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The Big Special explain why they’re playing The Great Escape amidst the boycott – and donating fee to Palestinian charity

The Big Special have shared a statement explaining why they have decided to play The Great Escape amidst the boycott.

The gothic Black Country duo – comprised of Joe Hicklin and Callum Moloney – took to their official Instagram account to explain why they will go ahead with performing at this year’s edition of the Brighton-based music festival.

The 2024 event – which showcases new and rising artists – is due to take place across various music venues in Brighton from today (May 15) until Saturday (18).

The Great Escape is sponsored by Barclays, which has been a source of controversy amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza because of the bank’s financial investment in companies that supply arms to Israel.

“We will still be performing at The great escape this week and donating our fee to the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund, of which our label will also match the donation. Here is our statement,” wrote the duo in an Instagram post.

“There’s been a lot of chat about The Great Escape festival recently and their sponsorship from Barclays, who are helping fund arms sales to Israel, weapons being used to commit war crimes against the Palestinian people.

“A lot of bands have boycotted the event in solidarity. We fully support this decision and think it is noble of these artists to take a stand in this way.”

They went on to explain that they have been “wracking their brains for weeks” on what to do and almost pulled out of The Great Escape but decided that they wouldn’t due to the “widespread involvement of Barclays in the industry.”

“Capitalism is a stain on life and it has spread to its furthest reaches, it’s hard to do anything that does not support some hollow corporation devoid of morals,” they continued.

“Even Instagram, this platform we are on, silences Palestinian voices and the voices sticking up for them, but we use it because it is an available platform to share information, it is not the fault of the consumer that the monopoly is held by bloodied hands. By design, to step outside of the system is to banish yourself and your voice to the wilderness.

The duo went on to say that boycotting this event and would make them feel “dishonest” if they then do not boycott every event that is connected to “dirty money”, adding that if they were to do that, then they would be absent from the music industry completely.

“Art and the art industry have always existed parallel and in opposition of one another, and that is why art should have it’s own message and voice to keep humanity in art and not just have completely crossed over into business,” they continued.

Big Special. Credit: Isaac Watson

They went on to day that it shouldn’t be seen as negative for “working class and minority artists and acts just starting out to silence themselves because of outside pressure, to then be replaced by a hollow voice of no substance or message.”

“We don’t think these artist’s labour is supporting / advocating Barclays, the same way wouldn’t see a cleaner at a Barclays branch as an advocate for them. One’s labour is most often not a choice and is a necessity to survive in a carnivorous system where all actions perpetuate its bloating growth,” they added.

“We work with good people whose jobs could be affected by us pulling out, and don’t think these well meaning people should lose their living whilst the money men who are to blame for the involvement of Barclays, take the cream.

“We wish that no bad business was involved with the art industry, it is a crazy decision to have a bank sponsor an arts festival, but we are aware of the low investment in arts, so greedy fingers will take their chances where they find them.”

“It is obvious truth that capitalism has gone too far and that nothing is untouched by its filth. Some artists of working class origin and minority backgrounds have an opportunity to share rare perspective, especially to audiences in more privileged areas, who might not be as engaged with these points of view.”

The duo went on to share that they support those bands that “chose to play and speak out and encourage others speak up on injustice, encourage people to contact government to demand application of sanctions and end arms sales to Israel and to swap their accounts from Barclays to another bank (there are no good banks, but targeting Barclays like this for now is the best way to negatively affect them.) People at the festival should make space to support protests and spread information.”

They continued adding that they don’t want to “see infighting on the same side” and explained that they understand that it is a confusing time in which everyone is trying to do the right thing.

The Big Special added that along with playing their planned set at The Great Escape this week, they will be donating their fee to PCRF (Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund), and that their label will match the fee as well.

“Music can’t mean anything if life doesn’t, and we need meaningful voices to take a stand and not be lost to an echo-chamber of regulated and diluted social media. So we hope that artists and punters use their informed voices from within the walls of capitalism to tell them to burn and hope others join,” they added.

“We support the boycotters too and are proud of people in the industry sticking up for what’s right in the ways they believe the most effective. We by no means think we are the voice of reason here and we are always up for the conversation and hope our fans trust our intentions.

“Would be great to see the most famous acts pull out of events industry wide and start change from the highest level and widest circle of influence, one day we hope to see the Art world free of dirty money and corporate involvement. But not as much as we hope to see an end to this genocide in Palestine.”

They ended their statement with: “CEASEFIRE. FREE PALESTINE. STOP ARMS SALES TO ISRAEL From BIG SPECIAL.”

Over 100 artists have now dropped out of this year’s edition of the festival in solidarity with Palestine. Most recently, Picture Parlour were the latest band to announce that they are boycotting.

Last month, Cherym pulled out of The Great Escape as a result of the festival’s connection to Barclays, before record labels Alcopop and Big Scary Monsters joined the boycott and withdrew from the event.

Dozens more acts soon followed suit, with over half the line-up demanding that The Great Escape drop its sponsorship deal with Barclays.

Now, over 106 artists have cancelled their scheduled appearances at The Great Escape 2024 in total – constituting approximately a quarter of the full programme. They cite the festival’s partnership with Barclays “bankrolling genocide” as their reason for withdrawing, per a press release.

The latest names to have pulled out include Alfie Templeman, Avije, Beetlebug, Bo Milli, BODUR, Bug Teeth, C Turtle, Cryalot, Delilah Bon, Delilah Holliday, Graft, Hang Linton, Jianbo, Kerensa, Lewis G Burton, Message From The Ravens, Pem, Pop Vulture, Projector, Smoke Filled Room, Sophia Ryalls, Steven Bamidele, Sunday Club, The Halfway Kid and Tony Njoku. See the full list here.

Massive Attack – who’ve previously spoken out on their boycott of gigs in Israel – have recently expressed their support for the mass walkout.

Over half the acts on The Great Escape’s line-up have signed an open statement coordinated by Bands Boycott Barclays calling on the festival to drop its partnership with Barclays, which is on the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) list. The statement is supported by a further 1,000 musicians and industry professionals.

The festival has not responded to the statement, but when approached by NME, a Barclays spokesperson pointed to their online Q&A ahead of their upcoming AGM and said that they would not be making further comment.

“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,” the Q&A read.

“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.”

NME has also reached out to The Great Escape Festival for comment.

Earlier this month, the Musicians’ Union (MU) issued a statement “in solidarity with members and non-members who are boycotting this year’s Great Escape Festival” over concerns regarding its sponsorship.

“The boycott is an act of solidarity with the people of Palestine, and one of the few instruments that freelance musicians have to call attention to practices that they disagree with,” it read.

Elsewhere, Nick Cave shared his advice with an artist who had reached out to say they had considered pulling out of The Great Escape 2024 “due to the sponsorship of Barclays”. In response, the Bad Seeds frontman simply wrote: “Play. Love, Nick.”

The stance from Cave to not boycott the event came after he courted controversy in 2017 when the Bad Seeds went ahead with their shows in Tel Aviv, despite pressure for them to withdraw from the likes of Roger Waters and Thurston Moore.

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