Nuclear War Now!
by Niklas Göransson
Yosuke Konishi of California-based label Nuclear War Now! Productions has been essential in moulding the underground scene as we know it. He speaks of the past and future, of animal liberation, as well as the fortification of will, mind and vessel.
– The name Nuclear War Now! came from a t-shirt worn by Genesis P-Orridge on the “Mission of Dead Souls” (THROBBING GRISTLE) album. It was a perfect fit for the label I was looking to create, which required something hateful and nihilistic.
When the label was founded around the turn of the millennium, Yosuke Konishi wasn’t especially interested in atmospheric and esoteric black metal – preferring instead to focus on bands who were confrontational, visceral, and destructive.
– Though hard to imagine now, bands like SARCÓFAGO and CONQUEROR weren’t fashionable when I began the label – the scene was flooded with drastically inferior clones of Norwegian black metal. I was drawn to the more bestial sound, which is why I initially focused on acts such as BLASPHEMY, BLACK WITCHERY, MORBOSIDAD, and so on.
Yosuke remembers the absolutely atrocious visual representation most underground releases had around that time, as graphic editing software was becoming increasingly available.
– Permeating the scene were Photoshop layouts, coupled with a total lack of appreciation for the genre’s aesthetic foundations. I tried to restore some of the austerity that made certain records so visually captivating to me when I first got into metal.
Nuclear War Now! played a key role in moulding the metal underground into what it is now, having refined and expanded upon the concept of limited vinyl releases – what’s become known as die hard-editions, intended for particularly dedicated fans.
– I owe a debt to the great Iron Pegasus Records – they were the first to use the ’die hard’ phrase to describe special editions. Coming from an early punk and hardcore background, I admired the dedication of many collectors who sought out all of the many vinyl and cover colour variations of different releases.
In the early days of NWN!, when the label was purely a hobby, Yosuke sought to take this concept one step further by compiling releases with handmade elements and an obsessive attention to detail.
– Unfortunately, I regard many of those early re-releases as extremely naïve. There are many aspects I’d change if I could go back and redo them. Although never my intention, the ’die hard edition’ phenomenon became pervasive across the scene.
He believes a strongly contributing factor for this development was how it gave small labels means to entice customers to order from them directly, rather than going through the bigger distros.
– To the extent the technique allowed labels like NWN! and others to compete and stay afloat, I think it was a good move. That said, this idea of charging an extra three bucks just because the blue vinyl is more limited than the black is in my opinion somewhat of a scam.
One aspect which has distinguished NWN! is that Yosuke’s releases usually contain a variety of bonus accessories – patches, stickers, tapestries and so on.
– The idea is to include merch items which serious fans of the band might be inclined to buy anyway, I think that’s a fairer approach. I’m always glad when I go to shows and see people wearing patches or pins included in my die hard-versions of various releases. I’ve tried to maintain a certain aesthetic continuity with the NWN! catalogue throughout the years, and remain largely very proud of the work I’ve done in that regard.
I noticed that you’ve procured a warehouse; is Nuclear War Now! your full-time occupation these days?
– No. From the very beginning, NWN! has always been a second job for me. I still maintain a professional life wholly independent of my work with the label. Although it leaves me with little free time, having another source of primary income allows me decisions based on my interests and preferences – not purely business motivations.
Since its inception, the label has been his primary creative passion in life. Financially speaking, Yosuke could have abandoned it years ago – the reason he keeps going is because the music and aesthetics remain deeply significant to him.
– As NWN! kept growing, running it from my home became unmanageable, as you might expect. Moving to a warehouse was an easy decision to make, since the added space lets me structure and grow the label. We’re still in the process of adapting, and various construction projects in the building have prevented us from fully organising it, but that’ll come in due time.
Yosuke also reveals that he intends to eventually open a shop in the front portion of the warehouse, so customers can browse and buy items in person.
– Most record stores are disappointing these days, especially for metal, because the internet and fast shipping services have made mail-order distribution so convenient. Gone are the days when I could go to a local music store, expecting to find something interesting. This is something I hope to eventually recapture.
Any idea of the time-frame for this?
– I’m not sure. The surrounding area is currently filth-ridden but there are signs of things changing. There’s also still a great deal of preliminary work to be done. Not to mention the ongoing work associated with the mail-order side of the label, which is relentless.
Yosuke also acknowledges the tremendous support he received from NWN! fans in raising funds for the warehouse move.
– Many stepped up and made purchases, or even donated funds which were directly used to finance the warehouse. Without this backing, it would have been far more difficult, if not impossible, to make the move.
He credits his creative impulses and robust self-discipline to both genetic and environmental influences from family members.
– Nearly everyone in my immediate family is an artist. My paternal grandfather, Makoto Ueno, was an accomplished woodcut printer. Likewise, my father, Shu Ueno, was a visual artist specialised in woodcut printing. My mother, Chiya Nakayoshi, prints lithographs. My older sisters, Mana and Akiko, work in oil painting as well as photography and pottery, respectively.
All of them have achieved success in their chosen fields. Yosuke is unique in that he gravitated toward the sciences rather than the arts.
– However, from a young age I was also deeply interested in art and music. I owe a debt to my sister, Akiko, who introduced me to a lot of non-mainstream music when I was younger – an influence that propelled me down the path which eventually led me to hardcore and metal music in my teenage years.
Nuclear War Now! has ended up the perfect vehicle to synthesise these influences.
– As a fan of music, I could curate the releases on the label while also exercising the aesthetic sensibilities inherited from my family in executing the design. I should also note that my family is extremely industrious and a strong work ethic is one of the traits we share in common, which also has a bearing on the way I approach the label.
The label’s website hosts what’s currently the leading message board for underground metal. I’ve noticed that while many scoff at the forum in polite conversation, most seem to at least be marginally aware of what’s being discussed – especially about their own bands.
– I spent many years on both the Full Moon Productions forum and others. It was the primary conduit through which many of us learned about new bands and releases. As anyone involved in the scene back then remembers, FMP ultimately degenerated into a shit show of unbridled trolling, and it became difficult to maintain any semblance of serious music discussion.
While this was going on, Yosuke had just launched the new Nuclear War Now! website and found it logical to add a message board. While conversing primarily through insults and sarcasm has been a fine underground metal tradition ever since the days of guestbooks and IRC, he didn’t want to let it detract from essential conversation.
– I made it clear from the outset that focus would be on music and that I’d ban those who constantly sought to distract from core discussions. Whether people on the board are polite or ’politically correct’ are none of my concerns – I just don’t want the dialogue to be stifled by constant trolling. I think this has been achieved, more or less.
Besides facilitating online discourse, Yosuke also organises what might be the Western hemisphere’s largest gathering of unarmed men in camouflage attire; German behemoth festival Nuclear War Now!
– It seemed like a natural step in terms of promoting both my bands and the label itself. Fests have become, in many ways, more common than ordinary tours due to the increased costs associated with travelling. Festivals also draw more attention to individual acts, and I wanted to give the artists I work with that exposure. After reviewing my roster, I realised NWN! was working with more than enough quality bands to fill out an entire line-up.
Once he’d fleshed out the concept, he began contemplating possible locations. Berlin, it would seem, was deemed the best setting.
– First of all, there’s greater support for underground metal in Europe. This was especially true back when we did the first NWN! fest in 2009 – I don’t think there would’ve been sufficient interest to make it successful in the U.S. at that time. Also, travel in Europe is easier and far more affordable than over here.
Since domestic flights within the U.S. are so expensive, it’s not much of a difference bringing a band over to Europe.
– Europeans are already accustomed to travelling for gigs and festivals anyway. Lastly, Germany’s centralised location allows fans to travel from North and South America, Asia, Australia, and throughout Europe.
The inaugural 2009 line-up featured, among others, ARES KINGDOM, REVENGE, DEAD CONGREGATION, ABIGAIL and NOCTURNAL GRAVES.
– Each year, I’ve tried to bring in bands from Japan, Australia, Canada, Brazil, and the U.S., while still maintaining a strong roster of European bands. Having the fest in Berlin is the only way this could really have been sustainable.
How did you get mixed up with Iron Bonehead Productions?
– Patrick Kremer has been instrumental to this process and in the success of the fest in general. We’ve been working in association for many years – we were trading releases long before forming our partnership. Patrick’s dedication to his work is admirable, and it’s been paying off. His label has grown at an astonishing rate in the last decade.
The pair are currently planning the next instalment. For the first time, they will divide the focus between NWN! and Iron Bonehead bands.
– Considering the growth of Iron Bonehead, it makes sense to expand the breadth to include bands Patrick has been working with in recent years. The venue we previously used has closed down though, so we’re looking into potential new ones.
I’m curious about the symbol you use, the circle of riflemen?
– The NWN! ’gunmen’ symbol has been with me since the label’s inception. Having settled on a name, I began looking for an appropriate image. Flipping through a newspaper, I happened to see an editorial article about gun control.
The op-ed was illustrated with a drawing of a several gentlemen standing in a circle with rifles aimed at one another.
– Re-contextualised within the imagery of Nuclear War Now! the symbol adopts a more nihilistic meaning. About ten or twelve years ago, I recognised how the label was more than just a mere hobby for me and decided to get the image tattooed on my forearm.
At the time, Wrest from American black metal band LEVIATHAN was working at a tattoo shop in San Francisco.
– I’ve always admired his artwork – he painted the cover for the CULT OF DAATH LP I released, and he’s been a good friend for many years. I thought it was appropriate to have him do the tattoo, and it remains the only one I have on my body.
Besides the symbol in question, I also noticed NWN! merch with ’Animal Liberation’ designs. The term was coined by a 1975 book by the same name, authored by Australian philosopher Peter Singer. He argues from a biocentric perspective that human notions of ‘the greater good’, which are used to justify industrial-scale transgressions upon animals, are not applicable to sentient beings capable of experiencing suffering.
– Aside from a brief period when I resorted to vegetarianism, I’ve been vegan for well over two decades. Early on, I read Animal Liberation and was very interested in Singer’s ideas. From an ethical and philosophical point of view, I believe his ideas on this subject are largely accurate.
Where Yosuke dissents however, is in the primary motivation for his dietary principles – citing a disdain for humanity rather than a general desire to prevent suffering.
– I maintain a strong belief in the essential worthlessness of humans when compared to animals. The vast majority are not worthy of the air they breathe, much less do they deserve to be eating other animals.
By and large, he says, those consuming most of the animal flesh are too weak and incompetent to actually be killing anything but themselves.
– Instead, we’ve created a brutal system of factory farming which ensures that these feeble people can eat hamburgers without lifting a single one of their bloated, disgusting fingers away from their smartphones.
He proclaims such people to be essentially inferior to the creatures they consume.
– Despite millennia of evolutionary superiority – in the course of a few centuries, most humans have become as meek and helpless as cattle when it comes to their own survival.
I’m curious if Yosuke has seen a documentary called Earthlings. A vegan once asked me to watch it, stating how everyone who uses animal products should do so and only then make an informed decision whether to change anything in their lives. So I did. Now, I have seen a lot of fucked up shit on the internet in my days but this pretty much takes the cake. Ninety minutes of uninterrupted, gruelling mental torture – with Joaquin Phoenix narrating it no less – though undoubtedly very educational.
– I’m not familiar with that particular documentary, but I’ve seen other evidence of the horrific acts perpetuated against animals in factory farms, scientific laboratories, and other testing facilities. What’s especially abhorrent is that here in the U.S., some states have laws in place banning such video recordings.
While this might sound like hysterical vegan propaganda, it’s actually true. The so-called ag-gag laws, used by both America and Australia, specifically target whistle-blowers within the agricultural industry and render undercover filming or photography without the consent of the facility’s owner prohibited under threat of multi-year prison sentences.
– They want to prevent activists from filming what takes place in the industry and exposing it to the general public, for fear that people will recognise the suffering they help propagate. After actually witnessing these travesties, which occur as a result of an industrial effort to feed the many unnecessary urges of humans, it often changes one’s perception.
Yosuke speaks from experience. When he lived in the state of Virginia for a few years in the late nineties, he used to go to a Richmond medical school to study and work during the late night and early morning hours.
– After most people in the building had left, you could hear the test animals howling and screaming. They were mostly dogs, at least the ones you could hear, but I know they even had primate testing facilities there. Absolutely horrible, and still haunts me to this day when I think about it.
Do you believe there to be any karmic benefits to veganism?
– I don’t follow any spiritual path, and don’t pay much mind to the idea of karma. However, there are very tangible health benefits. Although I’ve been vegan for over twenty years, there was a period during which I relaxed my standards and ate a vegetarian diet. My wellbeing suffered tremendously. Almost immediately after returning to a vegan diet, I began to feel healthier again.
Following a vegan diet does however not automatically equate increased health.
– Of course, there are plenty of extremely unhealthy vegans, but when properly implemented along with an intense exercise regimen, the rewards are obvious and astounding. But for many years, I was so busy with my job, personal life, and the label that I neglected to focus on health and strength.
This changed significantly about two years ago, when Yosuke incorporated into his life a vigorous routine of exercise and nutrition.
– There are obviously many black metal fans who do not fall into this category, but I find it ironic that there are so many others glorifying strength, power, and war, and yet they are unhealthy and physically unfit. Strengthening one’s body, mind, and will is all important. In this context, I recommend reading Sun and Steel by Yukio Mishima.
In past conversations on Bardo Methodology, numerous are the times when the metal underground has been pronounced dead; a pale shadow of its former self, and so forth. I’m curious about Yosuke’s position on this, given that he still actively contributes to it.
– I don’t pay much heed to people’s endless rants about the state of underground metal. Obviously, today’s scene is much different from the one that drew me in when I was a teenager, but spending time opining about whether it’s better or worse is not interesting to me. As a label, I remain committed to the music which inspires me – that’s all that matters.
Having said that, he mentions some concern over the efforts of certain people – both within and without the scene – to silence and censor certain ideas.
– Metal in general, black metal in particular, has always been about anti-social and extreme ideologies. Efforts to suppress these ideas are anathema to black metal. Hatred is a central theme, those who can’t accept that aspect of the music should take no part in it. The hypocrisy of these individuals is staggering. To them, defiling the Christian god is perfectly acceptable, but attacks upon any other religion are seized upon as racist or bigoted.
Ask Swedish veterans LORD BELIAL, who landed themselves in quite the pickle with their 2003 EP “Purify Sweden”. After ten years of singing about burning churches and murdering Christians, they now also included a mention of mosques – with predictable results.
– I’m not advocating any particular political view, of course. All I’m saying is that one can appreciate the music whether or not one agrees with the ideas expressed within it. We should not be silencing artists, but rather leave it up to the listeners to choose what they want to hear – even music with extreme ideas. In addition to hatred – individualism and rejection of society are major themes in black metal, and trying to dictate what people should and shouldn’t believe runs counter to these fundamental principles.
Yosuke is a stark proponent of a fundamentally conservative approach, both musically and visually.
– I shy away from metal without any roots in the past or that demonstrates a limited knowledge of the genre’s history. I don’t mean to suggest that it cannot or should not evolve, but much like a species it should do so gradually and organically – preserving the dominant traits and abandoning those bringing weakness and mediocrity.