Stuff That Doesn’t Suck Presents…Les Rallizes Dénudés
Audrey is back with some words of wisdom on a far out band from Japan. Dig it.
If you didn’t notice from Culture Fusion correspondent Jonathan Brodsky’s last review, a lot of fucking weird music comes from Japan. Thinking about this has inspired me to write about one of my favorite groups to come out of Nihon. What I’m reviewing today is going to look pretty tame compared to the ridiculousness that is the Gerogerigegege, but bear with me: this is still pretty weird, especially considering when the band began creating records. Les Rallizes Dénudés may not have recorded themselves shitting their pants (at least, not that I know of…) or masturbated on stage, but I promise that this is worth your time if you like avant-garde music.
Are you still there? Good. Les Rallizes Dénudés (a linguistic mash-up of Japanese and French that translates to ‘they who are fucked up and naked’) formed as a concrete entity in 1967, its members originally bound together as an avant-garde musical theatre troupe. The band was led by the incredible guitarist and vocalist Takashi Mizutani. LRD became infamous in Japan for their intense, visual live performances and extreme leftist politics. In 1970, they became even more infamous when one of the members decided it’d be a good idea to hijack a plane.
Bassist Moriaki Wakabayashi was a member of the Japanese Red Army – a Communist group formed in the early ‘70s whose ultimate goal was to overthrow the Japanese government and eventually spread their message all over the world. Nine members of the JRA, including Wakabayashi, boarded Japanese Airlines Flight 351 on March 31, 1970 with the intention of hijacking the plane and flying it all the way to Cuba. They apparently didn’t plan this very well, since the flight that they hijacked was only traveling 45 minutes away and there wasn’t actually enough fuel in the plane to make it all the way to the Caribbean. The plane ended up landing in Pyongyang, North Korea, where the hijackers were given refuge and treated as heroes. Most of them stayed in the country for over thirty years until they were eventually allowed back into Japan: those who returned were immediately arrested. Supposedly, Mizutani was also asked to join in the hijacking, but he declined, choosing to stay in Japan. It’s a good thing that he did, or some of the heaviest music ever to come from that part of the world wouldn’t have been created.
The most direct comparison that one could make with this band would be that they’re somewhat like the Velvet Underground: the band even dressed similarly, wearing all black clothes and dark sunglasses; Mizutani looked like he could have been the Japanese Lou Reed. Their live shows were also very similar to Warhol and the Velvets’ Exploding Plastic Inevitable revue, featuring bright strobe lights and crushingly loud feedback. While they were very obviously influenced by the group, Les Rallizes Dénudés can’t simply be discounted as Velvet Underground rip-off: after all, they went a step beyond what the Velvets did. By turning the volume up even higher, playing their songs for much longer, and adding much more reverb to their vocals, their sound was significantly more disorienting and psychedelic than anything the Velvets ever did.
Aside from the Japanese noise music enthusiasts and the artists they influenced (most notably High Rise, Fushitsusha, and the Acid Mothers Temple collective of music groups), the band was largely forgotten by most until 2007, when Julian Cope’s brilliant book Japrocksampler was published. Les Rallizes Dénudés were one of the bands he chose to focus an entire chapter on, leading to a resurgence of interest in the band among aficionados of avant-garde sounds.
If you’ve ever heard anything by this band, it’s likely that the recording was a bootleg: Rallizes had almost no official releases, and next-to-nothing of their cumulative output was recorded in the studio. However, when looking at the massive array of unofficial material, deciding where to start can certainly seem intimidating: their rateyourmusic.com page lists over 70 third-party records, many of which are sourced from grainy live recordings and contain multiple discs. In my opinion, a good place to start is the aptly titled Heavier Than a Death in the Family: this bootleg record – a collection of recordings the band made mostly dating in or around 1977 (with the exception of the track ‘People Can Choose’, which was recorded in 1973) – is widely considered to be one of their best.
The thing about Les Rallizes Dénudés is that while their discography is enormous, there really isn’t much variety in it. That’s not to say that this is necessarily a bad thing – after all, their recordings were consistently pretty good, if you’re into that sort of thing. The only problem is that – for me, anyhow – it gets boring after awhile. Since I’m kind of insane, I’ve done the hard job for you and listened to hours and hours of their recordings. I can honestly say that Heavier Than a Death in the Family is probably the most solid overall. The record features only six tracks, although most clock in at over ten minutes. In terms of musical content, the core of the record is just primitive rock and roll. It features simple, repetitive riffs, throbbing bass lines, and steady drumming. Sounds easy enough to get into, right? Wrong.
The thing that really sets this band and this album apart is the noise. One of the main things Les Rallizes Dénudés are known for is how ridiculously loud they are. Honestly, if you listen to this album all the way through and your ears aren’t ringing by the end, you either need to get them checked or turn the volume up to a listenable level: I can’t even imagine going to see them live. Every recording I’ve heard by them (except for the odd folk songs on their Mizutani record – one of three band-sanctioned recordings) is incredibly loud, and sounds as though it would have been deafening if experienced live. Not only were Rallizes very noisy, their sound also had a lot of psychedelic elements to it; consequently, they’re most often classified as psych-rock. Although the long guitar solos were obviously influenced by American psych and experimental bands, I find this to be a gross oversimplification of what they do, and anyone checking them out for this reason will either be in way over their head or pleasantly surprised.
One time, in a disgustingly Garden State-esque moment, I told a former professor of mine that this band would change his life. While I can’t say that this will be true for everyone, if you like noise, psychedelia, or any sort of avant-garde rock, you definitely need to check LRD out. When I first heard them, I was already into weird Japanese stuff like Boredoms and Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O., so this was a step down in terms of strangeness, but the experience made everything suddenly click for me: I finally realized the point of influence that all of these forward-thinking Japanese bands shared: Les Rallizes Dénudés started the wave of all the cool experimental and noise bands that came from the land of the rising sun, and I’m incredibly grateful for their existence.