20 Years of Hardcore – an interview with Endzweck
Endzweck has been at the forefront of Japan’s hc scene for 20 years now, playing their unique take on aggressive, yet emotionally charged hardcore. They are currently touring Europe again (check the tour dates here!), promoting their latest album, 2015’s Tender Is The Night, so they answered my questions while on the road, between cities and told us about the importance of overseas tours and connections, about their views on Japan’s present and future, hardcore lifestyle, plus told us about their various side-projects, their plans and the way that led to the release of the latest album.
First of all thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions! First, could you briefly introduce the band and the members?
Welsky: My name is Takashi. I’m the singer. People who live outside of Japan call me Welsky, because it sounds like my family name “Uesugi”. Uchuu and I will answer your questions. Oku and Hiro are playing guitar, but I’m sorry Hiro did not join this European tour, the reason will be written later. Yoshi is playing the bass, he loves his daughter deeply. Endzweck has been playing hardcore for 20 years. We didn’t stop. We just play. Yes, literary we just play.
Endzweck celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. What kept you going for such a long time and what do you consider to be the band’s biggest achievement during this long career?
Welsky: Well, you know it is the “law of inertia”. We are moving because we are moving. We would need so much energy to stop. I love this lifestye. I believe that Hardcore made me happier. Touring worldwide is the best thing, I think. Talking, mailing or texting about something to friends who live outside Japan is very important for Japanese bands.
Your first couple of albums were very well received within the hardcore community worldwide and you also did overseas tours around that time. But after a while you kinda went under the radar and for the last several years you only released some hard-to-get 7″ singles and played only in Japan. What was the reason for this withdrawal?
Welsky: Oh, it’s very difficult to explain. After the Comadre and Endzweck Japan tour (in the summer of 2011), we stopped playing shows for a half year. We planned to create a new album after releasing three 7 inches. I think we felt we needed a change. Our plan was to create one 7 inch per three months, but I’m sorry, it had been one 7 inch per year. But we got great things going on during the struggles. We learned more about how to create songs, how to tour, practice, release merchandise and musical stuffs. And also we thought about our own life.
This finally changed with the release of Tender Is The Night at the end of 2015. The album is back-to-the-roots emotionally charged hardcore at its best. What did you guys have in mind when you started to work on the music and lyrics for the release?
Welsky: As I told you, it was planned, but it was delayed. On the latter half of 2011, we started to compose and we thought again what Endzweck is. We tried to write songs with new methods. In a nutshell, they are the songs that sound like early Endzweck, but written with new methods.
And how was the international feedback about the album?
Welsky: It is very good, it has became a worldwide release. The cassette is released from Utarit in Malaysia, the 12 inch is released from Vitoriol in U.S. It is an honor for us. I love this situation. And the CD is released from Cosmicnote in Japan. It is a very DIY punk rock manner I think. I love it this way.
What can we expect from you during the upcoming EU tour? Will it be more of a promo tour for Tender Is The Night with that album’s songs in focus, or will it be more like a 20th anniversary tour with tracks from all over your career?
Welsky: I want you to know that the Japanese Hardcore scene is still aggressive and I want you to be interested in the scene. By the way, the same time our tour happens, our Japanese friends Isolate and Ovum are touring in Europe as well. Anyway, we are going to play songs from Tender Is The Night half and old songs half, especially the songs from our releases in Europe.
For many people hardcore is not only a music genre, but a way of life as well with elements like DIY attitude, specific political views, especially a strong anti-establishment standpoint, standing up against social injustice, straight edge, vegetarian or vegan lifestyle and so on… Do these play an important role for Endzweck as well and are these as much as a part of the hardcore scene in Japan as in the West?
Uchuu: Before I started band, I didn’t care about DIY. But when we toured in the US in 2001 and 2005 we saw so many people that had a DIY attitude and it kicked my ass. At first I tried to do the same things as them, but I found it is very difficult to do the same things in Japan. So I always think what can/should we do in DIY.
Welsky: We are not a PC band, however I would like to ask people “what is correct?”. I believe what important is meta-knowledge. Japanese people sometimes do stupid things. The people categorize themselves left-wing or right-wing and punch each other even thought we are all mostly working class. I feel that Japanese establishments don’t have very much power. Our stupidity kills us. We need to search for the way to work together to make the country or the world better. For doing that, we should learn from history.
How do you see today’s Japan? Do you think the country is going to a good or a bad direction politically, economically and socially?
Welsky: I feel Japanese future is becoming darker and darker. When we are in a hard time, for instance 3.11, I believe that we will be strong to get over obstacles. We have a lot of problems, like increasing old population and decreasing young population, which means the workforce decreases… We are in hard times, but we can’t feel that. Japanese people are looking for whose fault is that recently. But it is not important whose fault it is, we need to be stronger. We need to be united once again. We should think about how to deal it.
Uchuu, you’ve been running the Cosmic Note label since 2003, that also organizes shows and tours in Japan. What were some of the best moments of the label’s history and what is it up to nowadays?
Uchuu: Yes, I run Cosmic Note and released about 100 titles so far. I only sell in Japan because I don’t know how to sell for overseas. Cosmic Note release not only hardcore, but also rock, punk, grind. So, many kinds of music. And it is difficult to choose a best moment. I’m happy every time when my releases are in stores. And when bands are getting better with each release, I’m super happy. I also book tour for foreign bands since 2001. Most of the bands that I worked with are friends of me, so I book for friends and friends’ friends. At the first tour my English sucked. I couldn’t understand what the band was saying and I couldn’t speak English. So I passed an English-Japanese dictionary to the touring band and I had a Japanese-English dictionary and we pointed at the words to communicate with each other. I do tours a couple of time a year and it makes my English better (still not good though).
For best moment… there is a band called bacho. I released all of their albums and I arrange shows for them. They are on the way to be a big band now I think. This video is from a show from 2 years ago where only bacho played. At their first shows, they play for like 10 people, but this time 600 people came for them and I’ve never seen such a sing-a-long. This is one of best moments I had.
Welsky, you also run a podcast called Tokyo Unlearned. Can you tell us about that? When did it start and what it’s all about?
Welsky: I started the project at the end of 2015, then the first episode was released on December 2016. The podcast is ran by me and Naoki Ando. Naoki is one of the most important person in Japanese DIY Hardcore/Punk scene. He used to published his zine called “Mission Undone”. I believe the zine changed the scene and also changed my mind. We want to inform especially younger people about Hardcore ethics, that are usually lost in Japan recently. It’s “More Than Music”. For example, DIY attitude, Straight Edge, Vegetarian / Vegan lifestyle, anti-racism, anti-violence, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, how to see economics, how to overcome the differences and how to struggle and stay punk. We want to let younger generations know those now-lost issues and we are enjoying to do it.
Do the others have projects besides Endzweck as well? For example I remember reading about a vegan restaurant run by an Endzweck member…?
Welsky: The vegan restaurant run by Hiro is very nice, it is going very well. But I’m sorry, as Hiro has became very busy, he could not join this tour.
The tagline for the latest podcast episode was “The next generations must go on tour in foreign countries.” Do you think that it is an important thing because the bands can reach a bigger audience that way or because they should get more experience and influence from outside their usual environment and audience?
Welsky: Most important thing is to experience and got inspiration from others and foreign countries are one of the best catalyst I think. We don’t have to be a big rock band. We have a strong scene and support, we should use it effectively. I mean outside Japan is not only Europe and Northern America. I mean next to Japan, Asian area is the most important for them. The scene in South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia is getting stronger than before. A lot of post-rock bands are coming from China. Anyway, I believe the experiences will widen their world.
Japanese hardcore, punk and metalcore bands rarely come to tour in Europe. Is it mostly because of the distance and money issues or does the language barrier play a role in this as well?
Welsky: I feel that the language barrier is first. Even though I believe they are able to get over the barrier with a lot of passion and energy.
And speaking of the next generation… what are some of the most interesting new bands in the Japanese scene that we should keep an eye on?
Welsky: I make a list of bands for you: Cape Light, 5000, YOUNG LIZARD, ELMO, Sans Visage, Falls, Castaway, AND PROTECTOR and Friendship. I want you to check them on the Internet!
And the usual last question: What’s next for Endweck? Can we expect another new release from you in the near future?
Welsky: Yeah, we are going to tour in U.S. this December. After that, next year, a new EP will be released. Thanks for reading. See you in the pit!