Osaka Ramones: Shonen Knife

Celebrating their 30th anniversary
Shonen Knife leather.jpeg
Unbelievably, Shonen Knife are about to celebrate their 30th anniversary.

Formed in Osaka in 1981, the band have perfected the punk-pop template. Matching bubblegum melodies to crunching riffs, Shonen Knife have a unique sense of innocence, one that has turned them into cult darlings. Kurt Cobain was a fan, while Sonic Youth covered one of the band’s ultra-minimal songs. Returning to the UK for an anniversary show, singer Naoka Yamano is clearly astonished that her group had reached such an imposing milestone. “I couldn’t imagine that I could continue 30 years but it’s a very good thing for me!” she laughs.

Her voice at times faltering on the phone line, Yamano’s simple message remains clear: have fun. Attending a Shonen Knife concert is like an exorcism of working life, a chance to throw off the inhibitions of the adult world. “I never feel boring. For me, time flies. I always look forward and I never look back” explains the singer. “I don’t like serious music. I think music should be always fun and I want to make people happy through our music.”

Which isn’t to say that Shonen Knife have stood still for the past thirty years. Inspired by prime era punk – “I wanted to play like Ramones or Buzzcocks” – Naoka Yamano has broadened her palette since the band’s formation. “I like 70s British hard rock. I like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Motorhead. Also I like to listen to American rock music, metal music.” New album ‘Free Time’ is a case in point – with its sugar sweet melodies and biting guitars at times it sounds like The Sugars covered by Steppenwolf. Prompted by their last British tour, much of the album has a direct autobiographical inspiration. “I wrote some songs inspired by our British tour two years ago” explains the singer. “For example, a song called ‘Pick Your Own’ - we actually did pick your own just between Brighton and London.”

Reflecting on their own influence, Shonen Knife appear resigned to remaining unique. Few bands can match their energy levels, while in their native Japan the band remain stubbornly underground. “There is no band like Shonen Knife in Japan, I think. Japanese pop music is very different from our music” she explains. Yet this situation is far from new, with the Japanese punk scene continually struggling to incorporate the band since their inception. “The punk scene at that time was very small and also all female bands are very rare but it was very lively so there were various kinds of interesting bands in Japan” the singer reflects. “There are some very good bands in Japan but they are always underground.”

Returning to the UK for a one off show on September 11th, Shonen Knife will celebrate their 30th anniversary in style. Musical trends may come and go, but the band’s innocent sense of glee permeates every era. Sometimes performing as the Osaka Ramones, the group’s love of the punk pioneers has been well documented. With time running out, I quickly ask the band for their favourite Ramones track. “‘Blitzkrieg bop’ – hey ho let’s go!” – somehow, it just seems to fit.

Shonen Knife are set to play their 30th anniversary show at London's Scala on September 11th.

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