Japanese punk band Shonen Knife was formed in 1981. The all-girl group, a rarity for their time, consisted of sisters guitarist-vocalist Naoko Yamano and drummer Atsuko Yamano and their friend bassist Michie Nakatani. Shonen Knife took their inspiration from renounced groups like The Ramones and The Buzzcocks. The Ramones were such a big influence that the band went on to release a cover album as the Osaka Ramones.
Shonen Knife, though, prefers to do songs about happier subject matter, like chocobars, public baths, and spending a day dancing at a disco or sleeping in your bed.
Shonen Knife’s biggest fans were, surprisingly, the typically glum 1990’s alternative bands. The band landed their biggest gig opening for Nirvana on the cusp of their debut for Nevermind. “When I finally got to see them live, I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert,” Kurt Cobain once said. For their part, Shonen Knife thought Nirvana was scary when they saw the band photos, but eventually came to the conclusion after meeting them that they were really nice guys. It was a weird pairing: the bubbly and cheerful Shonen Knife versus the somber, angsty sound of Nirvana.
Shonen Knife’s trajectory followed the rise of alternative. Their music video was featured on Beavis and Butthead, and they played on stage at Lollapalooza. They shared the stage with the likes of Sonic Youth and Mudhoney. Their 1992 English language album, “Let’s Knife”, was listed in 2007 as the 37th all time best rock album by Rolling Stone Japan. While their voices weren’t really in tune or their grasp of English the best, the joy always came through, even when covering a Lennon/Yoko Ono song about the Irish Republican Army.
Over the years, band members would come and go… some due to tragedy. (In 2005, drummer Mana Nishiura died in a car crash in New Jersey while on tour with DMBQ.) Over the years, nine women have been part of Shonen Knife. But one fact yet remains true today as it did then: every band has a Shonen Knife who loves them.
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