For a band that’s been active for 30 years, Shonen Knife have had their fair share of press coverage which has helped to pave the way for their success. The popularity of Shonen Knife is best demonstrated by the passion and dedication of their fans – and those fans span every aspect of the music industry.
“We saw Shonen Knife and they were so cool. I turned into a nine-year old girl at a Beatles concert” Kurt Cobain famously said during an interview with Melody Maker back in 1991, “I was crying and jumping up and down and tearing my hair out – it was amazing. I’ve never been so thrilled in my whole life. They play pop music – pop, pop, pop music”. Praise probably doesn’t come much higher than that.
Shonen Knife fan Andy Derlein was first drawn to the band because of their distinctive outfits: “First got Let’s Knife in ‘95 because their outfits were so rad. Became a fan for life after hearing the first line of the first song”.
And for UK fans the 1990’s was the key Shonen Knife period in which regular coverage in the music press helped to spread the word in a pre-internet world. David Quantick in the NME in 1991 summed up Shonen Knife as a “Ultra Eccentric New Wave Pop Punk Band”. Not all the press was favourable however. There was the tendency to play up the Japanese angle with “amusing” headlines such as “Sushi and the Banshees” or “Shonen Is A Punk Locker” for instance. Meanwhile, Melody Maker’s David Stubbs suggested that Shonen Knife’s approach to lyrics and music was possibly a cynical calculated exercise and summed up by stating that “Shonen Knife are bewilderingly, innocuously, irresistibly, cheerfully, naively, exuberantly CRAP”. But the popularity of the band couldn’t be dented by music press cynicism – and the UK fanbase even spawned its own dedicated ‘Friends of Shonen Knife’ fanzine.
The 1991 album 712 takes its title from the Japanese numerals for 7 (nana), 1 (ichi) and 2 (futatu). When contracted, this sounds like “na-i-fu” which is the imported Japanese pronunciation for the word “knife”.
For illustrator Laura Watton-Davies, the Shonen Knife path came via anime and manga: “Around the mid-90′s I was collecting Manga Mania magazine from HMV in the local mall, and I bought a Pizzicato 5 CD because it was cheaper than a lot of the imports, it was Pizzicato 5×5; an EP that was under a tenner. It was my first J-pop love – but it was likely I could have picked up a Shonen Knife CD but as they were import only they were too expensive! Around that time though, I was getting into rock music as well as anime/manga, and after some research about Nirvana, I read that they were the opener band for Nirvana. I was lent a CD two years later by a fellow friend. The songs Banana Chips and Catnip Dream are two of my absolute favourites, and will be forever”.
Meanwhile, Damnably’s George Gargan explains a little about how the band arrived on the Damnably label: “We asked Shonen Knife around the time of Super Group if they would like to come here and they said yes so we booked their first tour in 16 years with the help of Ian Magic Teapot in Leicester and some other promoters and we decided to release the album Super Group here too as they needed a label and we were doing OK on PR for gigs and tours so thought we should try the label too”.
“It was a big learning curve but Shonen Knife are happy with us and their fans are very happy to see them so much and have new releases and interviews/sessions, so it’s worked out well. Damnably is very small so we are exclusive on who we work with and are super fans of each band, so it’s a thrill for us to hear Shonen Knife on the radio or see them live.”
Former Shonen Knife member Michie really doesn’t like frogs: “I have frogphobia. I just don’t like frogs. There’s just something… I really don’t like frogs.”
“I’ve been a fan of Shonen Knife for a couple of years now” says DJ Alexander Jno-Baptiste, “Their music always manages to put me in good mood, It’s a New Find being a favourite of mine. If you like upbeat Punk Rock they’re the band for you!”
If you’re looking for more fan interest on the internet, you could do worse than pop by the Shonen Knife Nexus. This fansite has been providing news and info on Shonen Knife since 1996. The site features tour reports, photos, a guide to record releases, interviews and more.
With the release of new album Pop Tune we suspect Shonen Knife are going to be adding a whole new generation to their fanbase ranks!
Text by Paul Browne
9th June 2012