Legendary Japanese all-girl power-pop-punk outfit Shonen Knife, rapidly approaching their 40th year together, has been able to amass a rabid cult following worldwide, no doubt helped by the influence of some of their most famous fans. Sonic Youth and Nirvana were noted supporters of the group, bringing them stateside as special guests during several tours in the late 1980s and giving them some well-earned international exposure. With new album Sweet Candy Power, the trio’s DIY mix of girl groups, surf and punk rock are entrancing entire new generations of fans as they continue to traverse the globe.
Slap Rash are a bass-and-drum sibling duo from Salford who combine to create a swampy deluge of noise: grimy Les Claypool-style bass riffs act as punches to the gut while Amelia Lloyd’s shouts and snarls- along with her machine-like blasts of drumwork- pummel you down into the floor- Pulling Teeth without the Anaesthesia. The DIY mentality of Shonen Knife is just as apparent with Slap Rash, with bassist Huw making use of a fuzzy, washed-out synthesiser to create another piece of lo-fi white noise during ‘Aaron’, sounding like Peaches’ more aggressive cousin.
The duo are not without a sense of humour, with breakup song of the ages ‘Better Than You’s slow dance intro ending with the kiss-off “Fuck you, I’m better than you” before roaring into life as a stop/start hardcore tirade – Huw’s bass taking punishment as it is dragged, kicked and thrown around the stage while Amelia threatens to smash clean through her kit. Slap Rash end with their new single ‘Zone A’, inspired by true events and built around a riff based on an alarm the two heard while on a delayed train. Down to earth, sarcastic and defiant, Slap Rash are a band to watch, and landing a support slot with an act with the renown of Shonen Knife will do the wonders.
Coming to the stage in matching colour-coded outfits and holding branded towels above their heads (available at the merch stand after the show!), Shonen Knife crack through the hot, dense air like a thunderstorm – a joyously ebullient hybrid of Phil Spector, The Beach Boys and Ramones. The Osaka trio show reverence to the New York City foursome in particular (to such an extent they actually recorded a full Ramones tribute album, quite straightforwardly titled Osaka Ramones) in the wuntoofreefour song intros and close harmony ooo-aah backing vocals but they remain all bubblegum, firmly at the pop end of the pop-punk spectrum as the three do a deep-dive into their decades-spanning back catalogue as well as a showcase of the new material of Sweet Candy Power, which the Night & Day crowd reciprocate with love- ‘Party’ is a giddy rush that retains a bite thanks to guitarist/main vocalist Naoko Yamano’s buzzsaw tone, while ‘Dizzy’ with crowd clapalong (which took several practice runs to get right- Night & Day was hot, beer is cold) is an absolute delight, with Risa Kawano’s hard hitting style giving the music a slight edge while Naoko and bassist/sister Atsuko fall into some synchronised head-banging.
While a lot of Shonen Knife’s back-to-basics musical style is indebted to Ramones and Buzzcocks, there’s some subtle variety here and there, ranging from a Kingsmen-style garage rock stomp (‘Public Bath’) through to the 2-chord indiepop jangle of ‘California Lemon Trees’ (introduced as a song about a healthy snack, to the good-natured boos from the audience) and the slower, heavier rocker ‘My Independent Country’, explained by Naoko as a song about an imaginary friend set to 70s British hard rock, while ‘Sweet Candy Power’ is a straight up sugar-rush of punk energy befitting its name.
The main lyrical targets of Shonen Knife tend to fall into one of two camps – snack foods, and cute animals. There’s an adorably goofy charm to high-octane songs about ice cream cookie sandwiches, much like the sugar-encrusted pop sound of the 1960s but with a raucous DIY attitude. ‘Capybara’ may well be The Happiest Thing Ever™ – Bis could owe their entire early career to this three-minute, four-chord punky ode to the South American giant rodent. This is followed by ‘Like A Cat’, with a refrain consisting purely of meowing. These simple repeated lyrics and cutesy subject matter are the big selling points of Shonen Knife, not every artist needs to be a Cave, an Edwards, a Morrison, if a song can resonate with an audience, that is all that matters ultimately, how can a song literally about eating banana chips and drinking green tea be such a thrill? The answer – it just is. Shonen Knife possess that very special intangible that truly great pop music has, and they possess it in spades- does anyone question the lyrical weight of ‘Please Mr. Postman’? Of ‘Rockaway Beach’? ‘Surfin’ USA’? What about ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’? No- and Shonen Knife’s output is just as timeless, exactly how pop music should work, going directly to capturing the heart. It is far easier to embrace and fall in love with the innocence and gawkiness the way that the likes of Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and Kurt Cobain did 3 decades ago, embrace the absolute sincerity of the trio and be willingly engulfed by the hyperactive, neon-coloured, carefree world of their making. Try it, you won’t be sorry. 38 years and counting, Shonen Knife show no signs of slowing down. catch them if you can.
Shonen Knife performed at the Night & Day Café on 23rd July 2019. Words and photos by Liam Moody.