• Denholm Hewlett

[Music/Culture] Les Rallizes Dénudés (1967–1996)

Meet one of Japan's earliest and most mysterious psychedelic rock groups, Les Rallizes Denudes, the legendary white-noise gothic terrorists of the underground. Plane hijackings, vanishing members, post-war revolution blues.

Formed at Kyoto University in 1967, Les Rallizes Denudes was the revolutionary militant brainchild of frontman Takashi Miztuani, along with Mikio Nagata, Shunichiro Shoda and Takeshi Nakamura.

The group's harsh avant-garde psychedelic punk-rock sound is a full-on sonic assault, defined by simple and hypnotic, repetitive instrumental passages, crunchy distorted baselines, wistful howling and shrieking vocals - all swamped in buzzing walls of cacophonous guitar feedback and psychedelic folk arrangements.

The band have never officially released any of their own material, their scattered discography is a collection of unearthed soundboard archives, live bootleg recordings and even several abandoned studio recording attempts. The band were always suspicious of recording studios and compromising their mystique, they seldom toured and never did interviews.

Much of the band's history remains largely shrouded in mystery and speculation. There are more rumours, fables and legends about this group then actual concrete historical facts and confirmations, with next to nothing known about the group's illusive and enigmatic leader, guitarist and vocalist Takashi Mizutani; mystical gothic rebel, androgynous counterculture maverick, infamous madman and long-haired iconoclast. Mizutani was described as a lone wolf, an extremely introverted and reclusive character with very nihilistic and solipsistic views on modern life.

The group's legendary first gig at Kyoto University sparked an unprecedented mass riot at the institution, known as the “Barricades-A-Go-Go” concert, which can be heard in its entirety on the 67-’69 Studio Et Live album, is complete with the wailing of police sirens and the screams of student protestors fighting with riot officers as the background chorus.

Les Rallizes Denudes were described as “the ultimate manifestation of the Japanese underground’s urge to excess”. The band's name is derived from broken French slang, roughly translating to "the naked guns". Mizutani was a massive fan of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground and took immense inspiration from their second album White Light/White Heat to craft the sound for his own band. "Lady Godiva's Operation" was one of Mizutani's favourites.

This group of radicalised, tripped-out hippie rockers weren't just assaulting the masses with their waves of sonic terror, they were all active members of shadowy and armed terrorist organisations, committing various acts of violence in the name of their political and ideological aims. Les Rallizes Denudes actually walked the walk, they took up arms and threw bombs for the cause. Mizutani was said to have held very radical leftist views and was rumoured to be an active supporter of the Japanese Red Army.

This leads us to the most famous and secretive incident surrounding the notorious group. In 1970, the Denudes gained international attention after the original bass player Moriaki Wakabayashi assisted in the hijacking of Japan Airlines Flight 351. This plot was orchestrated by nine members of a militant Communist faction subsequentially known as The Yodogō Group, who stormed the flight wielding pipe bombs, steel pipes and samurai swords, they took 129 hostages and demanded that the pilots redirect the plane and land in North Korea, where they wished to defect.

The hijackers managed to arrive in the communist stronghold of Pyongyang, where they planned to ignite a red wave rebellion that would cascade across all of Asia. They failed in this regard, but they did pull off a very tactical and successful hijacking where no hostages were harmed and the destination was reached at no cost to human life. Wakabayashi and his comrades have been living in North Korea ever since. The band even boldly used an image of the hijacked aircraft for one of their album covers.

Mizutani was allegedly offered a role in the hijacking, but refused to participate. Despite this, after the incident, the paranoid frontman fled into the shadows and kept a low profile due to his ties with the Japanese Red Army, nobody knows where he resides today or if he's even still alive. The band's secretive last performance was in 1996.

All of the original band members have also faded into obscurity after being put on the INTERPOL wanted list, they've either gone deep underground, been victims of assassination, or fled to live in exile in communist nations.

The mystery of this legendary band is still as dense and clouded with fable as ever. Many of the people who knew the band or were involved with the members are all immensely wary and reluctant to speak out about them. Les Rallizes Denudes will forever remain as one of the murkiest and influential enigmas in Japanese music history, without these guys, you may never have had bands like Nirvana, Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine.

The composition Night of the Assassins is the group's anthem and their musical blueprint - A rebellious doomsday orgy of harsh white-noise underpinned with a tremendously infectious, muddy baseline riff.

This first version represents the band's traditionally aggressive and nihilistic noise-rock aesthetic, whereas the second rendition represents their much slower, melodic and intoxicating psychedelic sound.

The group's free-wheeling creative ethos meant that they never repeated themselves, they played their music with a spontaneous and indifferent jazz mentality so that every performance and rendition sounds entirely unique and singular from the next. The bulk of the group's catalog consists of a revolving selection of iconic compositions, there are several dozen alternating versions and recordings of The Night of the Assassins alone.

The band's most famous compositions include Flames of Ice, Enter The Mirror, White Awakening, Artificial Wilderness, The Last One, Romance of Black Grief, and The Night of the Assassins.

In the last decade, new live videos of the group performing in Japan have surfaced online, which honestly feel like you're watching footage of aliens, dinosaurs or some other mysterious, exotic creature that seldom appears.

~ Psychic Garden