Les Rallizes Dénudés: CITTA’ ’93

For decades, Les Rallizes Dénudés’ legacy has been plagued by myth and misdirection. The Kyoto-based psych-rock ensemble, founded in 1967 by guitarist and vocalist Takashi Mizutani, never recorded a studio album. Instead, their trance-inducing jams, blanketing the atmosphere in thick haze, spread through the Japanese underground (and eventually to Western shores) via rampant bootlegging of their live shows. Most of the recordings were of such poor quality that it’s difficult to hear anything but walls of harsh noise. Mizutani—so reclusive that even his bandmates had trouble keeping contact with him—avoided giving interviews or making any public appearances, leaving space for rumors and fantastical tales, like that of member Moriaki Wakabayashi participating in the hijacking of a commercial flight and subsequently getting exiled to North Korea.

Mizutani wasn’t a fan of any of this: the lack of control from all the bootlegging, low quality of the recordings, and accompanying artwork that didn’t suit his vision. The first officially sanctioned Les Rallizes Dénudés releases—a trio of live shows released by the label Rivista in 1991—were the only ones with his blessing. So Mizutani got in contact with former bassist Makoto Kubota, who left the band in the mid-’70s, to inform him of his interest in properly remastering and releasing the endlessly pirated live shows, starting with recordings from the fabled Tokyo venue OZ where they first made a name for themselves. Then Kubota didn’t hear from Mizutani for the next three decades. They finally got back in touch in 2019, but communication dropped again. Kubota feared something had gone wrong. Later that year, his suspicion was confirmed when he received word that Mizutani had suddenly passed away.

Kubota was determined to see his late friend’s wish come to fruition. He got to work retooling the OZ shows and the Rivista albums in preparation for reissues on Temporal Drift. While those releases were still in the pipeline, something unexpected was uncovered—a recording of the band’s performance from Club Citta’ in 1993. The concert, which was their second public appearance during a brief comeback in the ’90s, had been circulated as a bootleg for many years and was notorious for being one of the band’s most intense shows. Three speakers blew out; the front doors swung open and attendees rushed out to escape the noise. The newly found audio beggared belief—it was chronicled on state-of-the-art ADAT magnetic tape, recorded without Mizutani’s knowledge. The audio therein would be, without a doubt, the best LRD would ever sound, and Kubota would spend hundreds of hours over several months slaving over it.

Nearly as soon as the Citta’ set starts, the total sensory assault begins. “The Night, Assassin's Night” begins with a thumping drum pattern, which quickly gets washed away by a cascade of feedback from Mizutani’s amp. It’s a stylish way to kick things off, and also a happy accident; rhythm guitarist Katsuhiko Ishii recounts that Mizutani’s instrument wasn’t plugged in, unleashing a rush of noise. Unperturbed, Mizutani stuck the landing and launched straight into a solo, all while drummer Kodo Noma continued to play without missing a beat. It’s a powerful illustration of Les Rallizes Dénudés’ unflappable cool.

LRD’s sets were always unpredictable. The group rarely played a song the same way twice, and at Club Citta’ they go all out; staples of their catalog appear here as some of their best renditions. On the fan favorite “White Awakening,” they slowly work up to a frenetic pace before Mizutani suddenly detonates into a fuzzed-out solo. (Compare it to the slow and contemplative version on The OZ Tapes, which may as well be a totally different song.) The unprecedented fidelity helps to illuminate dimensions of Mizutani’s musicianship never heard before. On the bootleg recording, a tidal wave of static washes over the mix when he slams down his pedal, drowning out the finer textures; here, his nimble shredding is on full display. LRD’s traditional set closer “The Last One” benefits most from the deluxe treatment, its sludgy riffs ramping up and descending to fill a transcendent 40 minutes—the longest the band has ever jammed on one song.

Kubota would take particular care to preserve the electric live energy of the event, augmenting the digital audio with sounds from multiple sources—a process he likens to “restoring an ancient Buddhist statue.” You can hear these techniques clearly on the bluesy “Deeper Than the Night”; crowd ambience can be heard between the steady shuffling groove and tortured screams from Mizutani’s guitar, spliced in from various cassette recordings made inside the club. The echo was also meticulously adjusted on Mizutani’s vocals to approximate how they reverberated around the venue, his wails hanging on the air like cries from a vengeful specter. It’s the closest any LRD release feels to being in the room with them.

Rather than spoiling the mystery of Les Rallizes Dénudés, CITTA’ ‘93 is a revelatory document that shows their vibrant color. Makoto Kubota and Temporal Drift have gone above and beyond in addressing Mizutani’s frustrations, reuniting the music with the context it’s always been lacking. Now the picture is fuller; you can more clearly hear the ways in which Les Rallizes Dénudés resembled their peers—taking cues from the acid rock of Flower Travellin’ Band and the freewheeling spirit of Taj Mahal Travellers—while setting themselves apart in explosively loud style. If there’s this much to appreciate below the surface of just one legendary recording, imagine what more can still be discovered.