The Necks’ RISING festival performances will be their first time playing together since before the pandemic.
Normally, a room at an upmarket hotel is reserved for the most top-tier of A-listers. The Necks‘ Tony Buck, however, is a guest under quite different circumstances – he’s in the midst of completing mandatory quarantine so that he may perform with his band in the coming weeks.
“It’s weird, this thing,” he says. “I mean, it’s only been my second or third day, but it’s definitely not like your usual hotel stay.
“I live in Berlin, so I flew in just to be able to do this. [Berlin] is still pretty locked down – there’s a 10pm curfew, masks everywhere. It’s pretty full-on.”
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The extent to which the trio has gone to make their upcoming shows happen make them all the more special – especially when one considers this will mark the first time The Necks have played together in well over a year.
The group are one of the resident acts of Melbourne’s RISING festival in various guises – including headlining performances, theatre collaborations and solo sets from both Buck and pianist Chris Abrahams.
Despite the extended period in which the three have not performed together, Buck knows that instinct will kick in as soon as they are in front of their respective instruments.
“When we come back together, it’s a very specific sort of thing we do,” he says. “We’ve got self-imposed parameters that we operate in that don’t exist in other projects. We’re really comfortable in that setting, and we know each other really well.
“It’s always a really nice thing to come back into – we have these parameters, but it’s still very, very open. We come back into it from doing these other things, and it brings fresh perspectives and inspirations into the next thing we do.”
In addition to performing their fully-improvised, methodical take on avant-garde jazz in a standalone setting, The Necks will also serve as the live score to Food Court – a theatre piece, performed entirely by actors living with disabilities, that is described as both “confronting” and “essential.”
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The Necks were part of the piece’s initial run circa 2008, and return to collaborate with the Geelong-based Back To Back Theatre once again – a prospect that Buck is unquestionably excited by.
“We initially weren’t so sure on the idea of The Necks doing a theatre thing,” he says. “That sort of thing usually wouldn’t sit well with us, but their proposal was just to let us do what we do – which is just play. It could be really different every night. We didn’t have to rely on cues, and the actors weren’t relying on cues from us.
“We were just listening, creating this kind atmospheric ambience contrasting against what’s happening on-stage. It’s a really incredible setting for us to play in. It also affords us the chance to be quiet. Even more minimal than usual, actually – there’s so much going on. That’s a really nice thing to get yourself into.”
It says a lot about The Necks as a group that their approach to music is able to translate and subsequently transcend in such a multidisciplinary manner.
Solo performers, as a trio, as a combination of any two members in duo mode – then put in environments like jazz clubs, bars, illustrious theatres and even a handful of arena performances when opening for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. No matter where they are, or in what context you place them, The Necks seem to just make sense.
“A lot of it stems from the way that we play the music, and the way that the music is in the first place,” Buck reasons. “It works in a lot of cultural contexts because of what we’re inspired by – minimal music, African music, ambient music.
“Western art, a lot of the time, is a focused listening experience – but there’s other functions, if you like, of music itself. If you want to really focus on our music, you can do that – especially on a record like [debut album, 1989’s] Sex.
“If you just want music to put on to be atmospheric, it can function like that as well. We’re definitely not precious about it.”
The Necks will perform at Comedy Theatre on Wednesday June 2 and Thursday June 3 as part of RISING festival. Grab tickets here.