she is “conflicted” about her role in the festival. However, unlike The Black Madonna and JPEGMAFIA, Japanese Breakfast is still on the lineup. Besides this trio of artists, there has been virtually no word from other artists concerning the growing movement to boycott Intersect Festival. 

To play a festival like Intersect is to play a festival that is in part built upon AWS’s deals with ICE. While Intersect may be purporting to be an event built on diversity, inclusivity, and progression, the festival is built off Amazon’s profits gained by helping to separate families, illegally targeting undocumented people in the US, and assisting in mass deportation raids. One cannot separate this fact of AWS’s business from the image of inclusivity and progression that they want so desperately to project with Intersect Festival. By playing the festival, these artists are helping to build AWS’s brand image and helping to obscure the truth of what AWS truly believes in and supports.

So what should these artists do? The answer seems to be clear — follow the lead set by The Black Madonna and drop out of the festival.  To play Intersect Festival is to help AWS bury their connections to one of the most destructive, inhumane agencies in the US. It’s an affront to people who have seen their families torn apart and have been imprisoned in border camps by ICE. No artist on the lineup should be assisting in helping AWS obscure the reality of what they’re supporting, and they should not take the stage for a company like AWS.

Whether or not the artists still involved with Intersect join the cause of No Music For ICE is a question that no one knows the answer to. As the festival draws nearer, it will be interesting to see the action, or lack thereof, that artists take with regards to Intersect. One thing is clear though, playing the festival is to turn a blind eye to the reality of AWS’s dealings, and what they really stand for.