MOC: Circle

Year 1991, in Pori, a town in western coast of Finland, Jussi Lehtisalo, Juha Ahtiainen and Marko Taipale set up a band named Circle. Now, 27 years later, Circle has gone through numerous line-up-changes, with only Lehtisalo remaining of the original trio. They have released 52 full-lenght albums. They have experiented dozens of genres from astro-folk to NWOFHM, New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal.

This is my tribute to the band, brought forth from joy of listening to their albums and experiencing their mind-boggling and humorous live shows (four withing the year so far).

For recommended background music of this post (lot of photos included) here's an intensive live recording of Terminal, a gig staple that combines some of the key features of Circle's music. More recommendations later on.
Circle's current line-up consists of (from left to right) Pekka Jääskeläinen (guitar), Jussi Lehtisalo (bass and vocals), Tomi Leppänen (drums), Mika Rättö (keyboards and vocals), Janne Westerlund (guitar and vocals) and Julius Jääskeläinen (guitar).

My task was to bring Circle's psychedelic, colourful and intensive live set-up to life with bricks. I've built dozens if not hundreds (I haven't count) human or vaguely human-shaped characters, so embarking this project of six men with their instruments and other stage accessories was mainly interesting. Of course, most people have never heard of Circle: They are a marginal group, despite getting some media coverage lately with their latest album Terminal, released by U.S. based label Southern Lord; most of their numerous albums have been released by Lehtisalo's own label Ektro. Releasing their work despite relatively small audience (most pressings are around 350-500 copies) is one of those things that makes Circle (along with dozens of other projects of the members) so admirable. In a way, spending hundreds (I dare to guess) of hours building a large-scale LEGO replica of this Finnish Avant-Garde rock group adapts this philosophy; I've build Circle for sheer love of the things - character building and Circle's music.

The project began in Autumn 2017. I went to their special album-release gig in late September in Korjaamo (an interesting venue in old tram halls in Helsinki; the album was released several months earlier) with my old friend Esko and took several photographs (some of them later on). Those worked as my main reference material, along with the official promotional pictures released few months earlier. I had actually tried to build Rättö earlier in bright blue Adidas gear used during the tour in 2015, but it didn't fly; some parts of the head and stud harness remain from that prototype version.
Rättö, Lehtisalo, Leppänen and Westerlund were completed during the winter, and the identical Jääskeläinen twins (no relation) were built (rather quickly and with gathered knowledge) in April, just before our LUG's show at HupiCon; I also had to complete New Century City Block II, Villa Great Agano and Tram 60 for it. The amplifiers, drum microphones and large name plaque, designed after semi-official logo, were built for Palikkapamaus event in Harjavalta in June, and Leppänen's drum podium was built a couple of weeks ago to complete the whole set. Of course, there are still some shortages; The amps don't have microphones, the drum mics don't have wires and the vocal mics aren't wired to anything. But some degree of stage junk adds, in opinion, needed layer of realism and depth to the set-up.

The Musicians

 Jussi Lehtisalo is the founder and leader of the band. He's the only member that has been on every line-up of Circle. He plays bass and occasionally sings; either in his made-up onomatopoethic language Meronia, or sometimes in Finnish or English. For example songs, see Ed-Visio, the first song of their debut Meronia, or Fish Reflection, from 2007's Katapult, weird Black Metal-ish album with Lehtisalo on guitar and vocals. Jussi also played guitar on the earlier line-ups, until 1998's Andexelt. He plays also in Circle's sister band Pharaoh Overlord, Rättö&Lehtisalo, Ektroverde, Split Cranium, Motorspandex, Kirvasto, Steel Mammoth, Doktor Kettu, Pakasteet, Lehtisalofamily and Tractor Pulling, to mention a few, has released four solo albums and graduated from Aalto University with a Master's Thesis concerning destroying Circle's brand - few years ago they "leased" their name to a death metal group, changed their own name to Falcon (later Falcon (Ex-Circle) and Circle (Ex-Falcon)) and released a cheesy album full of adult-oriented rock (it's alright). That's the spirit. And as mentioned earlier, he has his own label Ektro Records, with sister labels Full Contact Records for vinyls and Ruton Music for cassettes. He says that among his favourite bands are Jesters of Destiny, Led Zeppelin and Magma.

Lehtisalo is a large man, and his brick version is easily heaviest of the bunch. Surprisingly, he seems to be one of the sturdies and easiest to handle, too. There was, after all, lot of room to make all the needed structures for joints. The white patterns on the hem of the skirt add some life to the creation, and the poseability is quite wide (squat in their gig-ending human pyramid is sadly not possible). Stud gauntlets made making the arms easier, and making the white swirls on the rounded skirt was an interesting challenge. Jussi also has a wide stud belt on his back and dark blue trainers; I'm particularly happy with the rubber band stripes on them. The black bass is one seen in the promotional images, my photos from Korjaamo gig feature a different instrument. The neck is definitely too wide for a bass, but one-stud-wide neck looked puny, so I settled with this one. It's a bit clumsy but somehow more convincing.

If Jussi Lehtisalo is Circle's frontman and leader, Mika Rättö is something like a figurehead and a mascot. He is the band's eccentric and furious keyboardist and main vocalist. He sings usually in fierce roars or limpid howlings, probably inspired by Judas Priest's Rob Halford. Rättö's vocals are in Finnish or imaginary French, and even though he signs in Finnish, the lyrics make no sense at all; they are randomly generated with a computer software or improvised at the spot. For example, the refrain in their hit song Vaellus goes "pesi mahtava vaeltaa, rautakorokkeet lapsesi, lämpötila, veli jesaja, halukas tappava!" which could be translated as "washed mighty wanders, iron elevations your children, temperature, brother jesajah, willing fatal!".

But Rättö is a marvelous artist - he has written three books, several plays, directed and starred in an acclaimed film Samurai Rauni Reposaarelainen (which combines Pori's Reposaari district with elements of medieval Japan) and is (or has been) active in several bands, including Kuusumun Profeetta (Moon Fog Prophet), Rättö&Lehtisalo, Ektroverde, Bensiini and Eleanoora Rosenholm. His instrument in Circle is Roland Juno Di keyboard. He also sometimes plays drums and percussion. In this creation, Tomi Leppänen's drum kit includes an additional tom for him, as seen in the Korjaamo gig my material was based on.

As Rättö is probably the most striking band member, he was the first one to be built. I wanted to achieve the furious look so I used similar furrowed brow as with Riku Rantala in my Madventures creation. However, this one is fixed to be sturdier, using 1x2 curved slope that is actually connected with a stud. The neck joint was problematic: Good poseability was important, so I wanted to use a ball joint, but unfortunately they still do those small ones only in greys and it's irritatingly visible. I also wanted to have somewhat hunched posture over the keyboard, which means that the neck joint is near the chest and not over the shoulders; this makes it possible to tilt the head on most directions and turn it to sides.

The legs are sadly almost fixed, as Mika is a very forward and brisk, almost animalistic performer. However, I think they capture the main stance quite well, given the limits of Magenta bricks (making his spandexes magenta felt very important). The kneecaps are connected with 1x1 round plates and pony ear technique; A bit sad tuning but at least the shape works and they look good from the front.

Rättö also wears a hideous dark red faux-leather jacket with stud harness, adapting Rob Halford's style. Dark red is a cool colour and looks nice with the magenta "trousers"; Unfortunately, my design here is somewhat fragile and tends to fall apart. It also features the only CCBS parts in the whole creation, and I think they look good, creating organic shaping and enhancing the bulkiness of the jacket. I don't have any dark red boat studs yet (a tragic shortage, favourite part, favourite colour) so there are black ones in the sleeves, but given that the actual jacket is patched and rather full of holes, it seems alright. Mika wears a spike gauntlet in his left arm, too; his feet are bare.

 Circle's third vocalist is Janne Westerlund, who also plays a Flying V guitar. His voice is raspy and full of charisma; lyrics are either in English and Finnish and in contast to Jussi's and Mika's singing they usually make sense. Westerlund has released three acclaimed solo albums and leads Plain Ride, band quite equal to Circle in quality iof music, if not higher (but they're only released five albums, which is hard to compare to Circle's fifty-two). As some song-name-drops, listen to It takes a strong Jesus to carry me home from his second solo album Marshland or Skeleton Kites, the title song from Plain Ride's latest album. He is (or has been) also part of groups Sweetheart, Chainsmoker, Bensiini, Pharaoh Overlord and Arto Muna & Millenium. Janne's input on Circle recordings can be witnessed on songs like Protectorate from the excellent Leviatan astro-folk album or on stoner-heavy Sick Child from the newest album Terminal; this song also appears on Westerlund's third solo album as a different version.

The first challenge here was the guitar. It's a bit oversized, but as explained above, two-studs-wide neck looked better and the proportions evolved around it. I'm happy with the shapes and colour areas of the body; It came together rather easily. The shade of the instrument is actually bit off - Westerlund's guitar is actually more brownish in colour and has a sort of dark, varnished wood look. However, in my photographs and some official promo shoots it looked stark black-and-white and I went with that; It wouldn't have had pieces to make it in dark brown, as there are quite lot of joints and hinges in there.

Westerlund is skinnier than some other band members, and a ball joint is hidden in his midriff to achieve rather defining hunched posture. His clothes are very simple, birght red spandex leggings and a long-sleeved, orange shirt. He has no shoes, but a woolen stockings. He sometimes wears a spiked collar, but it has been absent in recent gigs.

Orange wasn't the easiest colour to deal with on the shirt, but I had gathered enough pieces to make it work alright, albeit bit blocky. T-bars are used on both elbow and shoulder joints; mudguard works as a neckline. The shoulders fall of a bit, as T-bar connects to minifig flipper piece connected to the anti-stud of a red headlight hidden behind it (orange options were unavailable). The legs are quite basic: tight boat stud joints on knees and ball joints on ankles (small) and hips (large). It's handy to keep small collection of TECHNIC parts in various colours for instances like this. The legs have enough stability for some rock'n'roll posing.

The head was hard, vey hard. There weren't any easily identified facial hair to work with. The eyebrows needed to be quite thin. The hair was mid-lenght and rather messy, so mere volume wouldn't have achieved it; fortunately the dark brown battle droid arms saved the day. Overall it's a very complicates structure and has several types of SNOT and offset (SNIR, but nobody says SNIR any more; it's a 2008 thing). I also though of building the eyes closed, but that would have been less universal, so I settled with this more neutral expression. He shows his teeth, though.  

 Tomi "Leppästick" Leppänen is Circle's precise drummer. When other band members pose, dance and jump around, Leppänen keeps drumming face blank, only occassionally throwing a drumstick. He uses always very minimalistic drum kit; bass drum, one floor tom, snare drum, hi-hat and crash cymbal; this set also features additional tom played by Rättö. Despite small number of instruments, he can play heavy metal - or any other -  comping just perfectly. Leppänen is known from his nano-second-accuracy; He is often compared to a human drum machine, and he reminds bit of early 1900s futurism or dada man. Tomi Leppänen makes banging the drum look like the most civilized thing ever.

In addition to Circle, Tomi is probably best known from awesome Siilinjärvi-based synth muysic trio Aavikko. He also plays in numerous groups, including Pharaoh Overlord, Rättö&Lehtisalo, Cityman, K-X-P, Sakset, Kirvasto, Iron Magazine and Motorspandex. His comping varies a lot from band to band, but usually keeps it metronomic quality. Example songs here include Lokki, 15-minute long drone track from Circle's first NWOFHM album Sunrise, and as an example of rather different style of drumming, Suddenly from 2008's Hollywood, with Jesters of Destiny frontman Bruce Duff on vocals. I also have to note an Aavikko song Computopia from its fantastic, mathematic comping here.

Building a drum kit was another type of challenge, and nice variation from character builds. I started with the bass drum, which felt hard, giving the challenges of round shapes. But, rather fortunately, it was easily solved with simple rubber band construction. Unortodox? Maybe. But it's purist, and look good, if you don't mind me saying. I had a lot of 1x8 tiles in red from an LUG event support bag, and yellow rubber bands fitted nicely around a 8x8 cylinder; Leppänen's bass drum was quite small in the Korjaamo gig reference photos. The floor tom is very similar, but I have to confess that the perimeter doesn't quite match the tiles and there's a half-stud gap on the bagside. Grill tiles crown the rim on the top, and are frustrating to put back once they fall of.

The hi-hat and crash cymbals are quite simple - 9x9 dish shield piece could have been bettter as the crash, but current solution works just well; my sole pearl gold 9x9 dish is still Palutena's shield. 6x6 is perfectly sized for a hi-hat, and dark orange works alright as the piece doesn't appear in pearl gold. It might be copper. The small drums were harder, but stretching pneumatic hose around round plates worked pretty nicely. The studded drum heads may not be liked by everyone, but they definitely looked better than dishes. The white one could have been tiled with 2x2 macaroni and 1x1 1/4 round tiles, if aforementioned even exist, but I didn't have those.

Tomi itself is tall, or at least looks tall due his lean shape; hence the name Leppästick. He was easy to capture in a brick form; The higly ornamented hippie shirt was an interesting build, too, and I like the results. Hardest parts were the head and arms; arms because there are not that many tan parts suitable for hinges, and the head because, again, there are no easily identified facial hair, only some stubble achieved with dark tan parts. The nose and full lower part are different than usually; the nose is not quite the same shape, being too flat on the tip, but I'm happy with the jaw area. Tomi's blank expression made making the head easier, too.

The drum podium was the last part I built for the whole creation. It uses mostly TECHNIC liftarms; I have far less use for those than for black bricks or tiles. Leppänen rarely uses podium in real life, but it makes him more visible in this LEGO version, so it felt fitting.

Julius Jääskeläinen has played in Circle since 2009. His musical portfolio includes bands like Plain Ride, Pharaoh Overlord, Sweetheart, Hollow Core/Ydinontelo, Heavy Breathers and Obfuscation. He is an architect by profession and an active Twitter user. He usually plays unusual headless guitar. While it's hard to tell who plays what on Circle's current three-guitars-line-up, the sound wall is fantastic - just listen the wonderful (and wonderfully named) Rakkautta Al Dente from Terminal. NWOFHM!

The guitar was the first bit built here. I'm happy with the overall shape; it's again a little bit oversized, for the reasons mentioned above. Julius himself was a fast build before HupiCon exhibit. I began with the legs, this time purple spandex; Dark purple is not among my favourite LEGO colours, but works well here, on the overall compilation. I had pretty nice variety of curved slopes in dark purple, so the legs came out alright; only the knee hinge is a bit weak, it's just a travis brick between plates. As the joint doesn't spin around, the poseability of the legs is more limited than on more TECHNIC-heavy boat stud joints. The hips and ankles have ball joints, and Julius wears silverly trainers. 
In my reference photos, Julius wears a black Jesters of Destiny shirt, but more often he dons a white sleeveless shirt that has a "Criminalize business" printed in it, reflecting wearer's often splendid political views. As I was working on a five-stud-wide model, it was shortened to CRMLZ BSN55, using old white printed 1x1 bricks with letters; I have quite a few from Pii Poo's tables and some of them are made of older material and don't really stick to anything; they're just held between bricks. Anyway, it's a detail I'm happy with. The right arm is bare, which means I had to do with limits of tan hinges (TECHNIC and boat studs). It's quite muscular, but hopefully not disturbingly so. The other arm has a long black fingerless glove, again absent from my gig pictures, and both wrists have a spiked bracelet.
Neither Julius has any prominent facial hair, but he has a long heavy metal hairdo that covers a lot. Hair isn't always easy, especially a straight and long hair like this. It's bit blocky and limits the movement of the head almost completely, but works fine for me. I managed to make one strand go over the eye, too.

Pekka Jääskeläinen plays also the guitar, though a bit more usual sort. Despite the name, he doesn't seem to be related to Julius (Jääskeläinen is quite a common name.) In addition to his input on Circle, Pekka plays bass in Plain Ride. He also plays (or played) in Pharaoh Overlord, Sweetheart, Chainsmoker, Ektroverde, Kirvasto and Ydinontelo/Hollow Core. He also sometimes plays the saxophone and has performed on profilic albums like Aavikko's classic debut Derek! and Radiopuhelimet's Tänään!.

Pekka was also built just before HupiCon; the guitar was done earlier with the other instruments (I'm particularly happy with the use 1x3 thin liftarm in this and other guitars). Pekka's clothing were brightly coloured, with orange DAMN I'M GOOD t-shirt, dark blue spandex leggings and dark red sneakers; he also uses a pair of fluffy gaiters that are white, or probably very pale pink. One of the main goals here was to make Pekka be able to pose with his other leg on the amplifier, as such posing is common in Circle gigs but hard to balance on these models. This meant I had to have bit more poseablility on the legs, which was hard as dark blue boat studs don't exist at all, and they're used on the most sturdiest yet mobile joints there are (for example, see Jussi's knees). There were those better type of ball joint (sometimes called y-joint) from 2004 Bionicle titans in dark blue though, and they give the needed mobility to the knee, but alas they aren't that sturdy, and Pekka falls apart, big time. The problem is not solved by the gaiters being fragile, as they are built around TECHNIC, axle connector with 4 bars, and ankle just falling about suspiciously and without clear reason (it's two TECHNIC holes to studs, which should be sturdy, but ain't). I think I should solve these issues before it drives me mad. I might do.

As mentioned earlier, the shirt has Damn I'm Good written on it, challenging the sometimes depressing Finnish over-modesty, probably. It's also orange, which was a challenging aspect, as I already had used lot of orange in Janne's shirt and Samus is still intact. Well, it turned alright anyway. I don't get offended if you don't make up the text (the A sticking out bugs me a bit) as the SNOT options were rather limited, and I didn't have too much time. But it's hardly the main point of the creation; that's the head. And fortunately Pekka has sort of hero-looking moustache and goatee and even longer heavy metal hair than Julius. The moustache is a brand new design, with simply 1x2 reddish brown plate sticking out and couple of ininifig hands connected to it; The goatee is made with some basic parts. I like the shape of the lower head; it makes the head a bit more natural. The hair follows the same principles than Julius's hair. It might be a bit too short, but I like the overall feel.

While the other amplifiers are usual black boxes, mostly based on Vox models, Pekka's amp is Orange. I think they tend to use gig venue's hardware, and one of those, excellent Olympia block, has one of those Orange amplifiers. A year ago I was experiencing an another intresting Finnish band Saimaa and eavesdropped a discussion about how awesome the Orange amps are and how a band that uses them can't be bad. They also look interesting and unique, and fitted the overall colours of this creation, so I gave it a try. I like it.





Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

This is amazing! I'm so impressed by the detail and passion this MOC has.

csaoh said...

Wow! I'd buy that without hesitating if it was possible.

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