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Exploring Japanoise and “Anti-Music”


A few years ago, my dad and I drove to Morgantown, West Virginia in search of Assumption Records, a record shop famous for being in a repurposed church. The last thing I was expecting to walk out with was a copy of There’s No Heaven Like Hell by Les Rallizes Dénudés + Be. It was my first introduction into the world of Japanese psychedelic noise rock, something that had already been a fixation of my dad’s for a for weeks at that point. The album is a downright eerie listening experience that has you feeling like you’re floating through the outer realms of existence; the first half is entirely an otherworldly sounding synth combined only with a slow, scratchy guitar. The second half feels more familiar to most listeners of 60’s rock with the inclusion of the drums, bass, and classic, upbeat guitar riffs. Les Rallizes Dénudés is one of the music world’s great mysteries. Little is known about many of its members, including the lead singer, but they have still managed to rack up a cult-like following with their psychedelic yet haunting sound.


Noise rock is an experimental genre that spun off from punk and hardcore in the 1980’s, featuring intense distortion and electronic instrumentation. Sonic Youth, one of my favorite bands, is one of the most successful examples of a noise rock group; Mildred Pierce is full of fast-paced guitar riffs combined with Thurston Moore’s distorted screaming, which can come as a shock to those expecting a more traditional listening experience. Many noise rock artists across the world have also taken inspiration from Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. Their 1968 release, White Light/White Heat, is one of the band’s most experimental albums, featuring distortion, guitar feedback, and improvised sound that was even more intense than their album with Nico. Japanese noise rock (also known as Japanoise), however, seems to have taken off even earlier, going back as far as 1960 with the formation of Group Ongaku, seeking to create “anti-music” by incorrectly playing instruments and using everyday objects. These groups have succeeded in pushing the bounds of music, blurring the lines between unintelligible noise and what the societally accepted version of music is.


Les Rallizes Dénudés got their start in 1967 at the Doshisha University in Kyoto. Despite being one of the most influential noise rock groups in Japan, they remain rather obscure in the music world. This is likely due to the fact that they almost exclusively did live performances, dissatisfied with their attempts at in-studio recordings. Most accounts say that their name translates to something along the lines of “naked and high,” reflecting the raw, unedited nature of their music along with the psychedelic, entrancing sensory experience of listening to it. While the group itself was not overtly political, Les Rallizes Dénudés were known to perform at student protests. The original bassist, Moriaki Wakabayashi, assisted in the infamous hijacking of Japan Airlines Flight 351 with Japan’s Red Army Faction, later being granted political asylum in North Korea. Unfortunately, not much is known about the group’s mysterious and iconic front man, Takashi Mizutani. The mystery around his life and whether he is even still alive somehow seems to match the secretive reputation of the band, with their cult following continuing despite the complete lack of recorded music. We do know that Mizutani was involved in the university’s theater scene, which seems to add up with the almost theatrical experience of just listening to the band’s music, which could be interpreted as a form of performance art and protest against the status quo within itself. 


Currently, a large chunk of Les Rallizes Dénudés’ music is being re-released on Spotify in order to provide listeners with a better quality sound than was formerly available with just the bootlegs, but nonetheless I have included my favorite songs of theirs:


Les Rallizes Dénudés – Romance of Black Grief (Otherwise Fallin’ Love With II)

One of their tamer songs, “Romance of Black Grief” (also known as “Otherwise Fallin’ Love With II) is a hypnotic, psychedelic auditory experience that remains one of my favorite songs. Mizutani’s gentle voice combines with repetitive guitar riffs to create an aura of melancholy and euphoria, almost making you feel like you’re floating through space and time. Staying true to their experimental selves, though, this song still manages to feature some distorted guitar riffs that manage to fit perfectly within a comparatively mellow song.


Les Rallizes Dénudés – The Night, Assassin’s Night

The Night, Assassin’s Night is a twelve minute track full of hypnotizing bass, crashing roars of distorted guitar, barely audible drums, and Mizutani’s voice, occasionally sounding closer to spoken word than song. The juxtaposition of calm, entrancing bass with the crashing, overpowering guitars truly reflects the experimentality of the group, with Mizutani’s voice occasionally coming through but overall focusing more heavily on the instrumentals. This song stands out as one of their most on-brand songs by combining more traditionally accepted guitar and vocals with heaps of distortion and ear-shattering noise.


Les Rallizes Dénudés – Morning Light, L’Aube

This song differs from many of their other works with its completely peaceful and almost upbeat feel. There is a complete lack of distortion, perhaps in part due to the fact that the electric guitar seems to have been put down in favor of the acoustic. The combination of the xylophone and Mizutani’s soft, gentle singing is a pleasant surprise coming from a group that is generally known for its intense, experimental sound.

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