In America, we know them by the name “Les Rallizes Dénudés” — a Japanese word (“rallizes”) presented as a French noun, then qualified by the French word for “stripped bare”, or “unveiled”. In France, “Les Rallizés” becomes “Les Valises” (or “suitcases”), evoking pieces of luggage ripped open during a police search, or upended by their owners in the search for something lost. When the biographical details of a band are as hard to come by as the records they leave behind, the imagination usually jumps in to fill in the gaps; sometimes, it even blots out the things that we do know. For all the American psychedelic rock fans who struggle to pronounce their moniker with the proper French nasals, for example, few remember that when guitarist Mizutani Takashi and co. played their first gig at Kyoto University in 1968, they billed themselves as “Haddaka No Rallizes”; this, a Japanese friend tells me, simply means “naked and fucked up.”
Great mystery rock albums — like “Enter the Mirror,” a great mystery rock song — do not fall from the sky. They derive as much from their authors as from the efforts of the crate diggers and critics who pluck them from obscurity, hail them as forgotten masterpieces, and cloak their creators in the technicolor dream coat of the modern anti-hero. (The acid casualty Syd Barrett, after he lost his mind and left Pink Floyd, is one of history’s most well-known examples). The music, of course, must be in some way deserving of all this retroactive myth-making; but no great rock record becomes a great mystery rock record without a colorful backstory to boot– or better yet, bits and pieces of one.
In the case of Les Rallizes Dénudés, the hook is not insanity, but radical politics. Like contemporaries Amon Düül II in Germany, LRD made self-described protest music, planting their endless space-rock improvisations at the front-lines of the Japanese student demonstrations of 1968 — including the “Barricades A Go-G0” concert at Kyoto University, organized by a group of students who had occupied the school . LRD’s brand of militancy had almost nothing to do with words (distorted past recognition by delay, whatever Takashi happened to be singing about) and everything to do with sensory assault. In the vein of The Velvet Underground, whom they may not even have been aware of, their live shows combined extreme (even excess) volume with the visual disorientation of strobe lights and mirror balls. Eventually, they cranked up the gain so high that they alienated even the avant-garde theatrical troupes they had recruited to perform alongside them.