Tuning into the recently released OZ Tapes, I found myself grinning in amazement. The newly presented cache of a crisply recorded Les Rallizes Denudes fireballing spectacularly way back in 1970. Absolute brilliance doesn’t even come close.
Legendary, is a word that often gets banded around but has become another way of just implying some sort of general amazingness. However, lingering a moment on the words definition, legends tend to assume ‘historic significance, but via means not actually authenticated’. Legendary is the step before myth…
So, this slightly fuzzed logic could easily be applied to the work of Les Rallizes Denudes where any fragment of fact always seems questionable. So a few months ago, a website reported that the project’s mastermind, singer and lead guitarist – Takashi Mizutani had passed away – in 2019.
The website https://www.lesrallizesdenudes-official.com and in particular, that uncommon word in their vocabulary ‘official’ made the announcement all the odder. Clearly the news is sad but somehow again shows that this group have never done anything in any conventional way…
Growing out of the intense political hotbed of Doshisha University in Kyoto, full of existentialism and radical theory, the band blazed a unique trajectory from 1967-88, and again 1993-96. Their mangled discography and thoroughly uncompromising approach has them as pretty much at the top of the tree here at OBLADADA.
Even the band name is another minefield, the apparent French of Les Rallizes Denudes drawing a blank in any translation. A conversation with a Japanese friend shed more light that the words frame the idea of ‘naked rallies or protests’. But that for any Japanese person saying those words sounds similar to naked acidhead – a rallitteru, based on junkie slang usage. Again, this exercise is far from scientific and reveals from the start, the groups arc was always to confound and confuse. A succession of square pegs in countless round holes.
That legendary status is re-enforced by the sheer amount of music they released despite never properly recording anything in a studio or releasing via any normal label. What we have are hour after hour, captured via spiky live recordings or marginally sharper soundboard recordings.
Discogs lists almost 40 albums coming from all manner of bootleg labels, and 25 of them are at least 2 CDs in length. What’s also unreal about the bands collective efforts is that in days and days of searing fuzzy glory, and that the same 5 or 6 standards appear again and again. Any random pick invariably has at least a few of their blistering repertoire of Deeper Than The Night, Flame Of Ice, Enter The Mirror, Night Of The Assassins and The Last One.
Rather than being creatively limited, this endless revisioning are all used as a launch pad into an ecstatic form of chaos. Loud and feedbacking, or spaced out and slowed down, and every conceivable point in-between. This band play like they are out of their minds, pulling you into a grooving, psychedelic feast beyond the surface violence.
Countless albums come in simple black sleeves with grainy black and white images of Mitzutani’s trade mark angular fringed long hair and sunglasses and that confusing mixture of Japanese and English text. However, packaging alone seems to elevate some recording as microscopically more approachable despite their twisted titles… Heavier Than A Death In The Family, Blind Baby Has His Mothers Eyes and Yodo-A-Go-Go, all may as well be viewed as ideal primers into their magnificently fucked up world.
They lived this shit, as well. It seems most of the band members were also actively involved in the red army. Amazingly outlined by original bassist Moriaki Wakabayashi being one of the hijackers to force control of an internal Japanese flight, carrying the prime minster, no less, and an attempt to take him to North Korea. The attempt failed but caused a truly international situation. Wherever you stand politically in all of this, it feels like slightly more committed than the usual TV set thrown out of the hotel window rock and roll bollocks.
But ultimately, it’s the music that lingers the longest – the only tangible element, despite all the background chaos and mystery. An all-time favourite here, Night Of The Assassins is a mangled reworking of the Little Peggy March’s 1962 hit ‘I Will Follow Him’. The polite pop ditty converted seeminly every time they play into fizzy grooving monsters. That bass line has felt everpresent in our brain since the very first time we heard it.
Listening to any point of entry in the pile of music gathered in their wake sucks the listener in. Whilst the spiky surface nature of the music can be too much for some, anyone with any sense of totally nihilist rock will have their brain quickly fizzing in delight. It’s always felt like the Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray was the blueprint somehow, that opened up a portal filled with decades of sublime marriages between fucked up textures and endless monumental grooves.
One thing that often occurs in any overview about a musician that passed away is that sense of loss on a personal level, for those that knew the person and an attempt to provide some overview of their contribution to experimental music.
In Takashi Mizutani’s case, whilst his name is one that I’d offer instantaneously any conversation about ‘best’ or ‘favourite’, I’ve somehow never had any sense of him. If he has actually has gone then we feel oddly ambivalent about it, as his work still stands like some active undefinable vital presence in music.
The fact that, this far into the story, music as good as OZ Tapes and more on its way, under this official banner, in his wake, is cause to remain in a delirious head spin.
Les Rallizes Denudes are unique. Their work, the legend, the confusion, and the sheer untamed magnificence of their music is timeless and limitless. It’s here forever and, therefore so is Mizutani.
Buy OZ Tapes here