Atanas Akerstra is one of the most unique and overlooked music projects to emerge in the last two decades. Atanas Arkerstra is essentially Roge, one of the founding and core members –for about two decades!– of Akauzazte, a band from Azkoitia (Gipuzkoa) deeply related to the local self-managed building “el matadero” (the old slaughterhouse). Akauzazte are freedom and self-management. We can’t sum up here the band’s importance and story, but there’s a great article (in Spanish) by Antton Iturbe that has done this job. We just borrow from Antton’s text a short and enlightening definition of the band:
“[…] Isolated and at the same time deeply rooted to their land, they [Akauzazte] amplify their heartbeats in order to dance to the beats produced by empty bones and rusty hammers. The waste materials of the old slaughterhouse are now musical instruments. […] They are open to surprise and attentive to their inner voice in order to act like mediums of a collective trance.”
The aforementioned definition of Akauzazte may also –from a slightly different scope– apply to Atanas Arkestra. In both cases, it’s all about the transmutation of –on the one side– very primary elements and feelings into –on the other side– deep listener’s enlightenment; and –in the middle of this transformation process– there’s the music acting as the medium. This binomial phenomenon is always present in the music of Atanas Arkestra in different forms: sky and roots, mud and heaven, up and down, roughness and refinement…
Atanas Akerstra has for the moment two releases: Vol. 1 (2006) and Oro (2016), one release every ten years. Vol. 1 compiles music composed during a period of fifteen years (ca. 1991 – 2016) and Oro does the same for the subsequent period of ten years (ca. 2006 – 2016).
Vol. 1 was released digitally –free-download–, as a CD-r and on vinyl with a limited issue of only 125 copies. Here we could find, as stated in the release note, “a sort of cosmic proto-blues” or “Primitiae Blues Espaeciale”, “a look at pre-rock in times of post…”, musically a perfect distillation of intimacy and roughness. Although this release may be considered as one of the best records of –at least– the last twenty years, it went rather unnoticed by the specialized media.
Oro –the second release–, published at the end of 2016, has also gone completely unnoticed for the moment. It has been released digitally –free-download–; and there’s also a hand-made CD-r issue sold in concerts (see the pictures). Oro continues in the same vein, but it has gone even deeper. As explained in the only article found about the record (in Spanish), Atanas Akerstra has taken “a more primitive, ascetic and intuitive perspective, reducing [the music project] to its most austere and naked structure”. On the path to the essential, this time Roge has decided this time to work completely alone. He is his only akerstra, there are no collaborators here –as there were in Vol. 1.
The name of the album gives clues of Atanas Akerstra essence. Oro means “gold” in Spanish and “all” in Basque. Roge had possibly both meanings in mind when choosing the record title. “Gold” was the goal of alchemy, the (proto)science precisely investigating the bonds between earth and heaven with its operations, as Roge’s work –alchemical for sure– does. And “All” is also important in Oro. “All” is the area of work of Roge’s project –earth and heaven again! In this release he has began distilling nearby tracks, of his own band, Akauzazte, but this strict and imaginative distillation process may apply to other territories. As a proof of Roge’s all-embracing method the album also includes a version of Mikel Laboa, which may be understood as an open door to upcoming worlds.
Oro is drier than Vol. 1. Because of that, Oro needs to be listened very carefully, with patience and love. But, after entering into it, you will be impressed and fully rewarded by the great richness of possibilities using very few elements. With such essentiality it is impressive the wide range of references that may come to mind of the listener. For instance, according to Famzine, Atanas Akerstra is operating under the influx of Mikel Laboa, John Fahey and Michael Gira. Sun Ra isn’t mentioned there, but his idiosyncrasy overflies Roge’s work, as evidenced in the project’s (manipulated) name.
Atanas Akerstra “avoids explicitly [according to the record notes of Vol. 1] any kind of mercantilist attitude to go into the most essential and honest roots of rock music”. The explicitly stated nature of Atanas Akerstra as non-mercantilist has gone beyond the musical discourse to affect also their way of management. Because of that, Atanas Akerstra offers a record far away from the conventional music industry. Once the difficulty of getting to know the release is overcome, the nature of Roge’s project itself shouldn’t be a big problem to nowadays music lovers. In Urpa i musell we love the physical formats, but we love even more good music. And, to be honest, such gold nuggets shouldn’t remain unnoticed anymore!
Oro can be downloaded here.
To close with a flourish, Atanas Akerstra playing live in this video:
The sources used for the post:
Text by Ignasi Molina i Montasell. Double-check by Narcís Molina i Montasell.