Uganda's Authentically Plastic Finds Queer Sanctuary on the Dance Floor
We talk to the multidisciplinary artist about drag, their ANTI-MASS parties and the hidden beauty of Kampala.
The last few years have seen Kampala, Uganda take center stage as an essential destination for underground dance music in Africa. The city hosts Nyege Nyege, a massive festival with line-ups featuring international talents and producers like Miami's Suzi Analogue and São Paulo's Badsista have toured on lengthy stays to collaborate with local artists and feed off Kampala's dynamic energy.
One of the hands fanning the flame of this new movement is certainly ANTI-MASS collective and its founder, Authentically Plastic. The 29-year-old nonbinary Ugandan native is a visual artist and performer, who organizes explosive queer raves, produces industrial music and DJs a nearly singular style of expertly-mixed gqom, house, techno and pop.
Still, Kampala's extreme conservatism has presented major challenges for creative, open expression over the last decade. Less than two years ago, Kampala's historic gay bar was raided and over 125 arrests were made. It's this enduring obstacle that makes Authentically Plastic's performances and their ANTI-MASS parties feel so deliciously charged. These parties offer local Kampala queer folks one of few opportunities to truly experience nightlife, to show up and show out as more honest versions of themselves.
Authentically Plastic's visual presentation, inspired by their own drag performances, is nearly political in its bold, chic transformation of wigs, makeup and exquisitely-styled dresses. Their music and their pronounced performance energy in the face of such danger and oppression is nothing short of remarkable.
Authentically Plastic invites us into their world below...
Your DJ sets feature exciting combinations of disparate genres, often meticulously layered over one another. Do you look to any other DJs for inspiration?
I'm looking at singeli artists like Jay Mitta and Sisso for inspiration. However, my inspiration when I was starting out and getting into dance music was the New World Dysorder parties that I went to when I lived briefly in California. There, I was introduced to DJs like Jasmine Infiniti and others who were developing this intensely layered, accelerated style of playing.
I would describe the music you produce as hypnotic and industrial, similarly upbeat to your DJ sets, but less euphoric. What inspires your music?
I'm really into this idea of a "Sonic Weapon". If you're sensing darkness and tension there, then it's probably coming from this angst I feel towards the state, towards all these familial modes of social control, towards Western capital. If I designed a "sound-machine" aimed squarely at all these things, what would it sound like, would it be noisy, would it be loud? Or would it be supple and diffuse, like a drug?
How does your experience performing as a drag queen inform your artistic and DJ persona as Authentically Plastic?
The magic of drag is in becoming something other than what you are. The look makes you feel invincible, you gain an appetite for risk — perhaps because your actions are not seen as coming from a "real person". I thought that was a boundless position from which to make art. Through the persona, you get to unleash infinite weirdnesses onto the audience in ways that you might not if you were presenting yourself bare and unfiltered.
Authentically Plastic | Boiler Room: Streaming From Isolation with ANTI-MASSyoutu.be
Since moving back to Uganda, drag has also become a safety mechanism around the circulation of my image. When I did Boiler Room in 2019, my image circulated rapidly on Whatsapp and Facebook. There was a lot of abuse directed towards me, but my "real identity" was ultimately beyond public reach. I have this desire to make radical statements about gender and sex, but I still want to be able to go unnoticed the next morning… and safely watch this persona get ripped to shreds on social media.
Describe the feeling and atmosphere of ANTI-MASS parties. I'm interested to hear more about your vetting process, and how you manage to not get shut down.
The desired feeling has always been one of mixedness. There's immense value in having these spaces where people of drastically different genders, orientations and backgrounds can gather with a common interest in artistic experimentation. So we try to hold this image in our heads, while of course prioritizing queerness. The door policy is loose, and it rests on interaction with the door person, who would normally be queer. Safety and enjoyment for all the non-normative people inside the space depends on the intuition of whoever's working the door that night.
So far I think it has worked okay, because it has cultivated an internal space where people feel free to experiment with their look and sound in ways that they probably wouldn't in other club spaces in Kampala. After the shutdown of the main queer-friendly bar in the city, it became clear that for us, queer space was going to be nomadic. Moving the party location for every event means that we don't allow ourselves to get too invested in a particular space.
Photo: De Lovie.
Who are the current members of the ANTI-MASS collective?
Turkana, Nsasi, Raldy Odil and I make up the core of ANTI-MASS collective. The three of us work directly with music, as DJs and producers, and Raldy is a drag performer. Aside from us, several other talented people have regularly contributed to our events like Kampire, Decay and Rey Sapienz.
Have you been able to continue throwing parties and events through the pandemic?
I've not been able to throw parties through the pandemic, until recently. I just had one with about 80 people in a private location. The early lockdown measures pushed events into domestic spaces, which we have been adamant about using… they tend to be forbidding and inaccessible. I think it's going to be a little while before we have an actual ANTI-MASS party.
How did returning to Africa after university feel? Kampala presents real challenges for queer artists, but you've managed to make a name for yourself. Do you see yourself living in the city for the foreseeable future?
I do wonder how many middle-class African parents send their child to study in an American metropolis, hoping they'll work for a corporate giant, only for them to return as a quasi-Marxist drag queen — a true nightmare! The greatest education I got in America was from going out to clubs, and to shows, from dizzying encounters out on the street. Yes, I know this is a very privileged thing to say!
Visual Set: Authentically Plasticyoutu.be
For now, living in Kampala means I can spend less time working ridiculous jobs to survive and more time doing the things I like — producing, collaborating, reading. Kampala's freedom of movement, its ease and beauty, are really special to me, and I can speak romantically about those things. I am also fully aware of its ugliness and limitations. It's challenging especially now, with no parties. All the problems with this city have only gotten more pronounced in the pandemic.
I'm not sure if I'll live here for the foreseeable future, at least not permanently. I've always seen nomadism as the most ideal situation anyway. What I know for sure is that I'll always return here; many things are possible in Uganda that are not imaginable anywhere else.
Read Authentically Plastic's recent essay, All Eyes On The Margins: The Culture Industry and Labor Relations in East Africa for the Black electronic blog Dweller.