Les 4 Guitaristes de l’Apocalypso Bar

Portrait: Les 4 guitaristes de l’Apocalypso-Bar

François Couture, AllMusic, June 1, 2002

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.

His longest-lasting project, it was also the one that got the most international attention…