McKinney's Shaka Plays Crazy, Vomit-Fueled Punky Reggae

Shaka atop the roof of Wit's End in Dallas.
Shaka atop the roof of Wit's End in Dallas.
courtesy of Shaka's Facebook page

Legends come in many forms. For Shaka, it came as a three-round rifle burst of projectile vomit. It's the kind of spectacle that stuns bar patrons and catapults you from a random out-of-town band directly to cult status. That level of infamy that causes a venue to beg you to come back every time you're in town. It may not be a glorious path to success, but damn if they don't have a good time every second of the way.

But more on that later. Hailing from McKinney, Shaka is a three-piece "punky reggae" act that, as you might have already guessed, puts on monstrously outrageous shows. After five years since their last release, the band is putting out four new tracks tomorrow as a step toward a new full-length album. Though they're often careening through the live circuit, they're slated to have one of their best years ever as they press a true EP and head back on the road.

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Guitarist Straton Riekena and drummer Jeff Dieffenbach met up in high school, and eventually added bassist Matt Dunnam to the line-up around 2010 after jamming as a duo. Then in 2011 they released Aloha, from Dallas, an EP that straddled the line between reggae, and ska-punk influences to create a diverse piece of work that solidified the band's foundation as an adaptive group. This is a strength that's proven hugely useful, as they've been able to be chameleons to whatever kind of bill they're on, whether it's a punk- or reggae-oriented crowd.

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The album was a trial for the band, since it was recorded and produced by Riekena himself. Although he didn't mind doing it, switching between playing guitar and setting up recording equipment took a toll on him. He freely admits that he much prefers the assistance of a dedicated producer, which he used on the upcoming releases and whom he plans to use for their full-length.

Riekena says he figured new music was overdue, since Aloha came out in 2011. When approaching the newer tracks, he wanted to make sure that the sound quality was significantly improved. A large part in that was having a dedicated technician who had an impressive portfolio of albums that Riekena thought had an ideal production quality.

The varied music interests are where Shaka's diversity comes from. Riekena loves reggae, Dieffenbach loves punk and Dunnam loves a bit of everything -- even some metal influences come out in his bass lines. They're even known to play a few covers on a whim, ranging from GG Allin to Sublime to the Ramones. "We look at each other and will come up with a cover out of nowhere," Riekena says. "We never plan it. It's just whatever we're feeling."

When pressed for debaucherous anecdotes, Riekena laughs and mentions that they're happening all the time. There've been multiple cases of on-stage brawls at shows, but he's wary to endorse too many of those in fear of garnering a reputation for a band that instills too much violence. But on the other hand, he loves the idea of trying to add an element of unpredictability when, according to him, shows have a tendency to get a bit stale when bands play so many gigs. This band is their cathartic release, the unfurling and tearing up the stage to welcome the weekend after a week of work.

Regardless of the turnout, Shaka ensures that they're playing their hardest. Riekena says they've raged even when just the bartender was present at a show, asking him for requests. And that drive has caused them to get callbacks from gigs for years, even when the first show had low attendance. Particularly, in Waco they once played at a now shutdown venue to a handful of people in the middle of nowhere. The owner fervently asked them to come back, and the second time they rolled through there were 100 people present. And the third time, there was a news crew waiting to interview them and give them a segment on the local news channel. With that kind of success, it's no wonder they keep up their energy at every show, not wanting to miss an opportunity like that.

But of course, the most notorious incident was a saga drenched in puke. Shaka was playing its first show out of Texas at a small punk venue in Las Vegas, where Riekena was plied with a delicious mixed drink called "Ass Juice." The drinks were stronger than he thought, and after downing enough of them he froze for an eternal second during a song as he stared with glazed-over eyes at a single member of the audience, a female in the front row.

In that moment he realized what was about to happen, but it was far too late to turn back. From the stage, he vomited on this poor, unfortunate soul and miraculously kept playing. But as soon as the song ended, he immediately swamped her with apologies and asked if she was alright. He offered an explanation to the crowd, yelling, "It wasn't me! It was the Ass Juice!" which sent the crowd into a hysterical frenzy of laughter and applause.

To give you an idea of the kind of venue this was, there's a sign that says "Puke Insurance: $20," which the band has to fork over in the case of an occurrence such as this. An audience member walked up and Riekena and told him he covered the puke insurance and offered to take the band out to dinner after the show. The stranger said, "I've never in my life seen a band like you guys."

Now, that audience member is at every single show without fail, to witness the splendor that is Shaka, because no one will ever forget that show. Especially that one girl with arguably the worst luck in the history of time.


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