Saturday, 21 April 2018

Otoboke Beaver, The Scala


The other night I went to watch the incendiary punk madness of Otoboke Beaver for the second time, the first time was at the legendary 100 Club last year, this time, at another iconic London venue, the Scala … and wow, what a show.

In a gig showcasing their record label’s (Damnably) wealth of talent, we saw three great bands. Leggy, a three piece from the states warmed things up with their fun garage rock, veering into dream pop and at times, towards a Joy Division industrial darkness.

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Above: Leggy’s Véronique (all photos by the author)

Next up, the warm waves of Say Sue Me, Korea’s best kept secret. Their shoegazey surf pop was like being gunned down in a fuzzy hail of heart warming Brian Jonestown Massacre soft play bullets. (lots of adjectives there, sorry). Their Blondie cover of Dreaming was lush, a slowed down layered beautiful chunk of psychedelia. Their new album is out soon and I’m sure to buy it.

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Sumi from Say Sue Me

Then the main event!

Kyoto’s Otoboke Beaver make their own musical rules.

Time signature changes, jagged riffs, screams and gargles with added theatre. Rage and fierce comedy in equal measure. They are brilliant. Yes, they’re punks, but there’s something unique about their sound which elevates them above their peers. The only album I can think of which sounds vaguely similar to their thunderous debut Okoshiyasu!!, is Daisy Chainsaw’s “Eleventeen”, which shares the principle of ripping up the rock rule book and then patching it back together with rainbows and amphetamines to create a Frankenstein’s monster of terrifying beauty.

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You can tell the band enjoy playing, intense Pop on drums, a nugget of dynamite pummeling the kit. Hirochan on bass, unflappable, barefooted and serene, not a hair out of place, with chaos all around her. The kabuki like elegance of guitarist / main vocalist Accorinrin, sometimes gyrating in controlled bursts of rage, sometimes subtly face acting, her giant eyes fixing any mortal brave enough to meet her gaze and instantly turn them into ash (she describes herself with “I am cute violence” on her insta, which seems apt).

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Hirochan and Accorinrin

Finally there’s the force of nature Yoyoyoshie on lead guitar. Like a flaming sprite, she can run small towns via the power generated through her shredding and energy on stage (and in audience, and fire surfing on top of the audience). She holds her guitar like a flame thrower and I can still hear her war cries of “WE ARE OTOBOKE BEAVAAAAAAAAAAA!” echoing in my mind 48 hours after the gig. I imagine she is always like that. A visit to the supermarket for instance, screaming out her shopping list contents as she ticks them off. “BROCOLLI! FABRIC CONDITIONER! CHEESE!” *checks to see if it’s mature cheddar*, pause, shouts “CHEESE!” again. *Screams and runs over other customers with her trolley whilst lolling her tongue out*

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Yoyoyoshie about to breathe fire over the crowd

She is an amazingly versatile guitarist, and her teasing of the massive overly officious security guard was hilarious (they made up afterwards and had a photo together)

I think the future is bright for Otoboke Beaver, go see them, get incinerated by them, before they start playing stadiums!

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When Yoshie and Hiro play fast enough they turn into laser beams.

All photos © Mel Melis

Friday, 30 March 2018

Charmed Lives in Greece at the British Museum

I visited the British Museum with my brother this week, taking the day off on my birthday. A combination of it being the beginning of the Easter school holidays and a rainy day driving tourists and locals alike to pursue indoor leisure activities meant the museum was heaving. The dank smell of wet clothes hung in the air, even in the bright, high ceilinged central space of the Great Court.

A little Oasis of calm however, and the reason for my visit, were the galleries dedicated to a touching friendship of three men which lasted decades. Charmed Lives in Greece centers on the artists Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas and John Craxton and the writer and adventurer Patrick Leigh-Fermor.

They were very different in many ways, but what they shared was a lust for life, for joy and for keeping an open mind, never ceasing to learn about the world and to learn from the people they came across, be they princes or peasants. There seemed to be no arrogance about them, and both Craxton and Leigh-Fermor added themselves to that long line of those peculiarly revered eccentric English people in Greece, going back to Byron, drawn by the classics but on arrival opening their eyes to so much more. They threw themselves wholeheartedly into the society, assimilating and ingratiating themselves with the locals, learning the language, the songs and customs and becoming universally loved in their adopted country of Greece.

As well as a narrative of their individual journeys in life, it captures their times together in various parts of Greece, be it Hydra, Kardamyli, Chania or Corfu.

This is achieved through paintings, illustrations, photographs, letters, books with hand written dedications and personal items, such as Leigh-Fermor’s typewriter and his photographer wife Joan’s camera whose work is also well represented in this exhibition.

Ghikas’ art looks to come from within, even when painting a landscape, there is something of the inner dream about it. It feels personal, and as this short film states, he was more of an introvert compared to his English friends.

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(Ghika, Trees on Poros, 1950)

And although quite similar in terms of their use of geometric forms and nods to cubism, there is an exuberance in Craxton’s work, an energy, sometimes a sexual energy, celebrating the working people of Greece, be they shepherds straining to quell sinewy goats in the mountains, or doleful sailors enjoying a meal and a cigarette in a rowdy taverna. Young men. And cats. Lots of cats, a passion he shared with Joan Leigh-Fermor (Patrick was less enthusiastic about felines). My brother was convinced he’d seen Craxton’s work before, in his Greek school study book from when he was a child. It seemed very apt and also a little subversive that these snapshots of working class life were celebrated in an otherwise cheerless textbook. I hope this is true as it’s a wonderful anecdote that the most memorable aspect of learning Greek was Craxton’s evocative art! (Neither me or my siblings are particularly proficient at Greek, we get by…)

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(John Craxton, Fish Market, Poros, 1952)

Finally there’s Patrick Leigh-Fermor, the rebellious, heroic charmer who captured a German General along with his Greek resistance friends in Crete in World War 2. I’ve read “A Time of Gifts”, the first of three volumes, charting his walk from Rotterdam to Constantinople aged 18 in the early 1930s. He’s a very engaging writer, very funny and you bound along with him on his journey. Craxton illustrated / designed the covers of all his books. It’s fascinating listening to Leigh-Fermor’s voice, speaking Greek, he speaks it like a local, with poetic narrative, not a bookish classicist, it made me smile.

It’s a wonderfully diverse, touching and balanced exhibition. And it’s free. At the British Museum until the 15th July.


Thursday, 15 February 2018

Valentine's with Out Lines



Last night, Debbie and myself had the privilege of seeing Out Lines live. I’ve seen Kathryn Joseph and her musical partner Marcus Mackay twice before, when we’ve been lucky enough to have them visit London from what I imagine is their hand chiselled ice palace somewhere in the Highlands. Coincidentally, I’ve seen James Graham twice too, as front man of the Twilight Sad, when they supported Mogwai in Brixton and The Cure in Lisbon. The latter was in the biggest indoor venue I’ve ever seen, when my little niece Katerina dragged me and my colleague SJ through the crowd almost right to the front.

I much prefer smaller venues though, it’s more intimate, you can get a closer connection to the band, and they are both very expressive performers, with Kathryn’s little feral side glances while playing the harmonium or keyboard, and James’ forays away from the mike to flail and gesture and clench his fists, like a fire and brimstone clergyman behind his lectern, warning us that the end days are nigh. They would make a great fighting duo and I’m sure they could kick the shit out of me if they so chose.

If the two of them are the outward manifestation of the band’s intensity, then the beating heart is Marcus, serenely going about his business behind them, his drumming driving the warm blood through the body of the band and his soaring analogue synth playing giving an unsettling but beautiful backdrop to the magnificence of Kathryn and James up front.

All of this was enhanced by the venue, I’d never been to The Islington before and it’s great, from the staff, the bar, to the venue room adjoining it. The walls were draped in what looked like red velvet curtains, the spotlights were predominately red, it was like we were guests in a womb or a ribcage of something alive, washed with red light, listening to the beating heart of our host and its blood surging through the body of the beast.

The performance was beautiful, chilling, heart wrenching and most of all brilliant. Between songs, the bond between the band members was joyous and sometimes hilariously bawdy, the rapport between them was obvious and it was a pleasure to join them on Valentine’s night.

Out Lines were brought together to listen to and then tell the stories of people who don’t always have a voice, via a Glasgow based community art project Platform. And the album, Conflats is a magnificent tribute to those people, covering loss, abuse, sorrow but all with a layer of hope. Our Beloved Dead sends a shiver down you with the chilling “I’ll take you down with me” repeated chorus dipped in barely contained rage and melancholy. And their ABBA cover of lay All your love on me is given a dark, devastatingly sad new lease of life.


We didn’t get to say hi to Kathryn this time as we had to dash for our train, but I’m looking forward to hers and Marcus’s new album! Who knows, might catch a gig in Scotland too. And The Twilight Sad’s new album is out too. All in all a lovely date night on Valentine’s. Thank you!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

This post contains spoilers – please do not read if you want to read the book in the future!

I finally got round to reading The Buried Giant by newly crowned Kazuo Ishiguro. Although aware of his work, it was my first novel of his that I’d read and I have to say I found it compelling and interesting. And after being slightly bemused by where the story was headed, and I have to say, I didn’t like many of the characters at times, it came to a great conclusion which left many questions unanswered. It’s readable, addictive, with a gentle prose like delivery.

The story is set in the early Dark Ages, that is, shortly after the fall of the Roman influence (around 400 – 600AD), and from a historical context, it would be true to say that little documentation remains from that era, or was written centuries after the events that allegedly took place.

What we do know is that the Christian (Romano) Britons and the newly arrived pagan Saxons (who would become the modern day English), live together side by side. Ishiguro captures this well, and adds the omnipresent weight of the understanding that more and more Saxons were arriving on the eastern shores of Britain and spreading west, squeezing the Britons into smaller and smaller territories.

However, this is an alternate, fantastical Britain being depicted, drawing heavily on the myth and legend of these islands. Fierce and stupid Ogres roam the land, sometimes stealing children. Pixies hide in forests and rivers, beguiling travellers. Boatmen adopt a Charon like role, ferrying passengers to an idyllic island where they will live in happiness but may not necessarily see another person. Although not common, sorcery is respected and feared. Monks allow crows to shred their flesh to absolve themselves of sin, carrying the guilt of people. And an old dragon spews a mist over all the surrounding lands which has a strange calming effect on the residents, both Christian and Pagan, making them struggle to remember their pasts and memories. Although this magic relating to the dragon’s breath isn’t revealed until later in the book.

Ishiguro also draws from the chivalrous romances of Arthurian legend too, and in the Buried Giant the Romano-British King Arthur has died some years, possibly decades, before. This was after leading a great victory against the Saxons and an uneasy peace treaty is in place between the Britons and the Saxon invaders/settlers. This combination of history, fantasy, myth, legend and romance was also successfully blended in the underrated film Excalibur by John Boorman and there were many times reading the book, where I was reminded of that movie.

So that’s the backdrop, what about the story?

The story revolves around two characters, a husband and wife Axl and Beatrice. They are old, they are tired, but they are devoted to each other and in love. They live on the outskirts of a warren like village community in the countryside, where everyone contributes to the good of all. Seemingly, because they are old and less important than the stronger villagers, they live further away from the central fires of the warren and are not allowed to keep candles due to some unspoken or unremembered accident which nearly led to a fire. Thus when their communal duties are complete, their evenings are spent in solemn darkness which adds to the melancholy.

They both have little reveries and flashbacks, but their memory is impaired by this mist. They both do agree though that they have a son, who lives in a nearby village, a couple of days walk from them. And thus they seek permission from the village leaders to find him.

Their adventure leads them, in both their trek and in the fragments of recovered memories, to meet sinister monks, witches, the aforementioned boatman, soldiers, an ancient survivor of Arthur’s court and the old King’s nephew (Sir Gawain), an exiled orphan boy Edwin who was bitten by a dragon and thus cursed and finally an accomplished warrior called Wistan, a Saxon, who was tasked with the mission to kill the dragon.

These latter three, Sir Gawain, Edwin and Wistan band together with Axl and Beatrice, and the final scenes culminate with an ascent up to meet the Dragon, Querig.

Throughout the book, little by little, more memories are whispered to Axl and Beatrice. Axl is recognised by both Gawain and Wistan as someone from many decades before. And these memories trickle back to the old couple, such that they end up fearing what they might remember of each other, who they were, what secrets they’d suppressed and might end up hating each other because of it. It’s searingly sad, because they love each other and memories may make that love perish. Their anxiety burns through the pages.

The overall theme though is one of guilt, the power of memory, revenge and war. The eradication of an enemy, the genocide of a perceived enemy is a modern as well as an ancient theme and this unsettles. Sir Gawain is noble, but he carries the burden of the great massacre, a murder of the innocents in the Saxon communities at the end of the war Arthur sanctioned. Although he did not personally take part in killing civilians, he was complicit and didn’t condemn his King. Thus, immune to the effects of the mist, he has adopted the role of Querig’s protector, to keep the dragon’s breath rolling over the land and to keep the memories of hatred suppressed, to ultimately keep the peace. At times his character appeared slightly unhinged, it wasn’t clear if Ishiguro wanted to portray some ambiguity in that, with the secrets he carried and his venerable age contributing to some form of dementia or madness. In other ways he may have adopted this persona as an affectation, to maintain the charade that his mission was actually to topple Querig and not protect her, and thus the populace saw him as a doddery old fool on a fool’s quest.

Axl also finds memories which hurt his heart, he was an important knight himself, “the knight of peace” and ultimately he was betrayed in this massacre, retiring into ignorant obscurity and hard work.

Wistan also carried a burden. He grew up with Briton’s as a child, trained with them, but he was a Saxon. And his Saxon king wanted the dragon dead, so the memories of anger would come to the fore, and thus it would lead to an uprising where the Saxons would deliver brutal revenge upon the Britons. Wistan is also immune to the Dragon magic and was the perfect choice to kill the dragon, his head would be clear, he would not forget. He wanted to hate the Britons, but he saw Gawain and the old gentle couple as decent folk. And thus, once he would kill the Dragon, he would train Edwin, the boy with the dragon bite, to be his protégé.

I won’t spoil the ending if you’ve read this far, I won’t say whether Axl and Beatrice find their son, or whether the dragon gets killed. But it is tragic and heart wrenchingly sad. It’s not a fantasy book. It’s a book about people, about love, regret and the aftermath of war, set in a fantasy setting. A boatman narrates the final chapter, where the ailing couple look to end their journey over a body of water. It’s left open to make your own assumption about what happens to them, or whether they, or their love survives.

But I definitely recommend reading it.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Yayoi Kusama, My Eternal Soul. Tokyo 2017

 

Following on from seeing her work in London last year, I was fortunate to visit this beautiful retrospective of Yayoi Kusama’s work in Tokyo recently. I haven’t blogged much recently, I’m struggling with my words. So today I share hers. In the entrance to the museum, a humble introduction to her life, her beautiful prose, like an epitaph, it set me up for the exhibition, to cherish every moment, from the giant colourful hall filled with 400 pieces of her work, milling with adults and children running around in awe and excitement, to the smaller galleries covering every decade of her long life. It struck me then, how we don’t have her for long. And as I read I felt sad how we live in a world of such rage and turmoil, where parents bury their children and the wise are shouted down. She’s fragile, a vulnerability pervades her. But she has led such a full life and planted seeds of gentle inspiration in many. There’s always hope.

Message

Today’s world is marked by heightened anxiety connected to ever growing strife between nations and individuals, and to elusive prospects for peace. In the midst of such turmoil, we must, as human beings, be ever more vigilant and determined to build a better world through strengthened cooperation.

I have always been dedicated to my art, struggling day and night to create it. I intend to continue creating works of art as long as my heart keeps beating. I hope my fervent efforts might live on through those who view my art even after I am gone. my greatest desire is that my vision of a future of eternal harmony among people can be carried on.

In more than 70 years as an artist, I have always been in awe of the wonder of life. More than anything, this strong sense of the life force in artistic expression is what supported me and gave me power to overcome feelings of depression, hopelessness and sadness.

I have been guided by my belief in this power.

I am profoundly gratified that I have always had the fortitude to live with the unwavering dedication through the vicissitudes of my life’s long journey.

I believe that my mentality as an artist has sustained me throughout.

The creation of art is a solitary pursuit.

As an artist, I am committed to sharing my passion and inspiration. I wish to convey my message widely and I intend to continue my struggle until I leave this earth.

There is no greater pleasure for me than to imagine that my creative spirit, my expectations for art and my passion, may be felt even after I am gone.

I deeply hope that the life I have led and the ideals and worldview I have advocated might help the young people of today, and generations to come, create a world where spiritual and material suffering in human life can be overcome. This is my sincere wish.

The struggle is endless

I want to creat more innovative works

I am sleepless thinking about that

Thoughts of creating are yearning for the unknown

I want to pursue my struggle as an avant-garde artist

Until I expire

 

My heartfelt gratitude to all who have supported me in my life as an artist.”

Yayoi Kusama, Avant-Garde Artist.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Something Wicked This Way Comes

 

Although I've read many of his short stories, I've only just now read one of Ray Bradbury's novels. Something Wicked This Way Comes is a creepy tale of a sinister carnival arriving in small town America. Although at times I find his writing difficult to follow, it has a distinctive beautiful prose, I can imagine him battering out the words on a typewriter, so it comes across as a free stream of consciousness full of poetry, pathos and metaphor. He makes you feel.

The characters he assembles as the villains of the piece are the ranks of the carnival workers, the sideshow “freaks”, led by the tattooed ringmaster “Mr. Dark”, the illustrated man.

What I love about Bradbury’s writing is his male “heroes” aren’t muscle bound quip making jocks in the traditional sense. They are dreamers, they visit libraries, they cry, they regret, they appreciate wonder, they have an inner dialogue full of doubt. They feel real.

And below is chapter 10, in its entirety, is a very beautiful example of everything I love about Bradbury.

“Just after midnight.

Shuffling footsteps.

Along the empty street came the lightning-rod salesman, his leather valise swung almost empty in his baseball-mitt hand, his face at ease. He turned a corner and stopped.

Paper-soft white moths tapped at an empty store window, looking in.

And in the window, like a great coffin boat of star-coloured glass, beached on two sawhorses lay a chunk of Alaska Snow Company ice chopped to a size great enough to flash in a giant’s ring.

And sealed in this ice was the most beautiful woman in the world.

The lightning-rod salesman’s smile faded.

In the dreaming coldness of ice like someone fallen and slept in snow avalanches a thousand years, forever young, was this woman.

She was as fair as this morning and fresh as tomorrow’s flowers and lovely as any maid when a man shuts up his eyes and traps her, in cameo perfection, on the shell of his eyelids. The lightning-rod salesman remembered to breathe.

Once, long ago, travelling among the marbles of Rome and Florence, he had seen women like this, kept in stone instead of Ice. Once, wandering in the Louvre, he had found women like this, washed in summer colour and kept in paint. Once, as a boy, sneaking the cool grottoes behind a motion picture theatre screen, on his way to a free seat, he had glanced up and there towering and flooding the haunted dark seen a women’s face as he had never seen it since, of such size and beauty built of milk-bone and moon-flesh, at to freeze him there alone behind the stage, shadowed by the, motion of her lips, the bird-wing flicker of her eyes, the snow-pale-death-shimmering illumination from her cheeks.

So from other years there jumped forth images which flowed and found new substance here within the ice.

What colour was her hair? It was blonde to whiteness and might take any colour, once set free of cold.

How tall was she?

The prism of the ice might well multiply her size or diminish her as you moved this way or that before the empty store, the window, the night-soft rap-tapping ever-fingering, gently probing moths.

Not important.

For above all—the lightning-rod salesman shivered—he knew the most extraordinary thing.

If by some miracle her eyelids should open within that sapphire and she should look at him, he knew what colour her eyes would be.

He knew what colour her eyes would be.

If one were to enter this lonely night shop -

If one were to put forth one’s hand, the warmth of that hand would. . .what?

Melt the ice.

The lightning-rod salesman stood there for a long moment, his eyes quickened shut.

He let his breath out.

It was warm as summer on his teeth.

His hand touched the shop door. It swung open. Cold arctic air blew out round him. He stepped in.

The door shut.

The white snowflake moths tapped at the window.”

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Doctor Strange

Growing up, I was always a fan of Marvel comics, but if I had to choose a favourite character, it would have been Dr Strange.

Surreal, dark stories, other dimensions, impossible worlds. The villains were sinister, cerebral, mystical, they attacked your soul, not your body, they infected your dreams and drove you insane. They bled your compassion, tempted you, wore you down and ultimately controlled you. Other comics were dominated by slug fests and simpleton brutes knocking lumps out of each other, which I wasn’t adverse to, but Dr Strange was altogether different, suspenseful, verging on the horrific and very unsettling.

The introductory panels of the first ever Dr. Strange story (from Strange Tales #110, July 1963), art by Steve Ditko

As a kid, I somehow managed to get a pulp pocket book edition of the first Dr Strange stories, originally published in the early/mid 60s. I devoured them, I read them again and again, poring over the art and trying to copy the illustrations (my artistic peak was at 9 years old). Steve Ditko was perfect as the artist, already a veteran of many a horror / suspense title prior to joining Marvel, his mix of dark and shadow and then the explosions of colour in fantastic worlds and spells, was a revelation to a young boy.

Nightmare, haunting your dreams. From Strange Tales #110 and below, other dimensions, explosions of colour and psychedelic threats in Strange Tales #126 (again, all art by Ditko)

“EARTH SHALL SOON BE MINE!” – they all say that. Shut up Dormammu.

And the hands! He drew hands beautifully. In the deadline obsessed world of comic books, it would have been easy to take shortcuts. As any artist will tell you, hands are one of the most difficult things you can draw, but Ditko appeared effortless in the way he conveyed hands. Whether the incantations of Dr Strange and his enemies, or the web slinging endeavours of Spider Man (who he also co-designed) the focal aspect of his art, was of lithe elegance, and the hands expressed so much in the narrative and storytelling. The other main artist at Marvel at the time was Jack Kirby, who I also love, it’s a generalisation but his heroes were stockier, powerfully drawn with thick lines and prominent shading. Thor, The Hulk, The Thing, those were the characters perfect for Kirby. But Ditko, his heroes were althogether more graceful.

And so to the film, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I laughed at myself, feeling a pang of that childhood thrill of expectancy… there was a new Doctor Strange story! The casting was great (see panel below and publicity shot from Empire magazine) and the story was fun, well paced and well acted.

It also captured the conceit and self absorbsion of Dr Strange, the surgeon, prior to his accident, his humbling, his descent into depression and his transformation into the sorceror supreme. All this was faithful to the comics. The great thing about Marvel is their heroes are flawed. Sometimes the flaws are ugly. I remember, when I was 10 or so, being absorbed by quite a dark personal storyline of Tony Stark battling alchoholism in Iron Man. This was more intriguing to me than him fighting his enemies. I loved Iron Man, but my faith in him was being challenged through the writing, creating this self destructive angry victim, out of control and stuck in a bottle, with such a dangerous weapon at his disposal. I was scared he was going to kill someone. It stressed me out!

I wont spoil the film, but I reccomend it. Mads Mikkelsen is a great camp luvvy of a villain (in the best way possible) and he gets some funny dry lines, as funny as you can be if you’re a zealous nihilst desperate to deliver planet Earth to a frightening entity in another dimension. Cumberbatch is sublime too. It’s a heavyweight cast and they all delivered.

And Stan Lee’s cameo is trippy, again, a little nod to the 1960s, which pepper the film. They even use Interstellar Overdrive by Pink Floyd at one point. And yes, the other dimensions are bonkers.

So go see it, it has a bit more depth than the relentless punch ups and groin thrusting of the Avengers films, and I think with Dr Strange being part of that franchise in the future, it can only improve things. By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, a respectable 8/10.

Ps – As for the reclusive Steve Ditko, it appears he’s still working independently. Oh to own one of his wonderful pieces of work one day!

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