5 questions with... AUTHENTICALLY PLASTIC

Erica Synths launches artist feature series 5 questions with... Self-explanatory - we speak to breakthrough artists, pioneering musicians, creatives from different backgrounds and places and ask them 5 questions (that might or might not trigger a necessity for a few more and open up in-depth conversations).

''As a DJ, producer and artist based in Kampala, Uganda, Authentically Plastic’s sound is necessarily political''- and not once have they shied away from disrupting norms & expectations. Authentically Plastic has been on the forefront of representing Eastern African artists and their critically acclaimed debut album RAW SPACE released via the Ugandan label Hakuna Kulala further showcases ''a digger's literacy, an activist's intent, and an artist's playfulness''. In addition to their artistic career they also run a fierce, riotous but above all notably necessary Kampala based collective and club night under the self-explanatory moniker ANTI-MASS,. Their manifesto states ''ANTI-MASS reclaims space for queers, femmes, and other minorities, while exploring new potentials for sound & artistic expression in an increasingly regressive social climate.''

For further context of the urgency of matters discussed in our conversation it is important to note that shortly after our conversation, Ugandan members of parliament have passed a bill imposing death penalty for homosexuality. Read more about it in The Guardian and Support Uganda LGBTQ Emergency Fund.

Darlyne Komukama

- How did you get into music?

- Authentically Plastic: Initially I started off by DJing. I had been out of Kampala for some time, I went to university in Cape Town, South Africa and when my visa ran out, I came back to Uganda. I had been exposed to so much music. When I came back a lot was happening - many interesting parties, hosted by Nyege Nyege (Kampala based label, booking agency, artist residency , club night & Pan-African festival of the arts - ed.), and other queer people. Yet I was still not hearing what I wanted to hear on the dance floor. So that's how I started DJing. A friend gave me a tiny controller and I started playing at queer house parties. Somebody from Nyege Nyege was at the party and they booked me to play the festival that year (2018 -ed.). Then I started getting into production, mostly through my friend Ray Sapienz - they taught me how to produce. It was really exciting to get skills to make music. I had always been an avid digger, always trying to find interesting sounds. I felt like there was something that I wanted to say musically. I wouldn't be making any music if I felt like I was just going to reproduce what was already out there. I feel like I'm producing because the things I want to hear, I don't really find anywhere else. Or at least not on most of record labels.

- When did ANTI-MASS kick off?

- Authentically Plastic: December 2018. We had our first event on a rooftop on the edge of town and we booked Kampire (a core member of Nyege Nyege and one of East Africas most exciting DJs, check out her work here - ed.).

- Did ANTI-MASS start from a similar point - because of a lack of certain spaces and curation in your surrounding?

- Authentically Plastic: Yes, exactly. There were some queer spaces in town (Kampala - ed.), but in a lot of them the music was the mainstream club. I wanted to create a space where people could experiment with their identities, but also with sound and find a space for free expression, whether that's musically or sexually, or with one's gender expression. Essentially, the language around the party was and always has been with queer feminist notions. We didn't want to say that this is a gay dance party or whatever. We have kind of been hiding behind the shield of being artists and feminists. We had to communicate through the images, letting people know via hinting that this is a queer space.

- And this is because of the political environment in which you have to operate. Can you elaborate?

- Authentically Plastic: Yeah, it's entirely because of that. There's a lot of scapegoating of queer people used by the government to distract people from real issues. That makes queer people very vulnerable. Even right now we have a resurgence of anti queer discourse (this conversation takes place weeks before the passing of aforementioned anti gay bill - ed.)


Jessica Udeh

Editors Note: Having attended Nyege Nyege Festival both in 2018 and 2022, I have first hand seen an outrageous response from the Ugandan government trying to cancel the event days before it's set to start. Both times the concern has come from either the Directorate Of Ethics And Integrity or Parliament itself, with accusations as ridiculous as recruitment of children in different immoral behaviours. Both times the opposition was overruled and the festival was able to take place under strict guidelines, however the hostility of the political environment in which collectives like Nyege Nyege and ANTI-MASS has to exist has reached an acute urgency with the passing of a bill imposing death penalty for homosexuality.

Authentically Plastic sent several resources to learn more about the current situation.

Ugandan bill threatens jail for saying you're gay - BBC

US Christian Right pours more than $50m into Africa. Conservative groups increase their spending and activity in what critics call an ‘opportunistic use of Africans’ for US-style ‘culture wars’ - Open Democracy

How U.S. Evangelicals Helped Homophobia Flourish in Africa - Foreign Policy

Support Uganda LGBTQ Emergency Fund

Nyege Nyege Festival publicity photo

Nyege Nyege Festival publicity photo

- How do you continue to function in a time that is ever more hostile?

- Authentically Plastic: We had a party recently - the last one was at New Years. It's been a bit tricky, after the pandemic a lot of the spaces that we were using before shut down. There's a general feeling that the space for us in this city is shrinking. So the recent ones we've had have been hosted in our studio in Buziga (district in Kampala - ed.) It was great, we had a really stacked lineup and it brings a different energy when people feel that they are in our private space as opposed to being in a bar. But moving forward we want to go back to the way we worked pre-pandemic, finding spaces in the city and repurposing them for our events.

Right now, since the new years, the environment has abruptly become more hostile. There's a lot of discussion about queer people on the radio, television and in the government. I don't know where it's coming from, but it seems to be a campaign that is funded by evangelical groups from the US. So moving forward, in the near future, I don't see us having a party just because of safety concerns. Maybe later in the year. This year, what we're doing is trying to figure out other ways in which we can show up for the community. We just got funding to run a bunch of DJ and production workshops. We also want to help other creators who are interested in doing events - some of the lessons that we've learned in throwing events, the mistakes we've made and what can be done better.


Nsasi, Authentically Plastic, Turkana - the core of ANTI-MASS collective

We clearly see that queer liberation has been tied to spaces of queer enjoyment and pleasure. I think parties are a big part of that. It's not just about enjoyment, queer events are a form of resistance in itself.
DeLovie Kwagala.jpeg

DeLovie Kwagala

- Your debut full-length album RAW SPACE has been critically acclaimed and very well received. Can you tell me about the conceptual basis of it and the creative process?

- Authentically Plastic: The conceptual side of it was really about how there's a specific kind of techno that has come to dominate all of electronic music. Obviously, the four by four techno has risen to a kind of a dominant place. Because it has so much power and is so widespread, it has kind of suppressed other possibilities, other technos that might exist. In a way I feel like what I'm doing with the Raw Space is trying to simulate or rather allow certain other possible technos to emerge. Mostly [it is done] by engaging with traditional rhythms and scales, that are very different. It's inspired by Kadodi which is a form of ritualistic music from Eastern Uganda. And also some music from Northern Uganda. So it's really trying to go with the texture and the scales of that music and infuse it with techno sensibility. Just to see what else is possible.

- Can you talk about the practical side of producing this body of work?

- Authentically Plastic: I produced it while in my studio, in Kampala. My process always starts with noise. What I mean by that is that I begin from a noisy position, for example, with lots of effects on the channel already from the start. And using that to compose. Or often starting to compose not in the studio, but outside where I can move around. Being outside just with my computer and a Bluetooth speaker which results in the sound being contaminated from the start. Then from this noisy position only gradually I narrow it down when I'm starting to mix in the studio. The way I produce is a very non-linear process, of adding and taking away, layering different meters and scales on top of each other, distortion, noise, while adding a certain sophistication to it as opposed to just assaulting people with noise.

- What are your tools or music instruments of choice?

- Authentically Plastic: I use a DAW, because that's most accessible to me. Hardware is not so accessible in Kampala. It's something that I would love to learn how to do later, but right now, it's not possible because of the price, hence Digital Audio Workstation has become the natural choice and that is just because of the accessibility.

The conceptual side of it was really about how there's a specific kind of techno that has come to dominate all of electronic music. Obviously, the four by four techno has risen to a kind of a dominant place. Because it has so much power and is so widespread, it has kind of suppressed other possibilities, other technos that might exist
The African artist has an aura of that “authenticity”, that rawness, which many western institutions/individuals are more than happy to appropriate at all costs, or even worse, at no cost. People in the Global South are perpetually fucked by western capital.

The above quote comes from an essay All Eyes on the Margins: The Culture Industry and Labor Relations in East Africa by Authentically Plastic on Dweller Forever Blog.

- Being somewhat on the forefront of artists who represent Eastern Africa and Uganda, I want to dig deeper into your experience with institutions and also invite anyone who is reading this interview to read the essay. Could you explain what made you write it?

- Authentically Plastic: First of all, that article came from experiences that my friends were going through, and which we spoke about extensively. I wanted to write something that would be almost like an assault on all the figures and institutions that have a record of systematic violence on artists, in particular from East Africa. My own experience with institutions has been limited, therefore my outlook is rather informed by my friends' experience. But, going into Europe, obviously I started to have more encounters with institutions and cultural workers who are from that world. And there are ways in which the labor and the artistry of African artists is so undervalued. For example when you encounter getting a booking from some institutions, and the offer is, really, shockingly low. - Hello, I literally live on a different continent. And also my skills are worth paying for! - I see it a lot in Berlin, especially among my trans friends.There's a sense of a certain relating to trans people as marginal people. But I think the same applies to African artists, there's a sense in which they are being invited over to museums or galleries because it adds an air of realness. - Perform your trauma for us. - It gives a kind of grit and authenticity, which institutions tend to really want to feed on. I've heard really shocking stories about what museums and other art institutions will offer to pay people for their labor - just because they are black and queer. I don't know if there's an end in sight to it. People tend to treat me a bit differently because they recognize me as this very critical person but still even so, there have been times I have experienced shocking treatment. Even though it's not to the same degree as other people who may not have academic background and the vocabulary to criticize institutions with their own language. I think more transparency regarding payments is important, especially sharing that with black and queer artists who might not know what the standard is. I had the experience of playing at a festival, where both me and a black femme DJ who was playing for two hours while I was playing for one hour got the same offer. Basically we both had the same amount of experience and skills, and just through being transparent about what I was getting paid this person was able to confront them and negotiate for a better rate. So I think that transparency really is a key to raising the value of African artists all across the board.

ANTI-MASS club night by Samra Mayanjs

- If you would have to choose one of your works to put in a time capsule for future generations to find, which one would it be?

- Authentically Plastic: It would be a collaborative track I made with Nsasi called "Galiba" 


Authentically Plastic at Nyege Nyege Festival 2019

Authentically Plastic has just released 2 mixes for Dazed & Crack Magazine

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