Japan’s most mysterious band, Les Rallizes Dénudés

Takashi Mizutani, leader of Les Rallizes Dénudés
Best Buy doesn’t stock Les Rallizes Dénudés. Then again, for a long time, nobody did. My own introduction to the band came in the form of a CD-R my friend Max handed me sometime around the end of W.‘s first term. Though their force was undeniable, the recordings were murky; I resolved to find authorized Rallizes releases, best quality, straight from the source. But when I started digging through CDs and LPs at L.A. record stores, I was surprised how hard it was to find Rallizes product of any kind, legit or no. The few items my search did turn up were shoddily packaged bootlegs with hideous cover art. Have you seen the jacket of Blind Baby Has Its Mother’s Eyes? It is a masterpiece of graphic design by comparison with most Rallizes product.

As usual, I had to wait for Julian Cope to come along and turn confusion into sense. The chapter on Les Rallizes Dénudés in Cope’s Japrocksampler explains that the band, between forming in 1967 and busting in 1996, never recorded in a studio or put out albums. Like, on principle. All product was counterfeit:

So how do we actually know of Les Razilles Dénudés if they don’t even release records? Through bootlegs, bootlegs and more bootlegs. Indeed, Les Razilles Dénudés has operated in this manner for so long now that both musicians and fans know so far in advance what to expect from each other that there’s even a caste system within that world of bootlegs. Yup, while certain Rallizes LPs are considered so much less bootleggy than others that they’ve almost become official in the minds of fans, others are just dismissed as cash-ins, re-runs and ... well, just plain bootlegs.


(Technically, they did record in the studio, and they apparently sanctioned a release or two. Red Bull Music Academy’s Grayson Currin, writing about his recent attempts to track down the group’s reclusive leader, Takashi Mizutani, says the Rallizes did eventually put out an official record—in 1991, some five years before they finally hung it up. And the Rallizes’ side of 1973’s double live compilation Oz Days Live is also alleged to be official. These are quibbles: If Cope is exaggerating, it’s in the service of truth.) 

Those seeking a fleshed-out version of the Rallizes’ skeletal bio are directed to Japrocksampler, but briefly: radical Francophile Takashi Mizutani formed the group as a college student in the ‘60s, when, Cope writes, French culture still found devotees among postwar Japanese youth looking for a revolutionary alternative to Uncle Sam. That means: Cool for these guys was ice cold. Deadpan as the Velvets or Spacemen 3, Mizutani and his bandmates identified with the loudest, darkest and most destructive aspects of psych-rock. Cope quotes this cryptic text from the Rallizes’ late ‘60s flyers:

For those young people – including you – who live this modern agonising adolescence and who are wanting the true radical music, I sincerely wish the dialogue accompanied by piercing pain will be born and fill this recital hall.


The deep alienation in their art spilled over into the headlines on March 31, 1970, when one of the Rallizes’ founding members, bassist Moriaki Wakabayashi, took part in the Japanese Red Army Faction’s hijacking of a plane. (Wakabayashi and three other hijackers still live in North Korea, which offered asylum.) The association with Communist terrorism did not exactly do wonders for the band’s career, and according to Cope, Mizutani never recovered from the catastrophe of the hijacking, retreating into deeper and darker isolation.

So what does the band’s name mean? Good question. No one knows what a “rallize” is, and the Japanese translation, “Hakada no Rallizes,” sheds no light: It, too, means “the Naked Rallizes.” Refreshingly, Ethan Mousiké‘s 1992 documentary Les Rallizes Dénudés does not directly address this or any of the other mysteries surrounding the band. Though the opening credits and the epigraph from Maldoror are in French, you will soon notice there are no subtitles, because there is not a word of dialogue in this movie. It’s all strobe lights and fathomless guitar noise from the first 25 years of the Rallizes’ three-decade career.

This movie is as close as we are likely to get to Japan’s “Radical Music Black Gypsy Band.” Assimilate it while you can!

Posted by Oliver Hall
08:33 am



comments powered by Disqus