They were guests at Berliner Festspiele’s several times – last and most notably at Jazzfest Berlin 2015 when they gave a special concert at Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche. Now the Australian Band The Necks is returning to Berlin for their 30th anniversary tour at Funkhaus Nalepastraße. Don’t miss it.
The Necks came to London at the beginning of November, as part of their 30th anniversary tour. They played three nights and one afternoon in the intimate space of Café Oto in Dalston, in front of listeners – including Brian Eno, a long-term admirer with whom they have collaborated in the past – anxious for another fix of the Australian trio’s special magic.
After decades of playing together, most groups of musicians get bored with the music or fed up with each other, and split up. In the case of The Necks, every performance seems to strengthen their creative bond and deepen the quality of their music. Many listeners left Café Oto in no mood to dispute the words of the British writer Geoff Dyer, who called them “the greatest band in the world” on BBC radio this month.
Their method is simple. An evening consists of two sets of about an hour each. One of the three musicians – Chris Abrahams (piano), Lloyd Swanton (double bass) or Tony Buck (percussion) – will be nominated to start off with an idea of his choice. The rest is completely improvised, the others joining in as they see fit, and the music is allowed to evolve at its own pace. The English critic John L. Walters once described the experience of listening to their music as being like wandering through an art gallery, spending different lengths of time looking at different pieces. It could also be compared to a long journey by train, perhaps across several countries: you’re in the same carriage but the weather changes, the scenery changes, the speed varies, and you might end up somewhere very different from where you started.
Their studio albums are carefully pieced together, making extensive use of post-production techniques of editing, overdubbing of different instruments (including organ and guitar), and so on. This process has created such masterpieces as “Aquatic” (1994), “Drive By” (2003), “Silverwater” (2009) and “Open” (2013). In concert, however, The Necks present a real-time experience: three musicians responding to each other, to the room and to the audience, maybe even metabolising what happened to one or all of them earlier in the day or the night before.
It must help to sustain their creative freshness that between their tours and recordings each member spends several months of the year pursuing other projects. Buck lives in Berlin, where he plays with many improvising groups, including the trio of the celebrated Ethiopian pianist Hailu Mergia. Swanton lives in Sydney, where he leads his own bands and hosts a weekly radio programme (last year he released a remarkable album of music and sound-collages titled “Ambon”, exploring themes suggested by his uncle’s experiences in the First World War). Abrahams spends time in both Sydney and Berlin, and regularly releases albums of solo keyboard music, most recently one called “Fluid to the Influence”.
When they come together as The Necks, the musicians don’t talk to each other about individual performances in the sense of one evening or one set being better than another. The reason is that they don’t want to disturb the transparency of their collective process by introducing the temptation to concentrate on one apparently “successful” aspect of their music. Instead they allow it to have a life of its own and to build organically: performance by performance, year by year, decade by decade, with – thank goodness – no end in sight to their unique journey.
On Nov. 22nd 2016 The Necks will be playing at Sendesaal 1 of Funkhaus Berlin on behalf of their 30th anniversary.
Teaser photo © John Tapia Urquisa