Kuma’s Corner almost killed me… (also, got a haircut)

Imagine a bed of fries. A literal bed, so substantial you could happily curl up and snooze on its greasy potato goodness.

Now imagine the biggest beef patty you’ve ever seen. It’s like two fists intertwined, but made of ground up cow, and served on top of the aforementioned bed of fries.

Next, think of an enormous bowl of beef chili, possibly too much for one meal’s worth. Then pour the chili on top of the burger and fries.

Grate an imperial fucktonne of cheese, add some chopped up spring onions and throw them on top of what appears to be a Mexican-American take on poutine.

This, my friends, is the Slayer burger at Kuma’s Corner, a heavy metal themed burger bar on an unassuming street in north-west Chicago. Most of this meal is sat in a box in the fridge right now. We got an enormous plate of calamari to start as well, hence my inability to make more than a dent in the obscenely large plate of food. Amazing place though, more ID luck.
“You need ID to sit at the bar I’m afraid.”
“Ah, I forgot to bring my passport.”
“Well, no one’s looking so let’s just say ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’, okay?”
She got the tip she deserved.

Before this, came the most enjoyable haircut I’ve ever experienced. It was like an entire head-gasm (like an orgasm, but for your head), and a fraction of the price of what you’d pay for such a thing back in London. Hot towel shampoo thing, straight-razor on my neck, and finished off with some weird massage thing on my shoulders. Totally bizarre, but really quite pleasurable. May have to get another haircut next week…

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Why my week was probably more fun than yours.

Pretty good week for gigs. Friday saw Queens of the Stone Age performing their first album in its entirety, followed by two encores of fan favourites and general awesomeness. Josh Homme is one of the finest live performers I’ve ever witnessed. A total badass, he smokes on stage and reads books he stole from the audience. Impressive crowd too, there was a sort of wormhole of a mosh-pit happening. Good fun, and a tiny venue considering how popular QOTSA are these days.

Saturday brought a midnight screening of The Shining to us, which was fucking awesome. ’nuff said.

Sunday was road trip to Milwaukee day. Stopped off at a cheese castle (basically a shop with lots of cheeses and snacks), and then drove into the city centre which was utterly dead. Piles of hail from earlier in the day remained on the ground, and it looked exactly how I always imagined Wisconsin to look. Caught up with two good friends I lived with for a few months last year in a peculiar dive-bar, that offered a $5 Prix Fix: One shot of Jameson, one can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and one cigarette. It also failed to ID me, my good luck continues.
Bright Eyes, whose set we didn’t stay all the way for, was pretty mediocre really. Conor Oberst just doesn’t do much for me these days – I’m a big fan of I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, and similar stuff of that era, but he doesn’t grab me as a performer. However, openers Titus Andronicus were incredible. It was wonderfully satisfying to scream “YOU WILL ALWAYS BE A LOSER!” in the ears of every angsty teenage girl, and their barely more masculine boyfriends. You must see this band live.

Monday night was epic deep dish pizza. The great thing about this was that we know the waitress at this place, and she doesn’t really care about her job. Between three of us, we got through several beers, starters, dessert, and an enormous pizza (which yielded plenty of leftovers). It cost us thirty dollars. $30 for all that. Needless to say, I think we tipped a good 60 or 70 per cent.

And, of course, last night. The Mountain Goats. I’ve waited so long to see this band, and it was totally worth hanging on for. Support from Megafaun was, Titus Andronicus aside, the best opening set I’ve seen for a very, very long time. They performed as so much more than an opening band, worked the crowd up, and truly entertained. They sound a bit like The Low Anthem crossed with Band of Horses, if both had a better sense of humour. Check them out if you get the chance, I believe they used to play with Bon Iver and are related to similar project Gayngs.
The Mountain Goats themselves were stunning. John Darnielle looked so happy to be standing on that stage, and his band was no less cheery. Powering through songs past and present, Darnielle including such gems as ‘Cubs In Five’ – the lyrics of which were particularly awesome to hear the day after my very first baseball game at Wrigley Field.

“and the chicago cubs will beat every team in the league
and the tampa bay bucs will make it the way to january
and i will love you again”

No Children in the first encore was, as expected, superb. Second encore was This Year, where they were joined on stage by Megafaun. Brilliant show, and a pretty decent week all in all.

I’m off to get a haircut now. Peace out, y’all!

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Godspeed You! Jetlagged Traveler

After many hours waiting at Heathrow, followed by many hours sitting on a plane eating peculiar airline food (Belgian waffle, jam and a sausage?) and then a good hour and a half wait in line while about two customs officers dealt with several hundred new arrivals to the country, I was in Chicago. Tired, but cheerful, I was met by my brother and his wife-to-be.

Shower. Hot coffee. Then came the good part. Brunch.

The food and drink here, (along with the wedding, obviously) is one of my main motivations for visiting America. Several eggs benedict and a massive pile of corned beef hash later, and after a not unreasonable amount of beer – and, umm, Irish Carbombs – for early afternoon (place didn’t ID me), we stumbled back to the apartment for a short while before the evening’s main attraction.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s music is disconcerting at the most sober, awake states of mind. Try being awake for 45 hours and having to contemplate the music used in that really cool scene from 28 Days Later. Total mind fuck. Incredibly performance though, even if I was falling asleep standing up. Mood was slightly dampened by the total douchebags of bouncers working the doors – it was an over 18 gig (which doesn’t really make sense in a country where the drinking age is 21), and some kid was having his ID scrutinised by these arseholes who were questioning his height. You’d think Obama was in there or something the way they were acting (Godspeed You! Black President?), a total contrast of the cute, smiley waitress at brunch… Would’ve said something to them if I wasn’t so sure they’d refuse me entry if I did. Twatmongers. But anyway…

Today: coffee, breakfast and explore the city. Hey, Chicago, you’re all right.

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How dubstep gets made.

Warning: Contains profanity, none of which is more offensive than dubstep.

WOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOB
WOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOB
WOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOB
WOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOB
WOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOB
WOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOB
WOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOB
WOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOB
WOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOBWOB

Wait for it, wait for it… OH OH HERE COMES THE DROP.

SHEEEEEEUUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHH.

WOBWOBWOBWIBWIBWIBWOBWOBWOBWOBBBBBBBBBBBWOBWOB
WOBWIBWIBWIBWOBWOBWOBWOBBBBBBBBBBBWOBWOBWOBWIB
WIBWIBWOBWOBWOBWOBBBBBBBBBBBWOBWOBWOBWIBWIBWIB
WOBWOBWOBWOBBBBBBBBBBBWOBWOBWOBWOB

Call me old fashioned, but any genre of music that is apparently improved by its “filthy beats” or “grimy, dirty, slutty, whore-cuntingly, twat-fiddlingly, minge-lickingly disgusting bass” is not fit for human consumption.

Rebecca Black’s better than dubstep. There, I said it.

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A belated review of True Grit (and a very English complaint)

I hated Brokeback Mountain. It wasn’t the storyline, or the cinematography, or the vast majority of the acting. My major gripe with the film was the ENDLESS MUMBLING. I can cope with accents, trust me – I’ll gladly sit through Trainspotting, Local Hero or The Commitments. Even foreign language films don’t faze me – The Motorcycle Diaries, Amelie and a good portion of Almodovar’s films I can list amongst some of my favourites: at least they have the common decency to provide subtitles.

But PLEASE, America: STOP MUMBLING.

Say what you like about it adding realism to gay cowboys or alcoholic-gunmen-Jeff Bridges, but it does not benefit the film in any way. This very English complaint aside, however, True Grit is a pretty decent film.

Hailee Steinfeld’s performance as an ass-kickingly awesome 14-year-old girl looking to avenge her father’s death outshines pretty much all the big names in the film. She gives a confident and consistent performance, although her role may be enhanced by the fact every other character in True Grit is, basically, an unlikeable prick. Bridges isn’t bad, but Rooster Cogburn is perhaps a little tame, considering this is the dude who played The Dude in The Big Lebowski. Matt Damon is, on the other hand, surprisingly entertaining. Considering this is the dude who played every character Matt Damon has ever played. Widely advertised as starring in True Grit, Josh Brolin barely makes an appearance – a shame given his last Coen brothers outing, the excellent No Country For Old Men.

And herein lies the problem. It’s only been a few years since Joel and Ethan made NCFOM, which was an updated take on the Western (and had Javier Bardem’s frighteningly brilliant Anton Chigurh). The mumble-core was barely an issue here, since the adaptation from Cormac McCarthy’s sparse, descriptive style of writing left little room for dialogue. Shot without a soundtrack, No Country For Old Men is almost iconic – True Grit is generic at best, and it’s sad to have to say this about a Coen brothers film, since so few film-makers have given us such a high quality of movies than this duo.

Anyway, enough empty rhetoric. The ending is satisfying, even if this in itself is disappointing from what we’ve come to expect from Coen & Coen. Is it? No, that’s just stupid. No Country For Old Men had an abrupt, unsatisfying ending. Burn After Reading had an ending that was perfectly fitting for the clusterfuck of a storyline that film was, but ultimately left you scratching your head wondering just what had happened.

So yeah. The girl’s good, the guys all mumble too much, MOAR JOSH BROLIN NEEDED, decent ending, and still a very good film. To paraphrase from Office Space: “I’ll be honest with you, I love their films, I do. I’m a Coen brothers fan.” But this doesn’t feel like one of theirs. Worth a watch though.

[MIXED MESSAGES END]

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Reasons why awards are totally irrelevant in 2011…

So we’ve had the Grammys, the Brits, and now the Oscars. One can only pray that this is the end of the major awards seasons.

1. Half the awards were clearly made up on the spot, and most importantly, nobody cares about them.
What’s the difference between sound editing and sound mixing anyway? I don’t care if Inception had great mixing, since the cinema I saw it in has a completely bullshit soundsystem that consists of BASS BASS BASS BASS BASS and occasionally TREBLE. Good mixing is always a plus, but unless you’re lucky to see it in a cinema that isn’t just built on a massive subwoofer burial ground, it’s totally pointless. It gets lost when the film goes to DVD, unless you’ve got a poncey home-cinema system, but even then it won’t sound as good as intended.
Best historical album? WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?
Best musical album for children? I grew up listening to what my parents and siblings listened to, why would children need a separate genre, that would invariably piss off their parents every hour of every day. If I have kids, that’s gonna be one of my little pleasures, forcing them to listen to the music I like (because I will always know better…)
My favourite at the Grammys is ‘Best Regional Mexican Album’. This year, nobody was awarded the prize since fewer than ten people were entered. If ever there was proof of a useless category, this be it.

2. The winners will always win.
As if anybody was in any kind of doubt over The King’s Speech taking a good haul at the Oscars. The trouble is, there’s very little surprise with these sorts of awards. I suppose music is a different format though – virtually anybody with a decent understanding of instruments and/or vocals who possesses a laptop and a microphone can record an album. There’s an entire genre devoted to shitty-sounding, lo-fi production values. Just listen to Times New Viking if you don’t know what I mean. (Alright, so that sounds awful, but Neutral Milk Hotel carved a career out of low-budget production and created ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’ – which was arguably the finest album ever made.)
Low budget films generally aren’t going to have much success. The cost of making a film that is at least aesthetically pleasing, before you take into account screenplay or acting, is impossibly high for an indebted student to understand. So generally, the films with money get made, and the films without money don’t – this leads to a small number of enormous blockbusters and not a great deal else to choose from – not compared to the music industry anyway. So The King’s Speech, Inception, Black Swan, The Fighter – these were always likely to win awards, defeating the point of recognising quality work when everyone’s already aware of its existence.

3. Occasionally the winners don’t win and the stupid masses whine and complain about it.
“WHO IS ARCADE FIRE? Why have they beaten Lady Gaga to best album of the year at the Grammys? I hope they die!”
“WHO IS ARCADE FIRE? Mumford & Sons are so much better! Arcade Fire are just a rip off of them!”
I wrote about this briefly shortly after the Brits, and how fucking stupid most human beings are, apparently. If you award the underdogs a big prize like best album or best band, then be prepared to face the wrath of several million teenage Justin Bieber fans.

4. Also, they recognise popularity over talent.

I’m a big Arcade Fire fan. Most my friends are well aware of this, most have heard the stories of how singer Win Butler called me and wished me a happy birthday several years ago, or how I’ve got his halloween mask, or how I’ve seen them more times than you. So it may come as a shock to hear me say this: ‘The Suburbs’ wasn’t even a particularly good album. It had some brilliant tracks on, sure, but there was so much I could’ve lived without. Their debut ‘Funeral’, on the other hand is virtually flawless. Ask any fan which their favourite album is, and they’ll say the same. ‘Funeral’ is stunning, life-affirming, perfection, and a whole bunch of other fanboy clichés. It was nominated in the Grammys a few years ago for Best Alternative Album, and lost out to the White Fucking Stripes’ ‘Get Behind Me Satan’. Perhaps it was retrospective guilt that forced them to give ‘The Suburbs’ this one, but c’mon guys – just because this hit number one in a few places, doesn’t mean it’s a better album.

5. They have questionable rules of admittance.
Empire State Of Mind won Best Rap Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. I’m certainly not knocking Empire State Of Mind – it was probably my favourite song of 2009, but herein lies the issue. 2009. The song was released almost a year and a half ago. How was it eligible for entry into the Grammys?

6. They just provide fuel for arseholes like me, and nobody really cares what I have to say.
True story.

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Chapel Club Interview

In a backstage littered with suspiciously healthy snacks (bar for the enormous bottles of Jack Daniel’s and Gordon’s), I talk to Chapel Club’s Mike and Rich about Bruce Forsyth, drinking in church graveyards, and how the Turkish kids are way better behaved than the white ones.

How did you guys first meet?
Mike: I met Liam, our bass player about two or three years ago when he first moved to London. He was young and lost in this city, I saw him play in a shit band so I poached him to come and write with me. Then a few months later we met Lewis through a friend of a friend, it was the first time he’d ever been in a band or anything. We just started writing songs together, then we got Alex on board – he was best friends with Liam, and Rich knew my flatmate.
Rich: When I got there, these boys were lazy, man. They used to rehearse like once every two weeks. I got in there and whipped them into shape and, well, here we are. I think we’ve all kind of knuckled down now.

This is the last date of your UK tour. What’s it been like?
Mike: It’s been great, really good. We’ve been touring for about 14 months, and I’ve just noticed it slowly, slowly building. Since the album [‘Palace’] has been out, the change has been phenomenal, shows have been selling out which never used to happen. People are getting really into it.
Rich: Yeah it’s the first tour we’ve done since the album’s been out, you see a massive change in the audience from the stony, cold, ‘just checking you out’ vibe to everybody in the room dripping with sweat.

Did you start out supporting other bands?
Mike: We didn’t really, for some reason we never really got a support slot. I dunno why, maybe no one liked us or whatever. That would’ve been the sensible route.
Rich: We did get offered a few really dodgy ones, but you’ve gotta draw the line somewhere, you know?
Mike: It was just like lots of sporadic touring around the UK, it took a long while to get going. It’s no bad thing, but at the time it was devastating.
Rich: It feels like we’re climbing the mountain rather than getting the helicopter to the top, so it’s nice when you start reaching these heights.
Mike: We’re saying that to make ourselves feel better, but I want the chopper. Way easier, man.

So it didn’t happen suddenly then, you had to work hard for it?
Rich: Well we had that thing they call ‘hype’ for the first three months and then it was like a real kind of…
Mike: And then everyone decided we were wankers and it kind of went downhill for a while.

What were your biggest influences and inspirations for the album?
Mike: There’s obvious influences in there like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine but as a band we were setting out to make music like Mercury Rev or The Flaming Lips or something a little bit ‘other worldly’.
Rich: We wanted it to be more sonically interesting than just a guitar record.
Mike: I’m not sure we quite achieved what we set out to do but we’re happy with the result.
Rich: The very first songs we wrote together, it’s really documented a moment in time which I think is what all debut albums should do. It leaves you lots of room to move forwards.

What do you see happening in the next five years for Chapel Club?
Mike: For the rest of the year we’re just going to be touring, but we’d like to get an album out next year, whether that happens or not is another thing. We’ve started writing some songs, we’ve got ideas we’d like to work with. We need to set a month aside just to really put some time into it. I’d like to get 30 songs and hone it down from there. We’d like to take a change in direction, mainly for our benefit rather than anybody else’s, it’d be boring to do the same thing again.
I want to put out an album a year for the next five years.

That’s pretty ambitious.
Mike: I don’t think we’ll get that far, I reckon we’ll burn out and have to take two years off.

How many songs did you write for ‘Palace’?
Mike: Not many actually, that’s why we wanna put some time together and write some more songs. We didn’t have that many songs and we made a decision to go and record them.
Rich: I think the last two songs that went on the album, they were the last two we’ve written. But I think sometimes that can make a really exciting debut, ’cause it’s not over-thought, and it’s kind of capturing the excitement when four or five people get together – and the energy you get off that.

So did you have a really big drive to get an album written and recorded really quickly?
Mike: Not really, no, I think we were just like “Fuck it, let’s just record something.”

Has music always been in your blood, or have you had other aspirations beyond being in a band?
Mike: Well Rich has been in bands since he was about eight, right?
Rich: Yeah, since I was a tiny little boy.
Mike: Umm, I have no idea what I’d be doing really.
Rich: You were just bumming around really, weren’t you?
Mike: Yeah, just avoiding work for years.
Rich: Someone called us posh kids with guitars the other day, and we’re actually a bunch of scrotes really, aren’t we? Compared to most bands, you know.
Mike: I was on housing benefit dole and working in a pub, it’s probably the richest I’ve ever been. It’s so easy.

Where are you both from originally?
Rich: I’m from Bradford, he’s from Essex. So pretty posh places, obviously…

What brought you to London?
Rich: Music for me. I just wanted to meet exciting and interesting people, there’s much more opportunities here. A lot more exciting scenes going on, you can go somewhere every night, see something new. I don’t think you get that in any other city. Not in England anyway.

It’s definitely the capital of culture. What about you, Mike?
Mike: Same really, I grew up about a 40 minute train ride from London, but because of its proximity to the capital it means there’s nothing going on at all. There’s one venue that’s a bit shit. I just thought “fuck this, I wanna be somewhere where it’s going on, I wanna be surrounded by new people.” It’s no bad thing to want to do that, that’s why I moved to London.

Where does the name come from?
Mike: I think it was from cutting up a bunch of words and picking them out a hat.
Rich: Nah, it was fridge magnet at a party wasn’t it?
Mike: I don’t know actually, we never really got a good answer for this. We had to get a name really, really fucking quick cause ‘Surfacing’ was already getting played on the radio, so it was like “Fuck!”. We kinda liked the idea of the ‘Club’ thing ’cause we’d been doing it intermittently for about 18 months. We didn’t like the idea of anything serious, we wanted to sound like some kind of get-together, something jolly, so we were always pretty set on the ‘Club’ bit being in the name. We also rehearsed close to St Luke’s on Old Street.

Oh yeah, that’s a fun area. You’ve got some of the best and worst bits of London in that tiny space.
Mike: I used to work in a pub in Clerkenwell that I don’t think exists anymore, the landlord was an idiot and didn’t know what he was doing – he’s dead now so I shouldn’t say that really… It was a really posh area right off Exmouth market, but there’s all these estates, and this particular pub – because it was so shit – was where all the estate people would come. It was so fucking rough, I’ve never been threatened so many times. In a night it was so fucking insane. It’s a crazy place, I always find Camden and Islington far more threatening than anywhere else. I live in Stoke Newington, it’s a Turkish area. They tend to keep their kids in order, there’s never any trouble, but round Camden and Islington where all the white kids on estates live, they’re all fucking brutal. They’re always throwing bottles at you and shit.
But yeah, we used to go drinking in St Luke’s Church graveyard.
Rich: It’s pretty nice on a summer’s evening.
Mike: So Lewis is really interested in religion from a kind of iconography sense, and in religion, not as a belief but in terms of what surrounds it. So he really liked the word ‘chapel’ and we thought it tied into the fact that we used to love drinking in the graveyard. Y’know, the Chapel Club. It sounds like a coming of age movie, doesn’t it?
We bought the beers, he bought the intellect.

What are you listening to at the moment?
Mike: A lot of Kurt Vile. I’ve been listening to John Adams, he’s a composer who did some music for the film ‘I Am Love’, it’s a bit Steve Reich-esque but it’s really beautiful. There’s this one Gorillaz track we’re all quite obsessed with called ‘Empire Ants’. I’ve never really bothered to listen to any Gorillaz before…
Rich: Yeah, me neither. They’ve never been a band that’s particularly excited me.
Mike: I’m really enjoying the new Anna Calvi album, I think that’s really good and bits of the new PJ Harvey album are mind-blowing.
We spend so much time together that we get really excited about shit that you wouldn’t normally listen to yourself, and that enthusiasm kind of passes on. It’s really nice cause we’ve all ended up listening to a lot of similar stuff which I think will point the way forward for us musically quite well. We listen to the Flaming Lips a lot. A new little band called the Flaming Lips… You might’ve heard of them.

Do you ever sit down and listen to the album together and think “Yeah! We made that!”?
Mike: Never, no no no.

I can imagine if you put so much work into something, you never want to hear it again.
Mike: It’s true, it’s like it’s drained you of your soul or something. I think it’s the same with everyone. Once it’s done, you don’t want to think about it again.

So what’s it like to be playing all those songs live?
Mike: Well that’s kind of different.
Rich: It is, it’s a totally different emotion playing it live. The adrenaline of being on stage takes over.
Mike: And it’s quite exciting taking something you’ve written and then re-working it in some way.

True, I guess you’ve got the album which is set in stone, and then the live show which you can constantly improve.
How has it felt being on tour together, any major arguments or personal issues?
Mike: We’re literally about two feet from each other most days.
Rich: We’ve never had any arguments that are that unreasonable. There’s nobody unreasonable in the band.
Mike: I dunno, this guy’s a real slug…

Are there any tour bus necessities you have?
Rich: Headphones, so we don’t have to speak to each other.
Mike: You never use headphones! You just sit there with your fucking laptop so no one else can listen to anything. His laptop’s the loudest so he just sits there.
Rich: Yeah, I just turn mine up above theirs even if they’re playing something.
Mike: Alex always laughs at you ’cause you use your laptop like an iPod.

So Rich, you’re like the annoying kid that gets on the back of the bus and plays their shit music really loud on their phone?
Rich: Well I don’t play shit music, these guys are playing the shit music, my stuff’s good.

Generic quirky question: If Chapel Club could be any 90s game show host, who would you be?
Rich: Bruce Forsyth for me, definitely.
Mike: Without a doubt, man.
Rich: We having Brucey?
Mike: Yeah, I think so. He’s the man.

I would’ve gone with Dave Benson Phillips.
Mike: Who was he?

He was the kids game show guy, he did Get Your Own Back, where kids could slime adults they didn’t like. Something along those lines anyway, he was awesome.
Rich: Ohhh, right.
Mike: Y’know, I’ve always said the worst part of British culture is the Saturday night game shows, “oh god, I really should have more friends, I should be going out”.
Rich: But when you’re a kid I think you look at it differently. I think now, “who the fuck watches this shit?” but back then Brucey was my God actually. The guy who presented Going For Gold as well, Henry Kelly he was called. An unknown legend in his time.

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