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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Shonen Knife - Punk Girls Gone Great

Because my wife finally took an interest in my writing and sent me some data to use, I thought I'd respond in kind with this blog.

Shonen Knife (少年ナイフ) is a kick-ass all-girl Japanese punk rock group that has been around since 1981.

I have to admit, I had never heard of them before two days ago despite being a punk rock fan.

More's the pity.

I listened to a few of their songs and actually came away impressed.

First... just what the hell is a shonen knife? Like many Japanese music groups, it has a Japanese term and an English one. English has been trendy in Japan for a very long time. 

Shonen: translates to "few years", and is used in reference to an elementary school boy - not a girl... so between a male 6 and 11-years-old.

Knife: a cutting or stabbing implement or weapon.

So it means Boy Knife. I can think of at least 10 sexual innuendo's... 11, actually for the name of the band.

Originally formed in Osaka-shi (city of Osaka), Japan back in 1981, the group originally consisted of sisters Yamano Naoko (vocals and guitar), Yamano Atsuko (drums) and Nakatani Michie (vocals, bass).

At the time of their meeting, all three worked as office clerks. 

They worked together for a bit and honed their craft and only played their first real gig in March of 1982.

This is punk music... but really, what does that mean to Japan? Well, according to a Wikipedia article on the group, the trio was heavily influenced by the 1960s girl groups (I assume that means Motown), pop bands (think early Beatles), The Beach Boys (surf music), and early punk rock bands (The Ramones.... though The Stooges (Iggy Pop's old group when he was known as Iggy Stooge) pre-date them by quite a few years).

Okay... I'm still not sure what type of punk they might play....

They play a lot of cover tunes, but all their songs seem stripped down, with cool melodies and simple (punk simple) lyrics that are in the typical Japanese fashion sung in both Japanese and English.

No wonder kids want to learn English - they want to know what their music heroes are singing about!

Shonen Knife, despite the punk moniker attached to them still sound pop-like... though not that sweety-pie, sugar crap that makes you want to barf... but rather they mix pop lyrics in with some driving baselines, pounding percussion and stabbing guitar riffs. And it's not just noise.... they make it work in a melodic sort of way. Actually.. it's not melodic-like... it is melodic.

It's gritty, edgy, sounds like grunge, actually, but good grunge like Nirvana (and not like I-want-to-kill-myself Pearl Jam grunge).

Are they good? Yeah, man... they're pretty good. Good enough that the music industry tends to credit them with making the international pop underground more international.

Hmmm... there's that misused word "pop" again. Look... these chicks have performed as a Ramones tribute band as the Osaka Ramones.
Now... I can understand where some people might think Shonen Knife is pop-worthy as opposed to punk.

They don't really talk about effing the establishment or how much they hate the emperor or the downfall of mankind via nuclear radiation (just think Dead Kennedys or The Forgotten Rebels or The Sex Pistols).

Nope. Instead - even in 2011 - 30 years after forming, Yamano Naoko, the only original member still left, still writes songs about food, playing with animals at the park, stupid sci-fi scenarios, and of course, covers of classic songs.

Here's what the Boston Globe wrote about them:
"Theoretically, any band that writes songs with lyrics such as "Banana chips for you!/Banana chips for me!/ In the afternoon, banana chips and tea" should have a life span no longer than that of a grasshopper. But something oddly spellbinding occurs when deceivingly silly lyrics are sandwiched between a buoyant guitar and a rapid-fire, pop-punk drum kit. Which perhaps explains why the Japanese female rock duo Shonen Knife is still singing songs about cookies, sushi, jelly beans, and, of course, banana chips, nearly 25 years after its inception."

So... maybe they are more of a cross between The Beatles and the Ramones. Pop-Punk.

Here's a video of them doing Buttercup (I'm a Super Girl) featuring the Powerpuff Girls

Pretty cool, eh?

In 2011, the band is made up of: original member Yamano Naoko, Taneda Ritsuko, and Morimoto Emi.

Look... if you'd like to read up about the history of the band, let me direct you HERE.

Just know that they are still going strong...

Why do I care to mention this at all... well, my wife send me an iTunes list showing songs from a November 2008 (in Japan... and May 2009 US) released album entitled Super Group. I have no idea why she was even looking for this...

A quick perusal of the song list will tell you why I now know about this group:

1. Super Group - 3:56
2. Slug - 3:50
3. Muddy Bubbles Hell - 4:25
4. Deer Biscuits - 4:31
5. BBQ Party - 2:343
6. Pyramid Power - 3:25
7. Time Warp - 4:03
8. Na Na Na  - 3:36
9. Your Guitar - 3:47
10. JET - 3:55
11. Evil Birds - 3:39 (this was only released on the North American edition)

Did you see it?
That's right - JET. The Paul McCartney & Wings tune. JET (aka the Japan Exchange & Teaching)_ Programme was why I got to live in Japan for a few years, and why you are reading this blog that cause much consternation for my wife who thinks I live in the past because I love it more than the present. Not true. But the past always leads to the future. JET.

Here's Shonen Knife doing a live version of JET on You Tube from 2010 in Bristol, UK:

Now personally, I have always found live versions to be lacking in the polish department - but that might just because because the sound quality is never a clean as a studio sound... having said that... is a studio sound the real way a band sounds?

Purchase the album from iTunes: HERE for $9.99, or buy any of the 11 songs individually for $0.99.

And... guess what... Shonen Knife is in Toronto at the Horseshoe Tavern on October 20, 2011. Unfortunately my wife has night school on that date and I have to watch my son... a punk of a different sort.

Here's a list of upcoming TOUR DATES.

Regardless... my wife and I have finally found music we both like... and god help us, it's Shonen Knife... a Japanese female pop-punk group that's been around longer than Spinal Tap. I love it!

By Andrew "I'm a Super Girl" Joseph

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