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Inside the Outrage Over Amazon's 'Intersect Festival'

Amazon's Intersect Festival is taking place December 6th and 7th at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds. While the first year festival is being produced by Amazon Web Services, displeasure with the organizer and thoughts of intentional misinformation have cause several artists to back out, and to do so publicly, sharing their frustration and displeasure with the festival.

On paper, the festival looked like the next large scale festival, blending music, technology, and various art forms to create a unique experience for attendees. 

According to a press release, Intersect Festival will feature “a million square feet of games and activities (including a video arcade, post-apocalyptic dodgeball stadium and mega-sized ball pit with over 200,000 balls); immersive artworks from Nonotak, Kytten Janae, Beeple, Ouchhh, Mike808 and others; as well as a 500 drone airshow creative directed by Kacey Musgraves entitled ‘Intel Presents UPLIFT: A drone light show celebrating women in tech in collaboration with Kacey Musgraves,’ accompanied by a donation to benefit Girls in Tech.”

Several performing artists however, have recently publicly announced that they were mislead by the talent buyer team for the festival, which allegedly didn't make it well known that the festival was organized by Amazon and notable Amazon Web Services.

The Black Madonna

The Black Madonna, an American DJ known for her high energy performances and her social justice initiatives, was the first artist to publicly shame the festival and announce she will not be performing.

It started with a simple tweet, when she learned about the organizers behind the event

Black Madonna claimed that no where on the contract or paperwork she signed, did it say the festival was produced by Amazon and AWS.  Resident Advisor claims to have obtained a document, which supports Black Madonna's claims, while an Amazon spokesperson claimed otherwise.  Amazon also said the AWS logo was apparent on all festival banners and fliers, though Black Madonna shared a previous flier (below) which does not contain the logo.

Black Madonna came out with a statement, explaining her reason for cancelling her performance, and getting out of her contract with the tech giant.


A note regarding Intersect Festival.

A post shared by The Black Madonna (@blackmadonnachi) on Oct 19, 2019 at 2:46am PDT

She stated, “I will not be performing at Intersect Festival due to their relationship with Amazon Web Services who have business ties with ICE and Homeland Security. The event proposed to me initially was framed as and [sic] arts and technology weekender with other artists I deeply respected and with well known and respected production teams,” she said. “It presented no cause for concern. I was never formally or informally advised of any Amazon branding. The offer I accepted did not propose any kind of brand partnership.” 

Further, Black Madonna said “I am profoundly disappointed that anyone, at any level, in the long chain of people between the offer I saw and the eventual promotion of the event presumed I would. My contract intentionally prohibits that my name or likeless be connected in any way with any form of sponsorship endorsement of any kind including but not limited to commercial and/or political endorsements, without the prior written agreement of myself.”

Japanese Breakfast Speaks Out

After Black Madonna publicly dropped out of the festival, Japanese Breakfast, a solo project from musician Michelle Zauner, expressed its displeasure with the festival. Zauner stated, “Everyone has the right to be upset."  She also backed Black Madonna's claim that artists were not aware that the festival was organized by Amazon, stating: "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.”

What's Next?

It will be interesting to observe what happens next.  Will more artists follow, and remove themselves from the festival?  Will Amazon, with their deep pockets, be able to buy more talent and launch a great first year festival?  Time will tell.

This is the latest example of fans, attendees, and consumers purchasing from brands and organizations who's social values align with theirs.  Event sustainability has proven to be a deciding factors for attendees when purchasing festival tickets, and we're seeing a holistic effort now from attendees, and talent, to align with events which align with their personal values. 

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