When Shonen Knife started gigging in 1982, Japanese all-female rock acts were extremely rare. Despite its vast discography and extensive tour itineraries, that really hasn't changed. But although sisters Naoko and Atsuko Yamano failed to radically alter the gender dynamics of guitar-based genres in their homeland, their circle of influence extends beyond their considerable cult following. Much as the Velvet Underground created the pale blueprint for self-consciously cool New York groups, so did Shonen Knife become the neon zebra from which charmingly quirky acts are cloned.
Cibo Matto, a Japan-by-way-of-New York hipster trio whose track listings read like menus, swiped its gastronomic obsession from Shonen Knife's songwriting recipe. For the Yamano sisters, "Fruit Loop Dreams" follow each "Cookie Day." On 1991's "Diet Run," the band swore off sweets and said "goodbye, superfluous flesh," but strawberry cream puffs, Choco bars, and a "Mayonnaise Addiction" were waiting in the wings.
Other possible Knife-nicked pop-culture products include Powerpuff Girls (the cartoon crime-fighters resemble Shonen Knife's caricature logo, and the band appeared on the show's soundtrack album); the 220.127.116.11.s (whose burrowing earworm "Woo Hoo" can be seen in Kill Bill and that clumsy-kid-tosses-bat-through-window ad); and Gwen Stefani, whose Japan fetishization had to start somewhere.
Altrock royalty embraced Shonen Knife as soon as it arrived in America, and though the group initially knew nothing about its welcoming committee, the infatuation quickly became mutual. Shonen Knife collaborated with Sonic Youth and opened for Nirvana's post-Nevermind U.K. tour. Groups such as L7, Redd Kross, Lunachicks, and White Flag contributed covers to 1989's irresistible Every Band Has a Shonen Knife Who Loves Them, perhaps the best tribute record ever to toast an active group.
Shonen Knife recently re-released its first four albums, which capture the group at its most invigoratingly unpolished. But its primary selling point remains its stage show, known for its unrelenting jubilance, fuzzy feedback clouds and choreography-intensive encores. The band inadvertently summarized its appeal when chronicling the wonders of the humble jackalope: "kinda cute, kinda cool, kinda wild."