At first a nine-piece feminist, activist, theater-and-music group, Wondeur Brass sized down its lineup throughout the 1980s at the same speed it gained experience and focus. Started as an outsider big band of sorts, the group evolved into Montreal's sharper avant-garde rock proposal at the time, in sync with the experimental rock of New York and London. The group left two LPs, gave birth to the side project Les Poules, transformed into the group Justine in 1990, and most of all, launched the careers of three pillars of Montreal's "musique actuelle" scene: Joane Hétu, Diane Labrosse, and Danielle P. Roger.
Wondeur Brass' roots are on the Duluth street in late-'70s Montreal. A circle of left-field musicians and enthusiasts were advocating a music free of commercial dictates, music for and by the people. A benefit event for a feminist organization served as the catalyst for nine young women, all active in other groups or in-between groups, to form Wondeur Brass -- the name hints at the bra manufacturer and the format of this peculiar band: all brass plus piano and drums. Inspired by free jazz, punk, and new wave elements, the group quickly put together a first show where agit-prop and confrontational discourse played equal parts with music -- in 1980, the simple fact of being an all-girls group pushed a point across. Acclaimed by feminists, the show left others hoping for better musicianship.
By 1982, Wondeur Brass had toned down its politics, added an electric bass, moved closer to rock and reduced its membership to seven: Hétu, Labrosse, Roger, Ginette Bergeron, Claude Hamel, Martine Leclercq, and Judith Grüber-Stitzer. This lineup recorded the self-released single "Parano," and toured the province of Quebec. By 1985, Hamel and Leclercq were out and trombonist Hélène Bédard was in. This sextet recorded the debut LP Ravir. The group decided to join forces with the boys of Ambiances Magnétiques, a recently founded collective of avant-garde musicians.
Incapable of breaking out of the first impressions they left on the Montreal press, Wondeur Brass was becoming more popular abroad. In 1984, it performed at the fourth Congrès International Femmes & Musique in Paris. The Moers and Musique Action festivals followed in 1987, with dates in New York and London in 1989. Meanwhile, Chris Cutler was taking a shine to the Ambiances Magnétiques artists and included a track by Wondeur Brass on the LP accompanying Vol. 1, No. 4 of the ReR Quarterly magazine. The group's second LP, Simoneda, Reine des Esclaves, came out in 1987, featuring a severely reduced lineup and a musical direction much more precise. Of the original members, only Hétu, Labrosse, and Roger were left, joined by bassist Marie Trudeau. In order to stimulate local interest, this same quartet changed its name to Justine in 1990 before releasing the album (suite). ~ François Couture, Rovi