Shonen Knife (Japanese: 少年ナイフ Hepburn: Shōnen Naifu?, literally “Boy Knife”) is a Japanese pop punk band formed in Osaka, in 1981. Heavily influenced by 1960s girl groups, pop bands, The Beach Boys, and early punk rockbands, such as the Ramones, the trio crafts stripped-down songs with simplistic lyrics sung both in Japanese and English.
Despite their pop-oriented nature, the trio maintains a distinctly underground garage rock sound rooted in edgy instrumentation and D.I.Y. aesthetics, which over the course of their long career has earned them a solid, worldwide cult following and made avid fans out of seminal 1990s alternative rock bands such as Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and Redd Kross. The band has been credited with making “the international pop underground more international” by “opening it up to bands from Japan”. They have also performed as a Ramones tribute band under the name The Osaka Ramones.
Shonen Knife was formed in December 1981 in Osaka, Japan with sisters guitarist-vocalist Naoko Yamano and drummer Atsuko Yamano and their friend bassist Michie Nakatani. Naoko sang lead and played guitar, Nakatani was also a lead singer and played bass and keyboards, and Atsuko sang backing vocals, played drums, and designed their stage outfits. The group was something of an anomaly when they started, as they were coming in at a time where all-female bands were scarce. Influenced by 1970s punk rock and new wave bands such as The Ramones and Buzzcocks while ignoring the then-rising, early J-pop movement, the trio began crafting energetic rock songs rooted in rough instrumentation and do-it-yourself ethos. However, unlike traditional rebellious punk rockers, the trio emphasized positivity using catchy, upbeat melodies and frivolous, carefree lyrics that often touched on sweets and animals. The group eventually came to describe their music as, “oo-oo-ultra-eccentric-super-cult-punk-pop-band-shonen-knife!” Shonen Knife performed their first gig on March 14, 1982 at Studio One, a club in Osaka, before an audience of 36 who paid 100 yen each. Later that August, they released their first independent album, Minna Tanoshiku, on cassette.
Following their first Tokyo gig at Hosei University, Shonen Knife released their debut album Burning Farm on Zero Records on July 21, 1983. They then contributed to the Zero Record compilation album AURA MUSIC which was released on November 15 and included three of their songs: “Watchin’ Girl”, “Banana Fish”, and “Parrot Polynesia”. Their second album, Yama-no Attchan, was released by Zero on May 25, 1984. Named after drummer Atsuko, the album saw the band slightly improving their musicianship and giving way to broader musical influences, ranging from Motown to heavy metal, while maintaining their penchant for lighthearted lyrical topics like bike riding and insect collecting. At the end of the year, Shonen Knife contributed “Parrot Polynesia” and “Elephant Pao Pao” to another compilation, Huddle No Trouble, for Balcony Records.