Few bands are more legendary than the Rallizes, the mighty Rallizes: the stripped comrades.
And it’s strange that a band so influential was mostly documented on bootlegs, and literally has about ten songs in total. But what’s even more strange is that a band that was itself probably intended as some kind of political statement was ultimately influential in a much more superficial sense.
I say this because, since I’m not an idiot, I can anticipate the way that you may have greeted the sight of this post– maybe with a groan… or an eye roll…what’s certain is that you thought for a second, “Here we go…this guy is a fan of Japanese noise music.”
Someone like Kazumoto Endo (whose While You Were Out could certainly be a fine introduction to modern noise music) might ultimately be more famous in the United States than he may be in his native Japan. With globalization, there is, time and time again, this odd process going on by which the admiration of the artwork produced by the intellectuals/outcasts of another culture takes on a high level of value as social and cultural currency in one’s native culture. It is so much more common to meet an American literature major who is a self-professed Dostoyevsky fan than it is to meet one whose favorite author is Herman Melville (though Melville and Charles Dickens were important influences on Dostoyevsky).
Les Rallizes were probably influenced a little bit by The Velvet Underground, some Krautrock, Jimi Hendrix, perhaps bands like Blue Cheer and Hawkwind, but little did they know that their spin on arty, noisy rock would ultimately spawn a whole ethos of music-making in Japan, and would ultimately deeply influence the West as well, but perhaps in a different way than they may have anticipated.
It’s funny…Heavier Than A Death in the Family is definitely one of my favorite albums of all time, but just recently I was trying to remember its name, and I drew a blank. And yet, I’ll always remember “The Night Collectors” (which is oddly absent on many of their live bootlegs, considering what a great song it is) and “People Can Choose”, and I also could remember the melody to “Enter the Mirror” without being able to place the name. Furthermore, I remembered this record’s iconic cover– white on black, a detached figure wearing a jacket and a curiously androgynous fire-engine-red mouth. But it took me to look back into my hard drive to remember the title. Perhaps it’s because it’s an awful title. But still, I’m embarrassed to see myself temporarily reduced to the level of “name-dropper”. It isn’t so bad, really, since no one can really remember everything– and hell, you certainly can’t listen to everything in any case. But it reminded me, I think, of my status as an outsider from the culture that produced this band.
Much has been made of the obscurity that shrouds this band’s origins, as well as the current whereabouts and involvements of bandleader Takashi Mizutani. This obscurity probably has had a lot to do with the band’s involvement in radical politics– in a collectivist society like Japan’s, I am sure that alligning oneself with outside art and radical beliefs goes hand in hand with making the choice to be somewhat reclusive and perhaps even detached from society altogether. However, when you look at the cool (yes, I said it…), black-jacket clad Rallizes, it isn’t hard to see how many bands in the west interpreted them. Ultimately, I think people just liked the image of this group– weird, stoic bikers. I can’t help but wonder how the stripped comarades themselves feel about this.
All one has to do to see the enormous influence this band had on rock music in the west from the late eighties onward is look at the cover of Goo by Sonic Youth or listen to Psychocandy by The Jesus and Mary Chain. The music of Les Rallizes embraces chaos, but is not exactly aggressive. It might be accurate to say that in the same way that Hawkwind sounded like they were flinging themselves into the ecstasy of the cosmos, Les Rallizes gave in to insanity and violence, but in a kind of abstract way. Their music isn’t really intended to shock– like Hawkwind, they’re groping for something you just need to feel, to meditate over almost. I think that this influence has filtered down on over the years, the actual musical form of The Stripped Comarades, not just the iconic image. Hard psych, noise rock, and psych drone have certainly drifted more and more in this direction over the decades.
I wish that Takahashi would come out of hiding and gift us with more strange and beautiful music. And he would find many more people on his wavelength ready to greet his new music, all around the world.