Tune Out: Sound Strike Hits Arizona Music Fans, Venues

Disconnected. SB 1070 divides the music bands and music fans. Illustration by Peter Lazaravich.

Charlie Levy chooses his words carefully. He pauses and thoughtfully strings his ideas together all while remaining respectful toward his critics.

Levy, the owner of Stateside Presents, has been an independent concert promoter for 15 years. In June, Levy wrote an editorial in the Arizona Republic addressing the bands boycotting Arizona because of Senate Bill 1070 — the bands aligned with Sound Strike.

“I just had a little different opinion for the best way for artists and bands to influence immigration reform,” Levy says. “In my opinion, it would be more effective if you’re an artist to educate and motivate your fan base by showing up. You have this platform at shows where you can speak directly to people — even if people disagree with you, you can educate them."

Levy is quick to clarify that he is not angry and respects artists involved with Sound Strike and Conor Oberst, who has been especially vocal in his disapproval of Arizona politics.

Oberst replied to Levy’s editorial and expressed his need to boycott Arizona in an open letter published by Billboard Magazine.

“The Boycott has to be so widespread and devastating that the Arizona State Legislature and Governor have no choice but to repeal their unconstitutional, immoral and hateful law," Oberst wrote."It has to hurt them in the only place they feel any pain — their pocketbooks."

Levy makes the distinction that some artists are activists and some are not, but everyone has to choose their own path. He says that the bands that do want to be activists would have more of an effect by playing rather than by boycotting the state.

Levy also says that when you don’t play, the pain is felt more by people bands should want to help.

“If live music venues, where people come together to express ideas, close because of the boycott, it has a more negative effect in the long run than that positive effect of a boycott” he says.

Levy goes as far as to say that boycotting bands could have a real detrimental effect on Arizona’s local music scene.

“If the boycott continues and more bands join, there is no doubt in my mind that some venues are going to shut down,” Levy says. “Smaller venues and non-profit theaters run on a tight budget and if they lose 10 percent of their yearly revenue, that could be what makes them go from being profitable to closing down. There is already such a lack of venues already that it could really cripple the music scene here even more.”

In speaking up against Sound Strike, Levy is saying he wishes artists like Rage Against the Machine, Conor Oberst, Sonic Youth, Gogol Bordello, My Morning Jacket and Nine Inch Nails would do more for the cause. He even suggested a musical sit-in as an alternative to boycotting.

“I think it would be more effective if instead of boycotting, the bands behind Sound Strike played a show in Arizona every single day until there was immigration reform," he says. "It would be a powerful thing."

David Moroney, an ASU graduate and member of local band What Laura Says, says bands are missing out on an opportunity to talk to people who support and don’t support these new immigration laws. Being outwardly political isn’t a part of What Laura Says’s music, but they do consider themselves informed as Arizona residents.

Moroney says that while he admires artists that stand up for what they believe, there's a difference between signing up to be a part of Sound Strike, and actively protesting.

"If you are going to be outspoken, if you are passionate and want to cause change, you need to be down in the trenches and be a catalyst for discussion and awareness," says Moroney, who also stressed the importance of music and musicians as role models.

"Music is different than any other kind of medium," Moroney says. "It grasps a hold of people’s emotions, thoughts and ideals. It’s really easy to use music as a medium to move people to do things and feel a certain way as a potent form of art. There is a lot more involved in music than any other form of art."

Moroney believes that Sound Strike is positive in that it is raising awareness, but like Levy, agrees that a personal touch is needed.

"Being an anthropologist at heart, I understand that human-to-human interaction is always the most potent, basic, meaningful, authentic and raw form of communication," he says.

Local artists have taken up arms and are doing something about it.

Phoenix New Times released a compilation album this summer titled "A Line in the Sand," filled with songs against SB 1070. The proceeds are going to non-profit human rights groups Puente and No More Deaths.

Artists for Action, an organization based on civic activism for artists, held a free show Aug. 27 at the Marquee Theater to register young voters and inform the population about the importance of voting.

Despite having bands pull their shows from Arizona, Levy says he still respectfully disagrees with the boycotts and wishes artists would do more.

"I can’t argue an economic boycott working, but to me this seems to me more like a cultural boycott," he says. "Anytime you take culture, arts and music away from society, it doesn’t make sense."

Contact the reporter at apanguia@asu.edu.

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