The University of Iowa University of Iowa

“Does anyone here know TEKE::TEKE?” Mission Creek’s closing act

I’m sitting upstairs at Gabe’s before the show and I’m chatting with John Glab (who’s also on the KRUI staff, shoutout John). I had just dashed from the Chauncey to catch the first 10 minutes of Bijou’s screening of “Just Another Girl on the I.R.T”. I’m dehydrated. The last thing I drank was a cup of free wine I randomly got from someone, somewhere in Iowa City.

Mission Creek so far had been a blur. On Thursday through Friday I was bemoaning a late essay I had to write. I stayed up all night with no sleep, then I’m jumping erratically as Sudan Archives sings “I just wanna have my titties out,” while screaming until I can’t speak without sounding like an anti-smoking ad. Snail Mail was okay – not really my scene – but shoutout to all the shaggy mullet girlies living it up. On Saturday, I ran around Iowa City, at book fairs and in back alleys, until I showed up to the venue, jaywalking.

My legs are sore and there’s a sheen of sweat on me. TEKE::TEKE are about to perform and they’re the last act of the festival. The room is almost empty at 10:37, then it’s suddenly packed with everyone from boater-hat-wearing, craft-beer-drinking hipsters to scene kids with anachronistic appearances, looking for a fight. As the band starts plugging in their instruments, we all collectively move up to the front. Multi-colored lights shine brightly onstage.

Most people have no clue about the band they’re about to see perform. The ensemble band based out of Montreal start playing “Kala Kala”, the cinematic opener to their debut album “Shirushi”. Lead singer Maya Kuroki strikes a dramatic pose while waiting for her cue to start roaring out the song’s lyrics. In an instant, the song sparks into an energetic tidal wave of percussion, guitar, flute and Kuroki’s vocals. Now, the audience understands that there’s a special, incandescent quality to what’s transpiring before them.

People respond immediately, going from just bobbing their heads to shaking and shoving while the song builds into a torrential breakdown. A screeching sound flows into the next song, the nocturnal surf-rock infused “Yoru Ni”. Then the song ends. The lead guitarist meekly says, “Hello Iowa City, we’re TEKE::TEKE from Montreal, we’re so excited to be here.” In response to this, I hear a girl drunkenly slur out a “fuck yeah,” while the band continues its explosively energetic set.

Image via Ben Romero
TEKE::TEKE’s setlist.

If you were to encapsulate the entirety of TEKE::TEKE’s performance, it would be a show of precise chaos. While the crowd shrieked and moshed to Japanese lyrics that they couldn’t understand, the band never lost its flamboyant flow of rhythm. They delivered a sonic knockout, again and again, after each song. At the forefront of the performance was Kuroki, who belted out each lyric with a fierce theatricality. Kuroki sometimes hit a gong or cowbell to break into dance alongside flutist Yuki Isami, who was dressed in a white flapper dress and go-go boots. Besides the vocal performance, there was wild percussion, forceful guitars, and a fluttering flute. Plus a trombone that switched to a bagpipe for a few songs then back to a trombone. Few bands can claim this much variety and instrumental talent.

At one point the band asked, “Does anyone here know TEKE::TEKE?” There were a couple whoops in the crowd. I screamed (I fell in love with “Shirushi” in December 2021), but it was a rare moment in the show when most of the audience stood still. But if you didn’t know the songs at all, it didn’t matter. Everyone connected and joined TEKE::TEKE’s wild song.

After the show I was able to talk to a few members of the band (guitarists Hidetaka Yoneyama and Serge Nakauchi Pelletier, bassist Miska Stein and drummer Samuel Woywitka). Though I was discombobulated, I managed to get a few impromptu questions in. One of my questions was about the band’s eclectic sound. How did their musical blend of various genres and inspirations come together? Another question was about their global perspective. As a Canadian band performing in Japanese styles, specifically eleki, and the language as well, how does that affect how people perceive their work?

Paraphrasing Stein’s response: “Yeah, of course there’s always the presence of the West, or white people, as we’re from Montreal, so you can’t really escape that… but we focus mostly on Japanese lyrics and styles, so there’s that clash kind of… lots of theatricality, and that has a lot to do with Maya, as she has a theatre and arts background.”

“We started out as a tribute band to Takeshi Terauchi, there were just a few of us, and we were just instrumental at that point, but when Maya got on board we started creating our own songs, own music. Most of our band is Japanese, and that also ties into like ‘appropriation’ or just taking inspiration from different cultures because we all have different backgrounds and approaches, so that blending of styles really makes itself known in our work… and you’ll definitely hear that on the new record.” Stein is talking about their forthcoming sophomore LP, “Hagata”, which will release in June. 

Other members said that it was great to see how the audience reacted to their performance. They claimed it was one of the best shows they’d played in a while. I also asked them about their cover of Unwound’s post-hardcore song “Corpse Pose”. Yoneyama and Nakauchi Pelletier talked about how they had just come from playing with Unwound in New York and Philadelphia, saying they were “great guys, really phenomenal to work with.”

“What’s the name of the radio station you’re from again?” Asks Woywitka.

“It’s called KRUI 89.7, yeah we have a website and everything,” I say.

He chuckles. “Yeah, I see you guys play shit from us as well as other projects I’m in. I see you guys all the time on my monthly log reports.” 

The true highlight of the set was towards the end, when the band played their ecstatic song “Barbara”. The song built in noise and energy to an eager audience who was ready to give itself completely to TEKE::TEKE. At this point I was directly in front of the stage. I was fully engrossed in the moment, but for a few seconds, I looked back at the crowd. All I could see was a swarm of raging limbs and bodies all flowing to the music. A paralyzing, exciting sight, until a body crashed into me, and I snapped back to reality to regain my footing.

Photo by Ben Romero.

Each second that passed, the crowd moved faster and harder to the music, until the song ended. After their closing song “Meikyu,” TEKE::TEKE thanked the crowd and started packing up their instruments. Still ecstatic, the crowd started chanting for an encore.

In shows I’ve seen, artists usually tease an encore for vanity, as a way for the audience to cheer their name some more, when all along they’ve planned to play for longer anyways. But in this case, TEKE::TEKE seemed genuinely stunned at the buzzing reaction to their set. In response to this outpouring of love and excitement for the band, they set their instruments back up. The band played an instrumental melody as an epitaph to Mission Creek, while Kuroki danced and shimmed on the side.

After the band truly finished, people kept talking about how great and unexpected the band had been. I remember walking over to John, as we’d been in proximity to each other throughout the show, and saying, “Shit was so good, I think I might buy a t-shirt.”

“What?” He said, as our ears were basically blasted to oblivion at this point.

“I said that the show was so good it makes me want to buy a t-shirt.”