In 1969, an 11 piece funk band formed at the Fontaine Bleu in St. Jean, Quebec. They called themselves Illustration.
By 1970, Illustration was on the verge of superstardom. Under the direction of organist John Ranger, they recorded an album with Janus Records in New York City. The group shared the stage with the likes of Tina Turner, Miles Davis, and Funkadelic, and received rave reviews from Rolling Stone magazine and the New York Times.
The scent of success can be intoxicating. In the wake of the promising release of Illustration’s first album, the band’s manager and record producers began to squabble over money, and Illustration split with Janus Records. By 1971, the group’s prospects had begun to fade. Forced to return to Canada to renew their visas, the band took root in Montreal and found themselves newly impoverished.
While playing a bar in Montreal, the members of Illustration were approached by a film director with an offer to record a soundtrack. Pressed for cash, the band accepted the meagre offer, which worked out to less than a hundred dollars each. As Ranger explained in an interview with The Daily, “that was easily a five thousand dollar session, and we only got a thousand…but we were desperate, and a hundred dollars is a lot of money when you’re on the road.”
The film was Après Ski, a canonical work in the Québécois genre known as “maple syrup porn.” The film follows the exploits of a ski instructor in his attempts to woo women off the slopes for a private “après ski.” Though clearly never destined for critical success, the film became a cult favourite of Québécois cinema, both for its “plot” (three words: moustaches, Ski-Doos, and breasts) and for the sublime funk featured on its soundtrack.
Illustration recorded the soundtrack from unreleased material they had already composed. With each song recorded in a single take, the entire process took about five hours. Unfortunately, due to certain legal constraints stemming from their previous contract with Janus, the band was not permitted to record the music under the name Illustration. As a result, they were not credited for their work, nor did they ever receive royalties for the use of their music. Ranger revealed that he was never preoccupied with being credited for the music, he felt it was simply important to get it out so that people would hear it, adding that “it was a thrill to hear my music on the big screen.”
Illustration’s contributions to the soundtrack were falsely credited to “Jacques Crevier et son ensemble.” Crevier was a music arranger who was present when the album was recorded, but how exactly he came to be credited for Illustration’s work remains a mystery – to both the public and the band themselves. One thing, however, is clear: he made absolutely no musical contribution to the soundtrack. Illustration was all but completely forgotten; the real artists behind the soundtrack were never revealed.
Now, forty years later, Illustration is finally receiving recognition for their work on an album that has come to be regarded as a forgotten masterpiece in the annals of Quebec music history. Les Disques Pluton, a Montreal-based record company with the self-stated goal of “helping rediscover Quebec’s musical heritage,” is doing a limited rerelease of the soundtrack, with Illustration rightfully credited for their contribution.
Why, after all this time, is the album being rereleased? Félix B. Desfossés, owner of Les Disques Pluton, explained his motivations, “The Après Ski soundtrack is, in my opinion, the best funk album ever recorded in Quebec. Problem is, it was very little known…It was clear and simple to me that this album had to be (re)known here and worldwide.”
The rerelease has generated an unexpected level of interest. Originally set to be released solely on vinyl, the album is now going to be released in CD format as well. “In the beginning, I wasn’t sure exactly how much interest the project would generate,” Desfossés said. I knew [the Après Ski soundtrack] was in demand worldwide. But I had no idea just how big it would be. There is a huge response worldwide. The LP isn’t launched yet and we’re almost sold out. We have no choice but to have a CD version of it, to fulfil the demand we’ve created. In simple terms, people love the record.”
Desfossés captured the prevailing sentiment of the whole affair perfectly when he said, “In my opinion, John Ranger and Illustration deserved the attention they now have. These guys were musical geniuses, and time had forgotten their name.” He concluded, “Il faut redonner à César ce qui appartient à César!”
“Après Ski OST” was released on Pluton Records on January 25. Go to bit.ly/apresski for details.