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Wheelchair Sports Camp On SXSW, Music Festival Accessibility, & Occupy

Posted in Austin, Journalism, Occupy Wall Street, and SXSW

Wheelchair Sports Camp is one of the better-known bands in the “krip hop” movement, led by Kalyn, a self-described “MC/beat-maker/activist/educator/shit-talker.” Their music combines electronic sounds and hip-hop beats with live jazz instrumentation, and, of course, Kalyn’s rapid-fire words. Sometimes funny, sometimes experimental, I’ve enjoyed every performance I’ve seen since I first caught them in 2012 at Occupy Austin’s ambitious “Occupy SXSW” mini-festival.

After seeing Kalyn perform again at this year’s SXSW, I asked her to answer a few questions by email.

I’m looking forward to their upcoming album, “No Big Deal,” which Kalyn mentions below.

Kit O’Connell, Approximately 8,000 Words: At SXSW, they put you upstairs at a non-accessible location. You’ve been to SXSW a few times — is this pretty typical treatment?

Kalyn, Wheelchair Sports Camp: This is the 2nd year in a row that they put us upstairs which is super lame since we’re the only group of the thousands official bands who has awheelchair performer. Last year, I didn’t realize until it was too late, but this year I caught it before we got there.

Unfortunately, they wanted to place us at an accessible showcase that we did not align with due to branding and some anti-Palestine sentiments … So I chose to stay at the upstairs venue and was lucky to be able to get my wheelchair friend upstairs to see us so I don’t think anyone was denied access. Last year the ADAPT group was super pissed at me for performing at a place that denies access to wheelchairs which I agree wholeheartedly. I’m happy that these issues are brought up more because of playing and am checking my own privilege of being able to be easily carried.

Kalyn of Wheelchair Sports Camp with the rest of her band. (Facebook / Wheelchair Sports Camp)
Kalyn of Wheelchair Sports Camp with the rest of her band. (Facebook / Wheelchair Sports Camp)

8K: What about at other music festivals? Does the music industry have a problem with access in general?

WCSC: Absolutely. Music festivals in general are very inaccessible due to large grounds that can be muddy, rough terrain, etc. The other problem at festivals is finding a spot that you can see while sitting down. Majority of the “ADA sections” are still hard to see from and they will limit the amount of friends you can have with you which takes away from the festival experience. This is something I’ve been talking and thinking about a lot lately since I’m an avid concert-goer and now performer. Some friends and I sat down with the local paper to discuss recently.

8K: Tell me about “Hard Out Here for a Gimp” — it’s your latest single right? What inspired it?

WCSC: “Hard Out Here for a Gimp” was inspired by a dear childhood friend of mine Troy, who had my disability and died after chronic drug use caught up with him. They played “Stairway to Heaven” at his funeral and I really wanted to write a song for him inspired by the irony. I made a beat sampling Rodrigo y Gabriela’s cover of Stairway to Heaven but it was super dark and heavy and depressing.

So I went back through my notebook and found a ton of crip life jokes that I was hoping to do a “standup” set with. Since I can’t stand up for long enough to do a set, I flipped the script and made a more sarcastic, funny song about a typical day in the crip life which is a better tribute to my friend Troy who had a great sense of humor.

The song was released on a mixtape-style project called “WheelGrabbers” and the interlude before the song is a hilarious voicemail he left me and the sad beat I started. The song was received way better than I ever anticipated and I wrote pretty last minute. I usually hate hearing my voice on recordings, but I’m real happy with my approach on this track.

8K: How do your politics influence your music? Does Wheelchair Sports Camp stand for a cause or causes?

WCSC: WSC doesn’t “stand” for any causes, [Whoops -Kit] but I can’t help but talk about my surroundings and the things I feel most about. It wasn’t until high school around 9/11 that I really got in touch with reality and stopped eating what the rigged system was feeding me. And because of the music, I’ve been a lot more in touch with my own identity as a disabled, queer, woman and what a marginalized community us crips are.

A close up of Kalyn wearing her Adidas in the foot rests of her wheelchair. (Copyright marlowsharpe.com, used with permission.)
A close up of Kalyn wearing her Adidas in the foot rests of her wheelchair. (Copyright marlowsharpe.com, used with permission.)

8K: How did Occupy influence your political views? How have they evolved since the movement died down?

WCSC: Occupy was such an exciting time for me. It didn’t influence me as much as it represented the views I already had. I was so inspired by the vast amount of groups and struggles we were all fighting for.

Occupy got a lot of backlash because there wasn’t specific demands or leaders and that’s what I loved most about it. Because how can you say that environmental rights are more important than disabled rights? Or that addressing immigration is more important than addressing racism/sexism/homophobia etc.

All oppression intersects and it’s so important to recognize this when working towards freedom. It was such an exciting movement to be a part of and I am grateful to have spent as much time as I did here at Occupy Denver and all the camps across the country I got to visit.

8K: What’s next for Wheelchair Sports Camp? Plug anything you like here. :)

WCSC: We’re finally putting out our first full length album this year titled NO BIG DEAL. So excited!!! It’s been done for a while now and was produced by the late, great Ikey Owens who passed away on tour with Jack White shortly after we recorded everything. Looks like all is set to release September, so be on the look.

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