Epidemic Psychedelia

AKSU, Il Santo Bevitore, and The Seer, Self-Titled

The eponymous LP by experimental artists AKSU, Il Santo Bevitore, and The Seer testifies to the power of collaboration.

Virtual album jacket. Television news, March 2020.

Already intriguing by themselves, these artists grow in scope and stature when their contributions are juxtaposed on this release on the cassette-only Industrial Coast label.

Creating with their collaborators in mind also seems to make their work more accessible. Despite the uncompromising character of their artistry, AKSU, Il Santo Bevitore, and The Seer do not try to micromanage the listening experience. Even when their music resists easy comprehension, it remains loose and flexible.

While none of these artists will ever be classified as pop, this album recontextualises their avant-garde impulses within an immersive, psychedelic sensibility. It’s not hard to imagine listeners wanting to get into their preferred pharmacological comfort zone to savour this music.

The record assiduously avoids the sort of overt citation that saturates nostalgia culture. Yet there are echoes of previous generations that help frame the music.

That effect may have been enhanced by its slow gestation, with the pandemic providing an opportunity to tap into deeper layers of consciousness.

Once it picks up momentum, “Erg Namib”, the twenty-three-minute A-side by Brussels-based AKSU, feels like a second cousin of the stoner drone of bands like Sunn O))) and Sleep.

The three tracks by Il Santo Bevitore — I previously wrote about his fascinating solo work — and The Seer on the B-side have more of a radical post-punk sound, with nods to the spoken-word performances on the margins of New York City’s No Wave scene and the rhythm-first approach of Berlin’s Einstürzende Neubauten.

I had a chance to ask Il Santo Bevitore’s Nicola Serra and The Seer’s Conny Prantera about their portion of the album.

The value of working for the first time with another strong-willed artist came through loud and clear in their responses.

“Our recording session was super spontaneous and more like a jam than a planned process,” noted Prantera.

“Once the recording was done, I handed over most of the mixing process to Nicola, as he is truly a master. I am more comfortable as an improviser, and so this process suited me well. But it surely taught me the patience and skills it takes to go from that free-form to something much more deliberate and crafted.”

Serra enthusiastically seconded this assessment.

“Despite never playing together before, in some way the jam session felt so natural to me, almost as if I was stepping into the fascinating improvised world created by Conny.”

The liner notes for the album describe a similar process for AKSU’s Pierre Arese and Guillaume Cazalet, though they have been making music together off and on for over a decade, explaining that “Erg Namib” developed out of live sessions conducted in Brussels between 2018 and 2020.

Although much of AKSU’s side derives from a pre-pandemic moment, the fact that it was refined and assembled in the wake of COVID makes sense when you hear it.

The same goes for Il Santo Bevitore and The Seer’s three tracks, which took shape at that time.

“Meeting up in the middle of the pandemic, wearing masks and jamming in an unusually deserted New River Studios was very surreal,” Serra told me. “The isolation during the lockdown played, at least for me, a huge part on the vibes of the record too.”

The album communicates a yearning for community radically intensified by its abrupt foreclosure.

“I tried to preserve what we recorded together in the first place to kind of lock in that surrealistic time and place,” Serra added. “To give a narrative to it while trying, at the same time, to keep myself free to experiment with the material without setting too many boundaries.”

One of the best aspects of this kind of music-making is that collaboration proves comparatively easy. When your band consists of only two people, the expense and exhaustion of keeping a band going is less burdensome.

Even if AKSU, Il Santo Bevitore, and The Seer ended up making this record for specific historical reasons that would be hard to reproduce, the result offers inspiration for other artists as we figure out how to navigate the confusing world that emerged in the wake of the pandemic.

When I asked Prantera about the psychedelic notes I detected on all four tracks, she came up with a response that applies to the popular avant-garde these artists exemplify.

“Personally, I always see art and sound as an expression and vehicle to create and experience something otherworldly,” she declared. “I think music has this unique power to create a space that allows for transcendence and communion at the same time while being absolutely freeing and politically affirming. It’s where we dream.”

This fine album does a great job of creating a space in which dreaming feels productive and meaningful.

Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit. All rights reserved.