Russian Circles: Hard to define them, harder to ignore them

There are few questions more difficult to answer than: “So, what kind of music do you like?” A concise answer – say, “Rock” or “Hip-hop” – and you’ve said something so general that it’s meaningless. A more precise response – such as “Epic doom metal”,”Minimal house tech” or “Nerdcore” – and you’re bound to come off as an insufferable hipster douchebag.

Imagine, then, the conundrum of being in a band that defies easy classification. Such is the case with American [insert-your-label-here] band Russian Circles.

“Explaining what your band sounds like is similar to explaining what you’re like as a person – you can easily sound like a jerk,” Russian Circles guitarist Mike Sullivan told The Copenhagen Post. “The best way is to just be yourself and let people make their own opinions. Each label is just as useful/useless as the next.  I suppose I’d describe us as an instrumental rock band.”

Indeed, Sullivan’s to-the-point description is apt. The three piece band – Sullivan is joined by bassist Brian Cook and drummer Dave Turncrantz – rely solely on their instruments and an array of effect and loop pedals to build layers of sound. And man, do they rock.

The band’s first three albums – EnterStation, and Geneva – garnered the Chicago outfit a relatively small but dedicated following, critical accolades, and endless comparisons to contemporaries including Red Sparowes, Isis, and particularly their Chi-town brethren Pelican. And, of course, debates on what to call the trio’s brand of hard rock/metal that runs the gamut from the hard-charging and funky ‘Death Rides a Horse’ to the headbang-inducing metal riffs of Station’s ‘Youngblood’ and the soft and delicate atmospherics of follow-up track ‘Xavii’. While critics have varied in how they describe Russian Circles, there is a good chance the prefix ‘post’ – i.e ‘post-metal’ or ‘post-rock’ – makes an appearance.

The band is currently preparing for the October release of its new album Empros, which Sullivan describes as “a bit darker and harsher all around”. They’ve teamed up with label-mates and equally-hard-to-define Japanese band Boris for a co-headlining tour that comes to Lille Vega on Friday.  While pairing a band from the American Midwest with experimental rockers out of Tokyo may seem a weird combination on paper, Sullivan says it’s a natural fit.

“We first met Boris when they invited us to support them for three weeks of their American tour last summer,” Sullivan explains.  “We’ve had the opportunity to get to know each other much better on this tour. The tour has been great. I’d say there is a fair amount of crossover of fans in the audience, but both bands are benefiting from exposure to each other’s fans.”

While the tour is billed as a co-headlining affair, only one band can take the stage last in the traditional headliner’s spot. Rather than allowing rock-star egos to get in the way, Sullivan reveals the bands’ playing order based more on practicalities than competition.

“Before the tour began, both bands agreed that it would work best if Boris played last for several reasons: they’re touring in support of two new releases, they prefer to play a longer set than we do, and this order allows much shorter changeover between sets.  We’re also sharing a drum kit with the opening band, Saade.”

Known for electrifying performances, Russian Circles put on a straight-forward live show – no tricks, no gimmicks, just three men rocking out on stage and expanding on their studio recordings by building waves of sound through samples, loops, and good old-fashioned musicianship. Even the most jaded concert-goer will find it impossible not to move along as the band hits their stride on tracks like ‘Harper Lewis’ or ‘Fathom’.

Fans familiar with the band may be treated to a sneak peek of Empros material, as footage of a new song performed in Italy made the online rounds last month. Those who enter Friday’s show unfamiliar with Russian Circles will probably be won over by what they experience, even if they may not be able to find a concise way to describe it.

Russian Circles + Boris; Lille Vega; July 15 at 8:30pm; Tickets: 195kr,

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