When TEKE::TEKE played together for the first time in 2018, it was supposed to be a one-time-only performance at a tribute show for Japanese guitar legend Takeshi Terauchi. Instead, a group of musicians discovered they had potent chemistry and a lot of talent, and TEKE::TEKE was formed as the seven-piece experimental band it is known as today.
TEKE::TEKE: Combining Classical Japanese Influences with Rock Music
The Montreal-based psych-rock group is the personification of a sonic assault, featuring classical Japanese instruments, a trumpet, a flute, and scrappy garage-rock guitars and drums that all combine into a musical frenzy that shines bright and fizzles out beautifully in each song.
The real strength of TEKE::TEKE, though, is in the singing. Maya Kuroki, the performance artist and vocalist at the helm of the band, offers up a wide array of vocal styles that ranges from guttural scream-talk-singing to frantic spoken word lyricism.
TEKE::TEKE is the exact kind of band that would turn heads and gain a crowd at a music festival like South by Southwest in a pre-pandemic world. Alas, music must adapt along with everything else, and TEKE::TEKE make the most of their virtual festival slot with a set that surely kept all eyes glued to the screen.
TEKE::TEKE at SXSW 2021
Immediately the mini concert is captivating, with the members TEKE::TEKE standing in a large room to record their set and looking like a crossover episode between several different cartoons. flutist Yuki Isami is dressed in a sparkly pink flapper dress, trombone player Etienne Lebel dons flowing black garments and a sailor’s cap, guitarists Serge Nakauchi Pelletier & Hidetaka Yoneyama dress in similar attire, bass player Mishka Stein and drummer Ian Lettre are dressed in casual clothes befitting most garage rockers, and Maya Kuroki is wearing a long, patterned skirt and top that make her look like an elementary school art teacher.
Before there is any time to process the wild wardrobe choices, TEKE::TEKE launches into a first song that displays the band’s knack for making melody out of chaos. Every instrument seems to be competing to be the most prominent, yet the competition occurs within the confines of music theory and keeps the song from sounding like pure noise. The song comes to a boiling point of every band member seemingly attempting to blow out their speakers while Kuroki sings like her life depends on it, and then switches tempo into what musically sounds like a parade march while Kuroki angrily talk-sings.
All of this launches headfirst into yet another change that cedes to the guitars and bass, making the band now sound like an indie rock powerhouse. Finally, in one last switch that brings the song to a close but does nothing to diminish its fury, the initial flurry of instruments that started the song comes back for the end. One song into the set, TEKE::TEKE has given what feels like an entire concert’s worth of performance.
No time for rest, as the next song kicks in with Isami trading in her flute for an insect-crawling keyboard intro before quickly switching back to flute to join the metal-esque guitar licks. The sound is melodic and menacing, a vibe that builds upon itself as the instruments chug along and Kuroki finds the perfect balance of charming pop vocals and borderline screaming all while sporting a tongue-in-cheek grin.
In classic TEKE::TEKE fashion (a fashion that has become rapidly apparent during this set), the band pushes the envelope even further as the flute and trombone up the ante and add a frantic, vaguely Celtic sound into the mix that somehow still meshes beautifully with the booming bass and shrill guitars. All the while, Kuroki sings as if she is trying to beat the rest of the band in a race to the end of the song. And when the song does end, so does TEKE::TEKE’s South by Southwest appearance, seemingly over as soon as it began because there was never time to process the sensory overload happening every second.
The feeling at the end of the performance is like the feeling after a good but complex movie; it was greatly enjoyable, and well worth the time put into it, but an in-depth summary of what exactly just happened would do a lot of good too.
TEKE::TEKE displays all of the hallmarks of a great band: dominant stage presence, deft musicianship, and a unique angle (or several unique angles) that make the band a captivating standout presence worth talking about.