Put together by Montréal guitarist André Duchesne, Les 4 Guitaristes de l’Apocalypso-Bar was a conceptual electric guitar quartet (plus drums), something rarely seen before. His longest-lasting project (four years), it was also the one that got the most international attention, thanks to the presence of ex-Henry Cow drummer Chris Cutler (some say it served as the blueprint for the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet). The group released two LPs on Ambiances Magnétiques in 1987 and 1989, although titles and recording dates are willingly misleading — after all, this was a band from the future. Both albums have been reissued in 1995 by ReR Megacorp under the title World Tour ’98 (see what I mean?).
In the early ’80s, André Duchesne was writing avant-rock songs — something like This Heat with a Quebec twist (see his LP Le Temps des Bombes, 1984). But by 1986 he was working on a series of cuntrapuntal pieces for guitar quartet, a cross between Robert Fripp’s circular motifs and Fred Frith’s angular playing. He drafted René Lussier and Jean-Pierre Bouchard, colleagues from the late-’70s avant-folk collective Conventum, and Roger Boudreault. The Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville expressed interest to premiere the project in October 1986, but Duchesne still needed a drummer. He rang up Chris Cutler, as former Henry Cow members and the Ambiances Magnétiques collective were multiplying collaborations and associations at the time (Lussier and Fred Frith would play as a duo at FIMAV that year too). Cutler’s group Cassiber was already part of the festival’s line-up, so arrangements were made and the 4 Guitarists of the Apocalypso-Bar began rehearsals.
Duchesne had a concept, inspired by the ghost of Jimi Hendrix himself (or so the tongue-in-cheek liner notes to the first LP stated). This was the resident band at the Apocalypso-Bar, a joint in post-apocalypse Canada. They were sleek, they were hot, they obeyed all the laws of early 20th century dance bands: they wore white suits and tiger ties, sat down to play (the soloing guitarist got to stand up) and bowed down in unison to applause. Tournée Mondiale ’89 came out in 1987 (it’s a studio album, in case you wonder). The group toured Canada, the US and Europe, appearing among other places at The Kitchen in New York. A second album was recorded in early 1989 (Fin de siècle, once more ahead of its time), but by then Duchesne was already experiencing problems keeping the band together. Claude Fradette replaced Boudreault and young Miriodor drummer Rémi Leclerc filled in whenever Cutler was unavailable. Nevertheless the concept was wearing thin, so the group split shortly after. Duchesne went on to form Locomotive, bringing along Fradette and Leclerc.
A core member of the late-’70s avant-folk collective Conventum and co-founder of the “musique actuelle” collective and record label Ambiances Magnétiques in the early ’80s, André Duchesne has been both quieter and louder than his acolytes. Quieter because he released albums at the rate of a trickle; louder because his guitar riffs take him closer to the essence of rock than any other AM musician. His recorded output shows interests in avant-prog, rock ’n’ roll, film music, symphonic extravaganzas, free improv and solo classical guitar.
Duchesne is a son of Montréal. He learned the acoustic guitar like most of his teen buddies in the 1970s. But unlike them he was not satisfied with Harmonium and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s strum-along songs. Teaming up with René Lussier, Jean-Pierre Bouchard, Jacques Laurin, Bernard Cormier and poet Alain-Arthur Painchaud he formed Conventum, an influential underground unit that blended Quebec’s folk roots with absurd poetry and progressive arrangements. The group recorded two LPs (À l’affût d’un complot, 1977 and Le bureau central des utopies, 1979).
In 1983 Duchesne, Lussier, Jean Derome and Robert Marcel Lepage threw together the basis of Ambiances Magnétiques, an artist-run label devoted to avant-garde music. His first album to come out was the collection of modern rock songs Le temps des bombes (1984). His next project, more successful, was the four-guitar rock quintet Les 4 Guitaristes de l’Apocalypso-Bar, which included Lussier and Bouchard from Conventum, plus Roger Boudreault and ex-Henry Cow drummer Chris Cutler, from England. This group also recorded two LPs and toured Europe and the US before splitting up.
The early 1990s saw Duchesne active on various fronts. He recorded film music for the Gagné brothers (the soundtrack of “Le Royaume ou l’Asile” is the only one available) and premiered his most ambitious work ever, L’ ou ’L, at the FIMAV festival in Victoriaville in 1990. The orchestral overtones of this piece were soon counterbalanced by the raucous riffs of Locomotive, still Duchesne’s best album and band (with guitarists Claude Fradette and Francis Grandmont, and drummer Rémi Leclerc).
After 1992 Duchesne went very low profile, appearing on albums by modern trad singer Michel Faubert and sporadically putting together rock bands that never recorded (Diesel, No Band’s Land). His 1999 anti-climactic come back Réflexions featured him solo on classical guitar and was not what fans had been hoping for. The 2001 offering Polaroïde is a free improv trio session.