There was an intricate network of thousands of radicalized, trippy bands spread across the globe like an acid-drenched spider web in the ’60s and early ’70s, but none went as far out as Japan’s reclusive noise rock/terrorist organization Les Rallizes Dénudés. Sure, groups like the MC5 and “Street Fighting Man” era Rolling Stones adopted guerrilla-chic imagery and posed with guitars shaped like machine guns, but did any of them ever hijack a commercial airliner, join up with the Red Army, or go into exile in North Korea?
We didn’t think so.
Les Rallizes Dénudés did all of these things, but they were really so much more. They were lonely early goth pioneers (seriously, some of their press photos prove they were rocking the Christian Death look in 1966). They were quite possibly the only band to be fully birthed from a 75-second stretch of “Lady Godiva’s Operation” from Velvet Underground’s White Light White Heat album. And they have some absolute bonkers banger psych live recordings floating around the internet ether, such as their appearance on the immortal Japanese psych comp Oz Days Live which no true weirdo should ever live without.
The Paisley Army
They were also mysterious. And not in the “OMGZ he deleted his Twitter” sense. Literally no solid details are known about the frontman with the amazing bangs, Takashi Mizutani, other than the truly jaw-dropping fact that dude was a card-carrying member of the Japanese Red Army. And this lone known aspect instantly puts him head-and-shoulders above all the “bomb thrower with a guitar” street fighting bands of the late ’60s radical-chic era. It isn’t even known if Takashi is still alive, but if he is and is reading this then we just want him to know that he’s hijacked our hearts forever with his glazed-over early shoegaze guitar tones.
Which leads us to the most famous aspect of Les Rallizes Dénudés: They were terrorists. Not “sound terrorists” like what My Bloody Valentine or the many hordes of noise rock bands aspire to. Not radicals printing up red print pamphlets and toying around with “bombs for peace” ideology. These were real deal members of shadowy, armed organizations and participants in acts of violence with political and ideological aim. Unlike fellow Japanese psych flamethrowers like Flower Travelin’ Band who expressed their post-idealist radicalism through their music and t-shirt selections, Takashi and Co. took up arms and threw bombs for The Cause. Yes, they participated in the hijacking of Japan Airlines Flight 351. And yes, they later used an image from said hijacking on an album cover. And yes, all of the original members have vanished into thin air. They’ve either been assassinated by fellow terrorists or government organizations, gone deep underground, or fled to exile in various communist regimes. Really, the VH1 Behind The Music on these guys would be a nice detour from the “blow, whiskey, Playmates, wrecked hotel rooms, repeat” angle and instead just be one long INTERPOL wanted list.
“After you spark that, let’s hijack a plane.”
There was quite a groovy little scene going on in Kyoto in the late ’60s. Serious commune squat action. Headbands. Naked people on motorcycles. The Taj Mahal Travellers emerged from this KyotRock Movement, as did real nerd favs like Manato Minami and The Ubiquitous Acid 7. Les Rallizes Dénudés put all these acid-blues pretenders to shame, rising up like a fully-formed avant Godzilla to stomp out any building within reach. Just take one listen to their epochal, noise-rock-pioneering “Smoking Cigarette Blues” to see what we’re dealing with here. On this and early live recordings such as the Oz Days tracks and Eve Night, if you didn’t know any better you’d think this was a gaggle of modern day RISD students playing a warehouse party, just six months away from their first Pitchfork mention. True to their shadow form, not much is known about the Les Rallizes Dénudés early years other than several completely awesome verified facts:
- Their very first gig at Kyoto University (where they may or may not have been enrolled) sparked a mass riot the likes of which had never before or since been experienced at the institution. This legendary show, known as the “Barricades-A-Go-Go” concert, can be heard in its entirety on the 67-’69 Studio Et Live album, complete with the screams of sirens and students as a background chorus.
- Like many avant heads of the era, they tried gigging with a backing theater troupe for a while but their music proved too powerful and freaky for the cast. As the shows progressed they would run off the stage one-by-one with their hands held firmly over their ears until only the band was left onstage.
- Much like the Grateful Dead, the boys in Les Rallizes viewed recording studios with great suspicion, preferring to stretch out in a live setting. There are, however, two studio tracks from sometime in the Japanese Summer Of Love, both burning hot. “Otherwise My Conviction” and later live fave “Birdsong” both prove that Tosh could have been a true studio wizard had the recording process not posed a threat to steal his very soul.
Takashi Mizutani, Goth AF
While their formation and early years remain shrouded in the dark cloak of legend, the Dénudés dudes came into widescreen international focus in 1970 when nine members of the Red Army Faction ran up on Japan Airlines Flight 351 from Tokyo to Fukuoka wielding samurai swords and pipe bombs, taking 129 hostages and ordering the plane to North Korea, where they wished to defect. The authorities tried to pull off an amazing move by disguising the Fukuoka airport as a North Korean airport (!!!) in an attempt to fool the violent commie faction. The Red Army did them one better, pulling off an impressive pump fake by pretended to buy that they were in North Korea, releasing the passengers but then grabbing the Japanese Transport Minister as an even higher stakes hostage. This time they made it to the safety of the communist stronghold, from which they planned to spark a rebellion that would send a red wave cascading across all of Asia. While they may not have accomplished this seemingly simple task, they did pull off a successful hijacking in which no hostages were killed and their destination was reached. Most of them are free in the NK to this day.
“Let us out of here! This music is awful!”
One of sword-wielding hijackers was none other than Les Rallizes Dénudés bassist Moriaki Wakabayashi, a fact which instantly propelled the fledgling underground Japanese noise band to the type of international fame an expensive publicity campaign or a platinum record just can’t buy. Amazingly, Takashi and the rest of the boys remained free to practice their droning atonal sorcery even though the certified Red Army members had obviously played some sort of role in the hijacking, emerging from hiding on occasion to show out at a secret gig where thousands would show to pay respects to the Red legends.
This paranoid, low-profile outlaw period from the mid-’70s to the early-’80s proved to be their zenith. Never the most accomplished musicians, by 1977-or-so much of the band had grown surprisingly prominent on their instruments and they had added a young lysergic wizard named Fujio Yamaguchi on synapse-fusing lead guitar. All it take is a cursory listen to live album Double Heads to recognize the transformative force of Les Rallizes during this soaring era in their post-hijacking history.
Takashi glammed out in the ’80s
It seems that the only ways out of Les Rallizes Dénudés are death, exile, or vanishing, and Yamaguchi took the first option under predictably mysterious circumstances in the early ’90s. The remaining ex-terrorists adapted well, stripping down to a power trio format where the bass was the most prominent instrument, quite similar to early Can. Recordings of their increasingly infrequent top secret shows up until 96 reveal a jazzy, economical sound that continued to scan the same expansive stratosphere they had stumbled upon all those years ago in the squat practice spaces around Kyoto University.
A Communist In Leather
Nobody knows why Les Rallizes Dénudés disbanded after one final top secret show in 96. Nobody knows where that show took place either. Nobody knows where Takashi and the other non-exiled Les Rallizes’ boys are today or if they are still alive. Nobody knows if they were secretly detained for their ever-so-radical pasts, if they’re laying low peacefully somewhere, or if they went underground to commit further acts of violent revolution. Nobody knows if they simply walled themselves up in a cave and are currently blasting their noise to the subterranean darkness.
But we do know that they never morphed into the bodies of a younger band. Because nobody has ever come close to sounding like Les Rallizes Dénudés.