Les Rallizes Dénudés
The Mystery Men of Japanese Psychedelic Music
by Daniel Hess
Welcome to their non-discography
'Atonal, hypnotic cacophony' does not even begin to describe the symphonic numbness your ears will experience while listening to Les Rallizes Dénudés.
With that simple enticing opening, the music is but yet a small fraction of the mystery, infamy, and legacy that this group holds in their home country of Japan. You may have never heard of them, but if you dare to read on, you will need to prepare yourself for the realistically surreal existence of Les Rallizes Dénudés, the Japanese misfits of mystery.
So let's step back a bit for a moment here, and consider how that name doesn't sound Japanese at all, mostly because it is not. The name actually comes from a corruption of the French language and the words 'valises Dénudés,' which translates to 'naked suitcases.'
This rock band was formed sometime around 1967 at Kyoto's Doshisha University, but the exact time is not exactly known. This lack of precise information will continue to be an ongoing theme throughout the history of this band.
What does the music sound like, exactly? Well, it can best be described as repetitive symphonic shrieking with loads of guitar feedback. The sound, however, differs from just a bunch of noise of your cousin's experimental jam band though. It has this strange presence about it that simply washes over you. Sure, it will not be for everyone, but for those with an adventurous sonic appetite, there is a lot to enjoy.
One of the most interesting pieces of this story is that none of their releases are official studio material. After an aborted, reportedly disastrous studio session, frontman Takashi Mizutani swore off ever working in a studio environment again. Instead, what we have instead is a series of bootleg albums mixed from various live performances over the years. Most of these are conveniently located on Spotify today, but physical versions of this material have become pretty rare and highly sought after over the years.
Having said that, THE most interesting and troubling part of the band's history had nothing to do with a studio or a live show.
On March 31, 1970, the Yodo--go Hijacking Incident occurred. A group of 9 hijackers armed with samurai swords and pipe bombs took control of Japan Airlines flight 351 while it was flying from Tokyo to Fukuoka. The plane was completely overtaken, with all 129 members (122 passengers and 7 crew members) taken as hostages.
These hijackers were members of the Japanese Red Army, whose ultimate goal was to start a guerilla war in Japan. After failing to gain a foothold in Japan, they knew they needed the help of a Communist country for training and support. After receiving support, they could return to Japan to take over the country. What place better than North Korea to make this dream a reality?
That is exactly where the plane was headed this day, and one key member of the extremist hijackers' group was Moriaki Wakabayashi, the bassist for Les Rallizes Dénudés.
The plane had not been prepared to fly all the way to Pyongyang, so they touched down in Fukuoka, where it had to be refueled. As it was set down, they released 23 passengers from the plane as a seeming sign of good faith.
Before reaching South Korea, a last attempt was made to fool the hijackers. In a few hours' time, authorities in Seoul attempted to make the Gimpo Airport look like the North Korean International airport by placing North Korean flags all over the area and even having soldiers dressed in North Korean military uniforms.
The hijackers were not tricked when they touched down though. As some reports claim, they noticed an American airplane parked in the distance, but either way they stayed inside the plane where a tense standoff ensued.
All the passengers were eventually released in South Korea as the Japanese vice minister for transport, Yamamura Shinjiro volunteered to stay in their place. They landed in North Korea, and the hijackers left the plane. Many of them remained in North Korea for the rest of their lives.
After this highly publicized and shocking event, all eyes turned on those closely related to the hijackers. One major casualty of the incident would be the disbanding of Les Rallizes Dénudés core original members. Mizutani became more of a recluse, fearing fallout from the government, who took this faction of extremists very seriously.
There are many stories of his increasing paranoia and fear of wiretaps, surveillance, and general close watch the government had on Mizutani. However, even this may be a complete fabrication. Another side to this story would claim that he simply wanted to exude an air of mystery, adding to the mystique of himself and the band.
Although the initial core members walked away, the name Les Rallizes Dénudés lived on, well into the mid-'90's. They would go on to influence countless bands throughout their decades of infrequent tours and stints, swapping out members almost constantly. Their songs would be performed in different arrangements, and they always just seemed to appear and then disappear just as quickly. Mizutani though, was always the one piece of glue that kept the fragile namesake together.
What about now?
As the internet age has taken hold of the planet, the story of Les Rallizes Dénudés has exploded into true cult status. What was once a hidden anomaly of Japan has now reached far and wide the world over. Despite all of this, the mystery of Mizutani remains. His last public appearance was two live performances in 1997 with jazz saxophonist Arthur Doyle and drummer Sabu Toyozumi.
There have been many speculative articles written over the last decade, with many trying to track him down or find out where he has been living all of these years. Some rumors spread that he was living in Paris. Others suspect he may not even be alive anymore. It seems fitting that such a mysterious legacy lead would end right on the precipice of the rise of the internet. Even if Mizutani is still alive, it was a sharp decision to end any public appearances ahead of all the speculation that would come from hungry and intrepid young musical journalists of the late '90's and into the 2000s.
As the world becomes ever smaller and hiding one's identity becomes even harder, it becomes ever more fascinating to look back at something that seems so unreal it has to be true. As if a story from some parallel universe that split into our own, we are truly lucky to have the music, mystery, and legacy of Les Rallizes Dénudés.
Now go onto Spotify, blast some music with your friends and let the wave wash over you. Or better yet, see part II of this article for a deep dive into their catalog, coming soon.
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