Artists René Lussier

Guitarist René Lussier is one of the pillars of innovative music in Québec. A prolific and eclectic composer, he has been charting new music territories since the end of the ’70s, teaming up with musicians from all fields. Co-founder and member of the label Ambiances Magnétiques from 1986 to 2000, he has engineered and produced most of his albums. He has written music for over fifty films, either on his own or in collaboration. Passionate about improvisation, he holds meetings and workshops devoted to this activity in Québec and Europe on a regular basis. Since 2002 he’s touring his solo show Le Prix du bonheur.


René Lussier

Montréal (Québec), 1957

Residence: Québec

  • Composer
  • Performer (electric guitar, electric bass, daxophone, voice)
  • Improviser

Associated groups

On the web

René Lussier [Photo: Pierre Crépô]
René Lussier [Photo: Pierre Crépô]
  • Gilles Gobeil, René Lussier [Photo: Luc Beauchemin, Montréal (Québec), August 2003]
  • René Lussier, Gilles Gobeil [Photo: Luc Beauchemin, Montréal (Québec), August 2003]
  • René Lussier, Gilles Gobeil [Photo: Luc Beauchemin, Montréal (Québec), August 2003]
  • René Lussier, Gilles Gobeil [Photo: Luc Beauchemin, Montréal (Québec), August 2003]
  • René Lussier [Photo: Pierre Crépô, 1999]
  • René Lussier [Photo: Pierre Crépô, 1999]
  • René Lussier [Photo: Pierre Crépô, 1999]
  • René Lussier [Photo: Pierre Crépô, 1999]

Main releases

empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 11107, IMED 11107_NUM / 2011
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0372, IMED 0372_NUM / 2003


Various artists
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 9004, IMED 9604, IMED 9604_NUM / 1990, 1996
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 9421, IMED 9421_NUM / 1994


OHM / Avatar / AVTR 020 / 2000
  • Not in catalogue
Various artists
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0050 / 2000
  • Out of print
Various artists
Revue & corrigée / RC 13 / 1992
  • Not in catalogue

In the press

  • Réjean Beaucage, Voir, January 1, 2017
    L’ajout du Quatuor Bozzini dans la recette agrandit singulièrement l’univers sonore du duo…
  • François Couture,, March 16, 2004
  • Alan Freeman, Audion, no. 49, March 1, 2004
    … an extremely varied ride…
  • François Couture, AllMusic, June 6, 2002
    … his impressive body of work represents a full course in “musique actuelle”…


Réjean Beaucage, Voir, January 1, 2017
L’ajout du Quatuor Bozzini dans la recette agrandit singulièrement l’univers sonore du duo…

Modern Folklore

François Couture,, March 16, 2004

When I was asked to dive into DAME’s catalog in search of intersecting points or recurring themes that would sketch discovery trails, the trad connection stood out immediately. Not only because of the importance of traditional folk music in the development of avant-garde music in Quebec, but also because the albums belonging to this line usually speak to us in a more immediate way and are easier to grasp.

It may seem a bit paradoxical, but tradition and innovation often go together hand in hand. When a culture’s avant-garde artists look for ways to overstep the rules of the music industry, they often turn their attention to roots — theirs and others — to find new paths to explore. Traditional folk music often holds at his core treasures of stylistic freedom and improvisation. Furthermore, its festive outlook can make it easier for an audience to accept and appreciate the introduction of new rhythmic, melodic or improvisational parameters. That’s what happened and continues to happen in Quebec. Here’s a listening trail in three parts, three original ways DAME artists approach the tradition: revisited, reinvented, and made-up folk.

Revisited folk

Late 1970s: a trad folk revival is sweeping the Province of Quebec, thanks to a new generation of musicians (groups like La Bottine Souriante, Le Rêve du Diable, and L’Engoulevent). Among these groups, many of which recording for the label Tamanoir, is a collective of crazy youngsters, guitarists who deprave reels and folk tunes with their melodic inventions and post-modern poetry. Among Conventum’s regular members are André Duchesne and René Lussier, who will later rank among the founding members of the collective Ambiances Magnétiques (sadly, Conventum’s two albums, À l’Affût d’un complot and Le Bureau central des utopies, are out of print).

In Ambiances Magnétiques, René Lussier has continued to explore a rereading of Quebec’s music history. His discography is peppered with folk tunes stripped naked and dressed anew. On his three albums with Les Granules (a duo with Jean Derome) he exaggerates the Dionysian character of the music (Le Boudin de Noël - or The Christmas Blood Pudding - on Soyez vigilants, restez vivants and La Chicaneuse on Au Royaume du Silencieux rank among the finest examples). With Le Trésor de la langue, he focused on our historical folklore, turning the words of René Lévesque, the FLQ, and people on the street into a new “Cahier de la bonne chanson” (a music book of old folk tunes that rested on the piano of many Quebec families in pre-television days). His recent collaboration with American guitarist Eugene Chadbourne signals a return to these roots — their CD L’Oasis released on Victo presents many revisited tunes from both sides of the border.

Reinvented folk

The folklore of a nation is not limited to a body of songs, it is also a state of mind, a substratum from which many artists in DAME’s catalog dig to reinvent our traditional folk music (and others too). On La Boulezaille, Pierre Tanguay and Pierre Langevin (masters of many European folk music in the group Strada) mix up traditional and modern instruments in search of a new, “actuel” folk freed from the cage in which all kinds of traditionalists would like to preserve it. Groups like Interférence Sardines and La Fanfare Pourpour shape their original pieces in ways that bring to mind the Devil’s fiddler or street fair music (music of the people, the prime definition of “folk” music). Joane Hétu’s Musique d’hiver doesn’t have that festive side to it, but it nevertheless redefines the folklore of our Quebec winters with much more precision and evocative strength then Nelligan’s famous poem.

Made-up folk

Traditional folk music refers to an instinctive form of music-making, music created outside the institutions and their codes, everyday music. And what if one wants to step out of the everyday? There is always the possibility to create folk out of nothing, to make folk-fiction. René Lussier and Robert Marcel Lepage establish their “musique actuelle” - a blend of free improvisation and reminiscences of trad - as the folk music of the future, the last enigma of a dehumanized world. The same goes for André Duchesne’s Les 4 Guitaristes de l’Apocalypso-Bar, the band being presented as trad rockers from the future (a post-apocalyptic future, mind you). And with Bruire’s Chants rupestres, Michel F Côté and his friends attempt to recreate through free improvisation the folk music of prehistoric men. We may have ventured far from the falsely naive tunes of Conventum, but this music still stems from a desire to go back to the roots of music expression. And in the end, there are many ways to call a square dance.


Alan Freeman, Audion, no. 49, March 1, 2004

A case of bad planning, the day we happened to start up Ultima Thule as an official business, I’d already booked to see Keep The Dog at the South Bank in London. That was Monday July 3rd, 1989, and an excellent concert it was too. Keep The Dog then consisted of: René Lussier (guitar), Jean Derome (winds), Zeena Parkins (piano, synth, harp and accordion), Bob Ostertag (sampling keyboard) and Kevin Norton (drums, percussion). The only downside of that concert was the guest appearance of John Zorn, whose mad squawking winds ruined a couple of otherwise excellent numbers. Two years down the line, and we have basically the same international troupe, but with ex-This Heat drummer Charles Hayward instead, and no John Zorn. Recorded at various gigs in Austria, Germany and Italy, it amounts to an extremely varied ride through the musical history of Fred Frith. There’s lots of familiar stuff, done in unfamiliar ways, and as much that’s unique to the Keep The Dog band that has never been released before. This includes a number of improvisations, and lots romping rollicking stuff. It’s a shame really that Keep The Dog never made a studio album, but at least there’s now this document to prove their existence to all those that missed out. I wonder if they’ll ever issue anything from the 1989 version of the band?

… an extremely varied ride…

Portrait: René Lussier

François Couture, AllMusic, June 6, 2002

Throughout the 1980s and most of the ’90s, René Lussier was the prime mover on Montréal’s new music scene. His guitar work has been compared to Fred Frith, with whom he has often toured and recorded. Spread between solo work, duos and large ensemble pieces, between studio compositions, structured improvisation, free improv and film music, his impressive body of work represents a full course in “musique actuelle,” a term he helped to peg down. His masterpiece remains the speech-music collage Le trésor de la langue which earned him the Paul Gilson Award in 1989. He also received the Freddy Stone Award in 1996 for his contribution to Canadian new music.

Lussier began to play guitar in high school bands. He started to develop his own brand of jazz-meets-folk-meets-freak in the collective Conventum. This group included guitarist André Duchesne with whom he stroke a lasting friendship. He recorded two albums with Conventum and a handful of film scores, the first of what would become an endless list (over 50 by 2001). After the group’s disbanding, Lussier enrolled in the Grand Orchestre de Montréal, an experimental fanfare of sorts where he met Nébu saxophonist Jean Derome. Together they recorded music for the National Film Board of Canada and got involved in many projects, some of which included Duchesne and clarinetist Robert Marcel Lepage.

The four of them founded the collective and record label Ambiances Magnétiques in 1983. That year Lussier released his first solo album, Fin du travail (Version 1), the title of which (“Finished work [1st version]”) already displayed his uncanny sense of humor. His big break came in 1986 when Michel Levasseur, artistic director of the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV), proposed a duo concert with Fred Frith. Henry Cow and the whole Rock-in-Opposition movement had been a big influence on Lussier — this was his chance. The resulting album Nous Autres introduced him to an international audience. In 1988 Frith invited him and Derome to join Keep the Dog.

In 1989, with the help of Frith and a cast of Ambiances Magnétiques players, Lussier recorded Le trésor de la langue. Pushed by its political resonances, the album became the label’s biggest seller and the first classic item in the history of musique actuelle. Further albums, solo and with Les Granules, established him as a highly creative and witty composer and improviser. But as years passed Lussier felt the collective weight more and more on his shoulders. The mid-to-late ’90s saw him experimenting with more abstract forms of improvisation with mixed results and severing links with old friends, including Derome when he left his band Les Dangereux Zhoms. In 2001 he resolutely stepped away from the collective and released CDs on Ohm Editions and La Tribu. The album Tombola Rasa and a country-folk project with American maverick Eugene Chadbourne indicated a return to earlier pleasures at the start of the new decade.

… his impressive body of work represents a full course in “musique actuelle”…

More texts

Downtown Music Gallery, The Wire no. 207


By continuing browsing our site, you agree to the use of cookies, which allow audience analytics.