“We will not allow Amazon to exploit our creativity to promote its brand while it enables attacks on immigrants, communities of color, workers, and local economies,” begins a powerful open letter to the retail giant, signed by well over a thousand artists including Sheer Mag, Chastity Belt, Deerhoof, and Girlpool. “We call on all artists who believe in basic rights and human dignity to join us.”
Yes, a faction of the music industry is waging war on Amazon, the biggest retailer of all, relating to a subsidiary of Amazon, Amazon World Service, which works with Palantir, a Silicon Valley data mining company that provides tech to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), effectively helping them to track immigrants and carry out deportations. Meanwhile, Amazon World Service is also developing controversial facial recognition software.
No Music For ICE is cutting ties over these links. Every artist who has signed the letter has pledged to not participate in Amazon-sponsored events, or engage in exclusive partnerships with Amazon in the future – until Amazon commits to stop working alongside ICE.
How did No Music For ICE start up?
This open letter first came about after Amazon World Service shared the line-up for their new Intersect music festival. Set to take place in Las Vegas from December 6-7, Foo Fighters, Beck, Kacey Musgraves and Anderson .Paak. are among the artists slated to perform. However, shortly after Intersect announced their line-up last week, The Black Madonna pulled out of the festival. “What the fuck is this Amazon shit…” the DJ tweeted. “I absolutely did not agree to this. Oh hell no…”.
A wider conversation soon began. “Emotions were running really high – and rightfully so – about whether or not music should be collaborating with Amazon while they also have these ties to government agencies who are oppressive towards the people that we are theoretically allies to,” says Sadie Dupuis. The Speezy Ortiz ringleader started No Music For ICE alongside a variety of other people with similar concerns: Joey La Neve DeFrancesco from Downtown Boys, Stevie Knipe of Adult Mom, Remember Sports vocalist Carmen Perry, Fight for the Future’s campaign director Evan Greer, writer Jes Skolnik and @k8_or_die.
“It wasn’t like we could bust in and say, ‘We’re going to pull all our stuff off your streaming services if you don’t do… x, y, z’,” she says. “There are so many things you can take Amazon to task over, but this just felt like the most urgent, and the most connected to human life. Rather than having this be about artists attacking artists for their prior engagements with Amazon, or artists pulling all their stuff off streaming services – which for many people is not contractually feasible, and for a lot of independent labels might signal their death – we focused on one issue. New and exclusive collaborations with Amazon, whether that’s Amazon Originals, or Amazon-sponsored events. We’re committing to not do these until they stop supporting ICE, and developing facial recognition that’s being sold to racist police forces.”
It’s not just about the Intersect festival, though
“We’re not specifically targeting Intersect, although it inspired this action,” Sadie explains. “We’re not calling on artists to drop out. One of the problems here is that there’s no transparency about sponsorship for festivals or even concerts. I’ve certainly been contracted to play something, and I only find out when it’s announced that there’s a sponsor on there who I may not necessarily agree with. Often that comes in the form of certain alcohol companies, which are a necessary evil in the music industry, but I’ve also been on the end of it where it was a bank. [Speedy Ortiz] are not gonna play a bank sponsored event,” she says. “At least some of the artists who are playing this festival had no idea that Amazon or AWS was attached. The whole point is that we want people to be able to live healthily and have fair wages, right? Calling on artists to drop out [of the festival] won’t change Amazon’s collaboration with ICE. However pledging not to do anything new [with Amazon] could make a difference.”
What is No Music For ICE calling for?
All the artists who have signed the open letter have promised not to work with Amazon for the foreseeable – until they commit to three key demands. Firstly, they want the company to terminate its existing contracts with military, law enforcement and government agencies – like ICE, US Customs and Border Protection, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
No Music For ICE are also calling on Amazon to put an end to development on facial recognition software. Similar software has previously been trialled in the UK, with an interim report by a biometrics advisory group expressing concern about racial bias. There are wider concerns that facial recognition software will encourage racial profiling and discrimination.
Lastly, they want Amazon World Service to permanently stop providing cloud services and other tools to companies like Palantir.
They’re also hoping to open up wider conversation
The group behind No Music For ICE are under no illusions that Amazon will change their practices overnight thanks to the boycott, but they’re hopeful that a wider discussion will begin around brands like Amazon cosying up with the music industry.
“It’s so easy to feel powerless as an artist when huge companies have monopolised your whole creative field, but at least now there’s a line we have drawn, which may result in change, even if it’s not directly from us,” Sadie says, before citing various other groups like No Tech For ICE and Cartoonists Against Amazon – who have already made a stand on the issue – as influences. “We’re already in solidarity with loads of groups, and this isn’t a new idea,” she says. “It’s just that musicians haven’t entered the conversation yet.”
“There are a lot of legitimate fans of Amazon who don’t pay attention to indie bands,” Sadie admits. “But there are also a lot of young people who haven’t formed their politics yet, or thought much about labour or invasive tech. They’ll see an artist they like on the Intersect line-up, and maybe they’ll think, ‘Hey, Amazon isn’t so bad’. That’s what all of us who signed this are asking people to think about, I think. Our hope is that more groups see this, and feel able to get engaged, and able to say no.”