Japanese cult favourite Shonen Knife return to Australia

Cult Japanese pop punk outfit Shonen Knife’s 20th studio album Our Best Place captures the trio’s DIY sonic blueprint – traversing buzzing punk riffs, a playful pop energy and delivered with just as much passion as when they started the band in the 1980s.

Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain sang Shonen Knife’s praises, and it was their cover of The Carpenters song On Top of the World that saw them transform a 60s classic into a punk girl-group ditty.

“When I finally got to see them live, I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert,” said Kurt Cobain at the time.

Led by the enigmatic front woman Naoko Yamano, the Osaka band also stars her younger sister Atsuko on bass and drummer Risa Kawano.

Shonen Knife return to Australia and New Zealand in February next year, with a special appearance at Mona Foma. They last toured here in 2019 when they shared the stage with Brisbane outfit Regurgitator.

Photo by Tomoko Ota
Photo by Tomoko Ota

“I like rock music from the 60s and 70s a lot,” says Naoko Yamano via a Zoom call.

“For me, playing music is inspiring when I see the audience is happy and I get a good reaction. That’s the purpose of doing what I do,” she says.

Yamano discovered The Beatles at the age of 14, and knew she wanted to start a band. Now aged in her early 60s, nothing has changed and she still holds onto the fundamentals of punk and rock’n’roll when she writes songs.

“We have released more than 20 albums in our career, but for me, it’s always the same format,” she says.

“It starts with a feeling when I am going about my day, on a bicycle riding around the city and getting ideas. I usually start writing songs in a notebook and my lyrics come to me first. English is the language of rock’n’roll, so I always start writing in English, and then the music comes after that,” says Yamano.

Shonen Knife wear their influences proudly from The Buzzcocks, The Ramones, XTC and The Jam. These days Yamano shuffles between the guttural growls of death metal by Cannibal Corpse and plugs into the softer rock/metal sounds of Judas Priest and KISS.

“I hope more young women pick up an instrument and start to play music and feel inspired to start a band like I did,” says Yamano.

“I feel that today in Japan, the majority of young people only want to play video games, are into anime and K-Pop trends. There’s less interest in starting a rock band. We have always existed outside of the mainstream, we’re still DIY and that will never change,” she says.

In Osaka, you’ll find Yamano at one of her favourite dingy bar called Bears – a tiny venue draped in dark black carpet that puts obscure bands on the bill. It’s where she likes to settle in for some sonic inspiration. “They book interesting bands and it’s the reason I like to go here,” she says.

Her sister Atsuko is in charge of their stage costumes; the fashion designer sources Japanese sportswear textiles to make garments that lean into Pierre Cardin silhouettes from the 60s and YSL 1970s too– their most iconic look is the shift dresses they wear with a YSL Mondrian print.

“We sweat a lot on stage so the dresses dry quickly. They’re colourful and a huge part of our aesthetic on stage,” says Yamano.

When it comes to what they drink backstage, Yamano says she doesn’t allow the riders to be chock full of booze like in their younger years. She is however a fan of Australian wines. “They don’t need to be expensive wines for me to drink them. I really enjoy Yellowtail and Jacob’s Creek in Japan and am a big fan of Australian wine.”

Photo by Tomoko Ota








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