The Necks: Thirty Years of aethereal creation

There was little to indicate that The Necks, forming in Sydney, Australia almost thirty-years-ago, were bound for international acclaim. Their nation’s capital, though home to Australia’s first jazz studies course at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (from which drummer Tony Buck benefitted) and an ‘intuitive’ jazz scene, hadn’t produced an act that had reached far beyond the region, but the founding of the Sydney Improvised Music Association in 1984, suggested that change may be afoot, as it aimed to enrich Sydney’s scene. The organisation, which championed important veteran artists as well as encouraging younger players to perform for ‘sympathetic audiences’, allowed for contemporary jazz and improvisational music to take hold in the region and for acts like The Necks to play some of their earliest shows.

In the live setting, when their music is entirely improvised, their sound is hypnotic and limitlessly layered, developing subtly from simple motifs and patterns. The Necks weren’t destined to grab audiences used to popular music’s incisive sounds, or even those who favoured jazz’s sprightlier side, but they were likely to resonate with those for whom music can have cathartic benefits, for whom music can take any form and those for whom the long-form compositional styles of artists like Oliver Lake or Marion Brown, Steve Reich or Terry Riley were of great importance.

In the studio, when the group took inspiration from Jamaica’s reggae producers and their studio processing and overdubbing, they were able to achieve the same hypnotic results as they managed live, but to go beyond that when they wanted to. Sex, their 1989 debut release, showcased their calmer side and established a style which has an enduring quality. For many, the album could be “used”, as Kate Hennessy explains in her Quietus review; setting the tone for people to focus on a task or to switch off completely. Subsequent releases have showcased the various dimensions to their music; some more rhythmic, energetic and minimal like Silverwater, some subtler still, like their 2001 masterpiece Aether (now committed to Australia’s National Registry of Recorded Sound, a catalogue of music considered to be ‘of particular significance’ in the history of recorded music).

It’s not immediately clear when and how The Necks gained their international following, though the 1995 re-release of their debut album may suggest that in the first six or seven years as a group, their influence had spread outside of Australia, where the first edition had been circulated. They began touring in Europe in the mid-to-late nineties, adding North America to the schedule in the early 2000’s, as new distribution deals furthered their reach.

A telling sign of a group’s integrity and appeal is the regard in which they are held by fellow musicians and their contemporaries. Artists like Jim O’Rourke and Michael Gira, both advocates of musical freedom and spontaneity, reserve the highest praise for them. “These men are Gods” proclaims Swans frontman Gira, who has seen them live many times, especially since they joined his band on an Australian tour in 2011. “I listen to The Necks almost every day”, O’Rourke tells Time Out, affirming their music’s enduring quality, revealed over repeated listening.

Thor of Swans in Necks shirt - photographer unknown

Thor of Swans in a Necks t-shirt. (Photographer unknown)

With the forthcoming UK leg of their tour, the group celebrate 30 years of “improvising a new piece of music every time they step on stage”; a feat which cannot be downplayed. It calls on all of their musical experience and their ability to let things “find their own balance” as Buck told the Guardian. What’s clear when The Necks perform is the enjoyment that they derive from the creation of music. Drummer Tony Buck returns from touring with Ethiopian musician Hailu Mergia for the shows, while pianist Chris Abrahams returns from dates with The Triffids, as they continue to keep their minds fresh with work away the band; another possible indicator as to how they have had a thirty year career as a group.

We’re thrilled to welcome The Necks to Band on the Wall along with promoters Fat Out, Cusp Editions and Tombed Visions, for their show on 8th November. Pick up tickets here.