Japanese rock band Number Girl were central figures in the alt-rock and punk movement that emerged from their hometown of Fukuoka in the late '90s. Often compared to U.S. bands such as Hüsker Dü and the Pixies, they became one of the most important and influential Japanese rock bands of their generation. The band's key creative driving force was guitarist/vocalist Mukai Shutoku, whose geeky persona and offbeat lyrical style made him a perfect anti-idol for Japanese alternative rock fans. He was joined by bass player Nakao Kentarou and guitarist Tabuchi Hisako, with drummer Inazawa Ahito completing a lineup that would remain steady for the duration of the band's career.
Number Girl first came together in 1995, playing shows around Fukuoka with a sound heavily indebted to 1970s punk rockers like the Ramones and Iggy Pop. Their debut album, Schoolgirl Bye Bye in 1997, showcased a sound frequently compared to U.S. alt-rock bands such as Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., but also showed the band developing its own unique identity within the Japanese music scene, with Tabuchi's melodic guitar lines contrasting with Mukai's thin, distorted, and sometimes tortured vocals. In 1998 Number Girl switched their base of operations to Tokyo, with a re-released School Girl Bye Bye coming out on indie label K.O.G.A. Records at the start of 1999; played their first U.S. dates at the SXSW festival that March; and made their major-label debut, School Girl Distortional Addict, later the same year. Musically, it boasted slightly more polished production and tighter musicianship than their debut, but the band's dynamics remained basically unchanged.
On 2000's Sappukei, the band teamed up with producer Dave Fridmann and started to expand its sound, bringing in additional instruments such as keyboards on some tracks and experimenting with less conventional arrangements and more hard-hitting lyrics. Number Girl's work with Fridmann also marked the initial flowerings of Mukai's interest in combining elements of traditional Japanese music with contemporary rock, a motif shared with fellow ex-Fukuoka musician Shiina Ringo and one that Mukai would develop further on Number Girl's 2002 album, Num-Heavy Metallic. With Fridmann again in the producer's chair, the album took the themes hinted at on Sappukei and pushed them to even further extremes. Lead single "Num-Ami-Dabutz" hinted at what was to come, with its funk-influenced bassline recalling post-punk bands like the Pop Group and Gang of Four, and Mukai's vocals expressed in the form of a kind of manic rap-rant.
It turned out to be Number Girl's last album with Nakao, who was the first to jump ship later in 2002 -- and the band called it quits soon after. Nakao and Tabuchi continued making punk and indie rock music in the mold of early Number Girl, with Nakao forming Sloth Love Chunks and joining punk band Spiral Chord, and Tabuchi joining Bloodthirsty Butchers and forming Toddle. Mukai expanded his side project, Zazen Boys, into his full-time band, bringing Inazawa with him at first, before the latter left to concentrate on his new wave/disco-punk revival band, Vola and the Oriental Machine. ~ Ian Martin