A survival pack built by four childhood friends
Words and Interview by Miko Uno.
What comes to your mind when you hear the phrase “End of the World”? Disaster? Darkness? Sadness? If there was a perfect score or exit music playing in the background set to these emotions, how would it sound? Would it be somber, restless, desperate or determined?
For the Japanese pop band Sekai No Owari—which literally translates into ‘end of the world’— who made their major label debut back in 2011, the sound is nothing but restless, while controversy never falls too far from the band made up of childhood friends.
Leave it to vocalist and guitarist Fukase, guitarist Nakajin, pianist Saori and DJ LOVE, to pen song titles and lyrics ranging from “The phantom life” (from their first album Earth) and “Love the Warz” (from their follow-up, Entertainment). Dare we forget the infamous clown mask that DJ LOVE is too keen to wear during their live performances. Sekai No Owari leaves a strong impression either way, both visually and musically, and it’s an unspoken mood that can be felt regardless of your familiarity with the band.
And when you finally unearth their sound, you will be left even more surprised. Sekai No Owari’s music reads opposite to the the dark and desperate feelings that might come to surface thanks to their name. Their pleasant melodies and bright poppy vocals land far from doom and gloom, painting a much softer image of Sekai No Owari and the ‘end of the world’ in our imaginations.
Having recently snabbed Best Album of the Year at The Japan Record Awards in 2012, the band has their sights set on a special new year performance at MIDEM in France. But before Sekai No Owari is preparing for 12.12.2012—the day many believe the Mayans called doomsday, which is just around the corner.
What inspired you to name the band “End of the World”?
Fukase: At age 19, I got sick, spent some time at a mental hospital and experienced a big failure. I was about to lose all my hopes and thought my world was going to end. But when I decided to restart my life, I realized that music is the only thing I’ve wanted to do since I was a junior in high school. Once you’ve experienced the bottom (the negative side of your life), you have to find a way to go up (the positive side). So I named my band “End of the World” to create the strength [I needed] through the music.
Your band has a clown-masked DJ instead of a bassist and a drummer. Why?
Fukase: I just like the story behind the clown, which is that they hide their sorrows and dedicate their lives to entertaining other people. I think that is beautiful. Actually the clown mask was mine and I was planning to wear it, but the other members were against it.
Saori: We said no because it’s too hard for you to sing with a mask on [Laughs]! The reason why we don’t have a bassist and a drummer is because playing music with these members were more important than just forming a band. Then we found out that none of us can play the bass or drums.
Before the band was formed, you built the live house called “club EARTH” in Tokyo with your own hands. What does club EARTH mean to you?
Saori: club EARTH is my precious memory of adolescence. We spent four years building and performing at the same time. [Through it] I found something I really wanted to do for the first time in my life.
Nakajin: It’s a place where my dream became my resolution. Fukase and I were always talking about having our own base. When we found the space which used to be an old printing factory, I spent all of my savings and made up my mind to succeed in music.
DJ LOVE: I often stopped by the live house even before I joined the band. Something exciting was always happening and someone I know was always over there. It was like our second home.
Fukase: For me, club EARTH is a ship. I rarely went to school and hadn’t archived anything until I built this space. I was able to sail into society with the entire staff of club EARTH riding this ship.
There are many independent bands in Japan. What differentiates you from them?
Fukase: I think our resolution to succeed in music was way bigger than others. We took a loan to build the space and were making music all day long, with almost no income. We didn’t have any other choice. We had to win to survive.
I didn’t find any love and girl-related lyrics in your tunes, but your lyrics are very controversial. What messages are you trying to deliver to your audience through your music?
Fukase: Well, as for the love songs, I’ve never thought that I needed to shout love to someone in my song because I would do that just for that person. I do not aim to deliver any of my theories through lyrics either, but I hope that my using radical words would inspire people to think and discuss. It’s kind of similar to how Professor Michael Sandel at Harvard University teaches at his class. For example, everyone knows that life is important, but we discuss why it’s important. I believe that is the entertainment.
It’s nearly impossible to change someone unless you dedicate your whole life to that person. I am not appealing to everyone for world peace, but I am just sharing my opinion so that people think through their theirs.
Tell us about your future project.
Fukase: We will soon start performing outside of Japan. Since we think that people in other countries can fully accept our current tunes, we have been trying to arrange them with a new vocal sound and to express Japanese culture, like video games and animation through our music. The new sounds include one like a robot that is just starting to have feelings. It’s very unique and we are very excited to see people’s reaction!
If the world was really going to end soon, what would you do when you fould out?
Fukase: [Laugh] We have been asked this question so many times and always answer like this. We started this band at age 20, which is quite a late start as musicians, but didn’t want to give up our dream. So we would never give up, but would try to stop the world from ending until the day comes!
Want to see more rising artists from Japan? Click here for Iggy’s hot list.