The essential Shonen Knife

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Sticking around for 40 years is an impressive feat for any band, but in punk it is almost unheard of. That is just one of the incredible things about the Osaka-punk band, Shonen Knife. Though their line-up has changed slightly over the years, their philosophy of making the loudest, fastest, most stripped-back punk they can has stayed intact longer than most of the bands they tour with have been alive.

In our efforts to celebrate everything great in Japanese rock music, we’ve got to showcase what makes Shonen Knife worth listening to.

The Essential Shonen Knife

Shonen Knife

Shonen Knife was formed way back in December 1981 when sisters Naoko and Atsuko Yamono and their friend Michie Nakatani got together to play. The almost immediately stood out among punk bands at the time, where all-female groups were rare. Listening to their early work, it is easy to find their first inspirations in Western punk bands like The Ramones and The Buzzcocks, but Shonen Knife would prove to have a staying power that few other punk bands of the time could manage.

Despite their clear influence from the anarchistic punk of the 1970s, Shonen Knife instead focused on delivering a more upbeat, fun message through their catchy melodies and verses that described life as a cat or celebrated their favourite sweets. It was a strange contrast to the punk scene at the time and could have been dismissed as a simple gimmick, were it not for the incredible energy that each member brings to their performances. These women give maximum effort in every song on every set.

Shonen Knife would enjoy some underground success in the mid-80s, but their popularity would skyrocket in the late 80s and early 90s. They began to get radio play in the US and UK and even played a few shows overseas, something few punk outfits managed to do. Then in 1991, Nirvana asked the trio to be their opening act for their UK tour around the time that Nevermind hit shelves and became the defining album of its generation.

The band wouldn’t go on to reach the heights of stardom that Nirvana did, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are still touring and recording music today. Their most recent album, Sweet Candy Power, was released in 2019 when most of their members were well into their fifties, and they have shown very little signs of slowing down yet. With a massive 21 studio albums and 13 singles under their belt, we can only hope that they keep on rocking for as long as possible.

If you want to get a taste for the music that has kept fans coming back to this band for nearly four decades, here are our top picks from Shonen Knife to get you started.

Sweet Christmas

I’m a huge fan of punk rock Christmas songs, mostly as a break from the usual Wham! and Mariah that radio stations play from November onwards, but this is an especially fun one. It isn’t a love song or even about presents. This is a song that focuses on the one thing we all can agree is the best part of Christmas: the food. It features the loud, energetic drum work that has been a staple of Shonen Knife since they were founded, along with their penchant for singing about sweet treats.

Twist Barbie

This was supposedly the song that made Kurt Cobain pay attention to Shonen Knife, and features on their first full album, Burning Farm. Released in 1983, this song is vintage Shonen Knife. With lyrics that wander playfully around topics and a wall of sound that starts at the first note and doesn’t let up, it is a great introduction not just to this band but to many bands of the era. 

Like A Cat

This one is fairly self-explanatory, so I’ll leave it for you to enjoy with no further commentary.

Buttercup (I’m a Super Girl)

This song was from the 2001 Powerpuff Girls tribute album, Heroes and Villains. It brings in plenty of Shonen Knife’s influence from The Ramones, but it is such a fun, energetic song that it is easy to see why the band was chosen to write a song especially for the character of Buttercup. It is rebellious and loud while somehow remaining wholesome at the same time. This was the first song I ever heard from the band, and has been a staple of my workout music since I was a teenager.

That should get you started on exploring Shonen Knife if you’re a newcomer — be sure to check out the library of their work that is available on services such as Spotify if you’d like to hear more! And for Shonen Knife veterans, we’d love to hear about your favourite tracks — tell us about ’em in the comments or via the usual social channels!

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