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May 2013

Two Dances - Encounters with Wild Beasts

Tuesday, 28 May 2013 Category : , , , , 0


I'm afraid that due to a variety of reasons, some fun and some less so (preparing for a friend's stag go - fun, job hunting - not fun), I've fallen slightly behind with some of my planned articles. I'll try and catch up in the next week or two, but until then, here's two interviews I've done with members of Wild Beasts for NARC Magazine - one back in 2009 as they prepared to release 'Two Dancers', and one in 2011 just prior to 'Smother'. They're one my favourite bands of the last decade, and I for one really can't wait to hear whatever they've got up their sleeves for album four later this year. 

Tom Fleming - 2009 

 Unique.  Singular.  Individual.  On the release of last year’s much-acclaimed debut album Limbo, Panto, Wild Beasts, thanks to their intricate song craft, their dazzling lyrics and Hayden Thorpe’s staggering falsetto, were defined by their otherness and their separation from current fashions and trends.  Little over a year on, and with their new record Two Dancers set to stun believers and non-believers alike, we got the opportunity to talk to the band’s bassist and co-vocalist Tom Fleming about both their new material and their place within the musical landscape.

Describing the genesis of the new album, Tom points to the experience of the release and tour for the first album as a major catalyst.  “We learned a lot from it…we had a sense of momentum, and we had more songs.  It became clear either we made a record, or we would have to keep on touring.  We recorded it quickly, because we admire a level of work – bands in the 70s, or someone like Neil Young, who would always put out an album every year” (later on, Tom suggested that they hoped to record another album in the immediate future).  Recorded in two weeks of fourteen-hour days, the record fulfils their stated aims of making something that “hangs together and has a life to it – we wanted it to be an album, with certain chords and sounds recurring”, and undoubtedly its two-part title tracks, its intensity and its literary flair signal a formidable intent.

Although the Kendal-raised band currently resides in Leeds, the home of similarly ambitious acts like Grammatics and iLiKETRAiNS, Tom states, “We’ve never had a choice to be in a scene.  We’re not from arty families; there wasn’t much of a tradition of expressing yourself for us.  We want to have something to express – most people get into bands for the lifestyle, and that was never cool for us…it was this weird thing amongst our contemporaries. We wanted to do it, and we still do, and because we’ve had to think about it, we’re insular.  Ninety-nine percent of bands are crap, one percent are good: we were very selective about what we thought was us and we went out on a limb.”

Indeed, one of the things most remarkable about the new material is how it precisely it balances experimentation with pop hooks, its pristine production clashing with its sexually charged subject matter.  Tom talks of the lyrics as “reconciling expectations of masculinity and repression…masculinity and vulnerability deliberately co-exist within our songs.”  Incorporating influences like Kate Bush and Talk Talk, the record’s cast of  ‘young reprobates’ and ‘brutes hoping to have a hoot’ embody a British identity far more conflicted and troubled than the lad-rock of recent times – as Tom says, “when you grow up with nonsense like Britpop, you want to do something more complex than that.”  

Those adjectives at the start still seem pretty apt.  But it’s doubtful whether they would want it any other way, and right now Wild Beasts are on the cusp of true brilliance.

Chris Talbot - 2011 


It's been a busy two years for Wild Beasts since the release of Two Dancers: having spent over a year on the road touring the album (including shows with The xx), the band immediately sat down to writing the alluring gothic pop of their third album Smother, out this months. Before they set off on tour again, NARC caught up with Chris Talbot to discuss their new album and beyond.
“When we came off tour in September, we had the weekend off, but then we started writing the following Monday…” Chris explains. “We sat down to do it, and we all quite weary from touring the last record for so long, so we wanted something more hushed and beautiful – beautiful was the key word for this album really. By the end of touring the last record, it was in danger of turning into this balls-out rock show, so we wanted something more consoling than that.”

It’s something the band has pulled off with aplomb: from the glorious build of opener Lion’s Share to epic closer End Come Too Soon, it’s a work of subtle but deep majesty. Discussing the track Burning, possibly the album’s biggest deviation from the Wild Beasts of old, Chris informs us “it started out as Tom’s baby on acoustic guitar: we were doing a set of demoes in Leeds with our producer Richard Formby though, and he has this massive library of sounds we were flicking though. We found this sample of spoons played backwards on piano, and Tom assigned those to a keyboard, so we started layering it up that.”

This new calmer sound is one the band have had to incorporate into their live show: “we wrote the record without thinking of replicating it live, and we ended up having to get a new player in, Katie Harkin [from Sky Larkin, currently on hiatus] – she asked us jokingly about some session work for the next twelve-eighteen months, and we had to go ‘well, actually…!’ It’s been a tough six weeks rehearsing it, but we’re there now.” 

On their May UK tour, the band have also taken a step away from the usual rock touring circuit, playing primarily older, more intimate venues (including a sold-out stop at Gateshead Old Town Hall on 5th May). “It was a conscious decision to do something special, kind of a reward for the people who’ve been following us over the last two years. We deliberately picked older venues, because we prefer going to gigs somewhere else than the local Academy ourselves. The London venue, Wilton’s Music Hall, has this kind of Moulin Rouge vibe: there’s tiles falling off, and it’s just untouched – we’ve been told that if we play too loud, the building might start coming apart!”

When asked about the pressure of following up a record as loved as Two Dancers though, Chris is charmingly unfazed. “It’s nice to know that people were watching and waiting: it’s not something we’ve experience before. That kind of slight anticipation is a really good tool to utilise – before we were quite angry people really, and around Limbo, Panto it just felt like we were smashing our heads against a brick wall.”

Fitter, calmer, more comfortable: the Wild Beasts of 2011 may be more accepted, but on the basis on Smother, they’re every bit as individual and unique as ever.

Zebra Katz - DRKLNG

Wednesday, 22 May 2013 Category : , , , , , 1

Of the supposed wave of "queer rap" artists providing a fresh new perspective to the genre (as well as a much-needed corrective to still-present homophobia within hip-hop), one of the biggest stars and most provocative voices was that of Zebra Katz. A conceptual, performance-based persona from the man born Ojay Morgan, he burst out with the remarkable single Ima Read: a stark, violent take on dancefloor battles - to 'read' is to challenge someone on the dancefloor - that also scans as a take on the hip-hop use of the word 'bitch' taken to a nihilistic extreme as well as a kind of twisted pro-education anthem, backed by a stomping minimal beat supplied by Katz himself. It was one of Endless Window's favourite songs of last year, and almost overnight Zebra Katz went from obscurity to a media and fashion sensation.

Now comes his new mixtape, DRKLNG, his most high-profile release since. It's a short effort that teases as much as it delivers - one of the more intriguing aspects of the Zebra Katz project is how much it appeals to harder and more old-school hip-hop sensibilities whilst still challenging them with the gender and sexual plays of his work, dismissing the more recent trend of the mixtape as an album-in-disguise (i.e. an album too riddled with expensive samples to release commerically) in favour of the kind of fragmented, promotional push it was before. Certainly, as much as anything else, DRKLNG is about pushing forward the Zebra Katz brand, sticking to minimal beats and boasting a headline-making guest performance (of which more later). Tearing through twelve tracks in twenty-nine minutes works wonders for him though: it's just enough room for him to start fleshing out Zebra Katz without having to sacrifice the intensity of his performance.

Opening track Josephine Effect is an ideal, and very funny opener, playing on his new found status with its  sarcastic celebrity name-dropping - "I just wanna sit and chill and smoke with Jay-Z / Shit, yeah motherfucker, bring Yeezy!"- that positions Zebra as the curious, alien gatecrasher to the party he's truly meant to be. It rides out on a great, gothic beat that bleeds right into the menacing Pulla Stunt, which again sees him subverting from within, only this time it's the standard gangsta threat that gets the Zebra treatment, the slow menace of Zebra's delivery bringing out the subversive, uncensored exploration of male identity and sexuality. It's a track that works just fine as a hard-hitting minimal gangsta track, but works even better within the context of the persona.

Pulla Stunt is just one of the four tracks produced by New York club fixture Mike Dextro on the mixtape, alongside closing brag track Last Name, Katz (which, atypically for Katz so far, adds a sense of swing to the metronomic thud) and the brilliant mid-section duo of LST CTRL and Alone Now, the former all tightly-wound tension that pivots between violent urges and dark lust that then flows into a perfectly grimy cover of bubblegum classic I Think We're Alone Now - it's another funny and unsettling addition to the list of tropes and areas brought over to the Zebra Katz darkside. 

The other big star of the mixtape, however, provides its one real low point. Getting Busta Rhymes in to rap over the Ima Read beat is something of a coup for Zebra Katz, a sign of authenticity for a project that flaunts its artificiality and duplicity whilst still punching harder than any peers (not to mention of Zebra Katz's rising status). The end result however is less satisfying, as Busta Rhymes tries to tap into the dark sexuality of Zebra Katz but without any of the nuance or multiple meanings that Katz weaves in. As such, when Busta turns up for a minute and a half, it comes across as crass and needless where Zebra is vital and challenging: somehow contriving to mention bitches even more than the original, here there's no extra meaning - it really just is about how he's going to "take that bitch to my fortress / Might fuck around, fuck her in her office". It's a rare slip-up in the creation of Zebra Katz, one that pulls it out of the strange and into the ordinary.

That one lapse aside though, DRKLNG continues to build on the hype behind Zebra Katz in the best way, giving us a longer dose of his deep, charismatic flow, his basic, shocking and hyper-aware lyrical style and, of course, more of those thudding hypnotic beats that serve him so well. There's no new Ima Read here, but then that's not the point. This is where Zebra Katz starts to become real, but only for those willing to step into his territory and to meet him head on. After this, I'm as excited as ever to follow his trail and see where it leads.

Italians Do It Better - After Dark 2

Monday, 20 May 2013 Category : , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0

Years in the making. The latest release from a secretive name that still oozes cool from the depths of their reclusion. A stream of rumours - potential release dates, tracklistings, role-call of contributors - slowly whipping up excitement for some back-to-the-future retro sounds. And after all the delays and waits, a link cropping up on iTunes to let the eagerly awaited work out to the masses. Of the two big electronic albums out this May which meet the above criteria, one of them is a colossal turkey whose ratio of extravagant budgets and hype compared to listenable music is so out of kilter it seems destined (once the cheques for advertising have cleared and the public backlash has become impossble to ignore) to become this century's own Be Here Now. Endless Window is not here to tell you about that record though. Endless Window is here to tell you about the effortlessly superior After Dark 2.

The first After Dark compilation was released in 2007 to immediate acclaim from the underground consegnati. Compiling covers, alternative versions and remixes from artists across the Johnny Jewel dominated Italians Do It Better label, it was a perfect statement of intent from the label: a menagerie of acts (many of them led by Jewel himself) all rooting through the sounds and history of classic Italo disco, but cross-pollinating it with strains of post-punk and a distinctly noir sensibility that took their work far out of mere pastiche and into far more inventive and modern territory. It marked something of a high water mark for the acts, the label and even the whole Italo disco revival, and until the one-two punch of the soundtrack to Gos-buster Drive propelling Italians Do It Better tracks like Desire's Under Your Spell to a whole new audience and Chromatics finally unleashing the definitive Kill For Love gave the label new promenance, it was unarguably the best-loved Johnny Jewel record.

It's no small legacy that After Dark 2 finds itself having to live up to, but it's a testament to the incredible attention to detail and honed aesthetic of Jewel and his associates that After Dark 2 succeeds in painting as perfect a portrait of Italians Do It Better as a matured label and sound as After Dark did of its initial burst of creativity. While the somnambulist disco vibe remains constant, there's enough differenced between the two compilations to underline the greater confidence and focus the label now boasts. The covers and remixes that littered the first volume have been removed in favour of all-original material, while Jewel's hold over the label he now runs solely has been well and truly consolidated, with original label founder (and eBay douchebag) Mike Simonetti contributing just one not especially inspiring piece which, rather wisely, finds itself relegated to the closing stretch of the compilation.

There's a chance to investigate some of the newer and lesser celebrated acts on the roster on After Dark 2, and for the most part they're more than happy to step up to the level of the bigger acts. Jewel's instrumental alias Symmetry submits the jittery, tense Heart of Darkness, Twisted Wires debut for the label with the suitably off-kilter strut of Half Lives (which almost, almost feels like Moroder producing Ariel Pink), while former Kitsune act Appaloosa contribute two tracks of distinctly Francophile, metronomic dance that make this writer hope they decide to stick around with Italians Do It Better a little while longer. Mirage meanwhile come up trumps with the trippy ten-minute epic Let's Kiss, whose slow build and vocoders really show up Random Access Memories at its own game.

Unsurprisingly though, it's Jewel's main two acts Glass Candy and Chromatics that dominate the release, and both bands show that their current glittering form is still intact. Coming off the back of the epic ambience of Kill For Love, Chromatics go back to some more straight-forward and pop songwriting for their three tracks here, so that while the hazy atmosphere remains, Looking For Love and the especially brilliant Cherry mark a far more instant hit. Glass Jewel might be the winner with their four tracks here, all of which suggest that their forthcoming Body Work album could be a shift up from the already superb B/E/A/T/B/O/X. Warm in the Winter makes for an unusually welcoming opening to the record, and when they close it with the insistant beat of Redheads Feel More Pain, it's hard to resist the urge to fire it up again right from the start. It's on The Possessed that they truly triumph however: with its mesmerising Bergman incantation of "through the glass darkly", it poises itself precariously but thrillingly between dystopian terror and lovestruck awe, and between the glorious synth melodies and Ida No's perfect and detached vocal delivery, it might just be the most anthemic and glorious track Jewel's conjured up to date.

While After Dark 2 might not have the same historical impact as its predecessor in the long run - it's more a refinement of the label's sound that any dramatic shift - it confirms Italians Do It Better's place as one of the most distinctive and consistent labels out there right now. For seventy eight minutes, their roster comes together to weave together a body of work ideal for the dancefloor, but even better for the long night afterwards before the dawn comes.

'Live' Music Is Killing Live Music

Friday, 10 May 2013 Category : , , , , , 0

Well, you've got to hand it to The Knife - that habitual has been well and truly shaken. With their new album having induced both delight and confusion in their fan base, their tour in support of it has so far provoked...well, anger, mostly. With numerous hostile reports having flooded in from their current Europen tour, which hit The Roundhouse in London this week (alongside, it should be noted, some very positive notices as well) from punters left feeling ripped-off by the experience, it's thrust the question of what music fans want and can reasonably expect from a live show back to the forefront: given that we're told so often that live is the future and the saviour of the music world we know, it's a pretty important question to boot.

In the case of The Knife, the main sticking point seems to be exactly how 'live' their show really is. It's certainly an ambitious production: show openers have included Deep Aerobics from Tarek Halaby, Dance-oke from feminist collective ÖFA-KOLLEKTIVET and, for their upcoming Stockholm dates, a huge steel drum band called Cool Pans, their merch table has been selling a range of feminist, queer, intersectional and alternative volumes that have inspired the group, and they've amassed their own dance group to help bring their music to life. All of which have the potential to be fantastic ideas that blow open the way electronic music is performed live...only The Knife have managed to fall at the first hurdle.

As report after report has landed on online space, it's become increasingly clear that whatever the performance The Knife are touring around Europe is, it certainly isn't live music. All the music has been noted as coming entirely from backing tracks identitcal to the records, and there's been much speculation as to whether any of Karin Dreijer Andersson's vocals are live either. Whole songs have gone by without anyone on stage at all, or with all members of the 'band' engaging on what many commentators have found to be distinctly under-baked and poorly choreographed dance moves. 

Electronic music has often had something of an issue moving into a live format: it's music often designed for DJ performances, clubs or home listening, with no notion of future live performance within the creative process as it would for rock, folk, jazz or other broad genres. Some have managed to embrace it with full-band performances (be it Caribou, The Field, or - interestingly enough - Karin Dreijer Andersson's live band for her Fever Ray project), others have shunned it where possible (Burial and Boards of Canada standing out as two notable refuseniks), while others have sought to create the biggest possible light show to distract from the fact that all they're doing is turning up and pressing play (as Deadmau5 has admitted). It's not exactly fair to judge music by a rockist metric when it's coming from a different place, made from different sources, and often with very different motives.

But does this mean we should actually put up with the press-play-and-go format? Within underground circles, there's far too many ambient, noise and electronic artists happy to just sit behind their laptop and check their emails while Ableton runs through their pre-designated set - and without expection, no matter the qualities of their music on record, acts that do this always end up as incredibly boring and unsatisfying live acts. Hell, even Forest Swords, who's added a live bassist and visuals to liven up his show, manages to turn his immersive soundscapes into a dreary mess when it comes to the live show. Sure, not everyone can or should be trying to be a Les Savy Fav or something, but the widespread curse of the live act that does nothing live is a major blot on the live circuit. If there's no added dimension to the music or special engagement over than you've paid four quid for a can of warm lager, then the audience should return the contempt of the non-performer in kind.

It's for this reason that the apparent mis-fire of the new Knife show is such a disappointment. There's evidently been a lot of thought and effort placed into putting together something that went beyond the usual turn up and play configuration, but it's just as apparent that when you've promoted your show by saying that "We, The Knife, will be performing live. We will be there, on stage, all seven of us, sometimes all ten of us, or even more"...well, dancing along to a playback isn't going to cut it. And going by the amount of 'Pam's People' and 'student production' jibes being thrown around on Twitter, the rest of the production had major problems regardless. High ideals are great, but when you're falling at the first hirdle, it's hard to applaud too much.

Yet the forward-thinking attitude that the band presumably went into the show with is something we could do with more of. I've posted before about festival fatigue and the shrinking number of major live draws, and with their latest mega-bucks American tour failing to sell out, even bands as big as The Rolling Stones are having problems. There's clearly a need for forward-thinking acts of any genre with the desire to provide innovative performances or at least go beyond the standard route of here's the new album, here's the hits, now buy a shirt on your way out. On a local level, I'd happily point to the superb Half Memory event with Richard Dawson and Warm Digits as an innovative concept, while even within more typical rock formats it's possible to provide something unique, My Bloody Valentine's most recent tour showcased a band whose live sound still defies comparison. But between over-hyped buzz bands without the chops or catalogue (remember that time The Darkness headlined Reading, Leeds and T in the Park on just one short album?), jaded oldies pumping out the same set they've done for three decades for exploitative prices, pointless laptop acts and press play EDM dullards, and out-and-out fiascos like this current tour from The Knife, it's obvious some shift has to occur. If live music really is the last great bastion of the industry, we're all going to have to try harder.

Deerhunter - Monomania

Tuesday, 7 May 2013 Category : , , , , 0

Has Bradford Cox become normal? This might seem a slightly insane question to ask, especially in the light of Deerhunter's remarkable performance of Monomania on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon recently which featured a dragged-up Bradford with bandaged fingers walking off-set as the track reaches its cacophonous conclusion, but it's an important one to ask. Since he and his band Deerhunter broke into the indie conciousness with their remarkable second album Cryptograms, Bradford has been one of the most colourful and unique frontmen in rock: between 2007 and 2011, he managed four full-lengths and two EPs with Deerhunter, plus three solo albums and countless free online releases as Atlas Sound (including the four volume Bedroom Databank collection in 2010). There's been the rambling interviews, the surreal and sometimes disturbing blog posts, the curation of a somewhat diva-ish reputation: but this was part of what made him so compelling and brilliant in its way, other iterations of the compulsive and workaholic tendencies that fuelled his prolific and superb output in his period.

With each album though, his work has tip-toed closer and closer towards the mainstream: the blurred drones of Cryptograms were more contained by Microcastle, and then sidelined entirely for Halcyon Digest. His solo work also has calmed, from the bedroom electronica of Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel to the more lush surroundings of Parallax. Even the constant stream seemed to slow down to something approaching industry standards - surprisingly, the only new Deerhunter-related music to energe last year was guitarist Lockett Pundt's second Lotus Plaza record.

At first glance, Monomania is a confirmation of this thesis: the deeply personal and idiosyncratic nature of Bradford's songwriting has now been subsumed into a more overtly American, at times Americana, sound. Shorter, garage rock inspired pieces dominate a record that signposts Bradford's statement in an interview with Buzzfeed "to be a great American rock 'n' roll band." There's certainly plenty here that shows a very different mentality to early Deerhunter, the scratchy rockabilly of Pepsicola and Dream Captain's winking chorus "I'm a poor boy / From a poory family" (not an American reference, true, but a very classic, 'real' rock one undeniably) pushing very far away from any kind of shoegaze lineage.

Perhaps inevitably though, the classic rock and American stylings of Monomania are as much of a ruse as anything else in Bradford's career. Rather than a simple play-through of the Nuggets songbook, Monomania emerges as a subtly subversive work that, for all its veils and plays at simplicity, is just as knotty and personal as anything else with Bradford's hand in it. Neon Junkyard takes the blown-out Neil Young qualities of the more up-beat material on Halycon Digest but plays it rougher, Bradford "finding ancient language in the blood" in a paen to the eternal teenage fantasy of the r'n'r dream, before Leather Jacket II pulls apart the whole artifice with a chaotic mid-section crash, distorted vocals and a Scary Monsters-esque lead riff that draws attention to its whole artifice, and the whole artifice of supposedly real and genuine rock music.

Admittedly, so far in this review I've focused on Bradford alone within the Deerhunter camp. That's not to deny the contributions of drummer Moses Archuleta and guitarist and occasional songwriter Lockett, whose Monomania contribution The Missing opens up the record from the claustrophobic distortion of its opening duo (even if it does sound like something that would have fitted in better on the last Lotus Plaza than on a Deerhunter album). But as much as a needles-in-the-red, full band sound is pushed this time out, this might be the most Bradford dominated Deerhunter album to date. Their previous work has never been so totally dominated by his own fixations, an impression aided by the line-up shuffle that took place just before the recording of the album, with long-time bassist Josh Fauver departing, and new bassist Josh McKay and extra guitarist Frankie Broyles joining.

While it may come through the prism of an exploration of American rock'n' roll history, Monomania is essentially focused on Bradford's own monomania with the music that inspired him and the music he makes - music that, it's suggested, has also written Bradford's character. The title track is a contortion of accelerating riffs, speeding up into a mantha of "mono mono, monomania" as the band follow Bradford down his insular path with equal parts glee and horror. Nitebike strips it down to a bare acoustic sketch, a glimpse behind the curtains before Punk (La Vie Anterieure) brings things to a halt with its youthful reminiscence, looking back at a youth spent in the underground before an adulthood yet to be known. It's an emotional and honest conclusion that still fits in with the loose conceptual framework of the record.

If Monomania's more limited soundscape might result in an album slightly less impressive than Microcastle or Halcyon Digest, it's still another remarkable collection of songs: the run in the middle from Dream Captain through to T.H.M. has some of the most dreamy and out-and-out beautiful melodies yet to date. For all the garage rock underpinnings and abbreviated song lengths, Monomania's real triumph is that it provides a neat side-step to Deerhunter's progression to date, keeping their growing maturity but matching it with a sense of play and meta-commentary that keeps it fresh and leaves the path open for whatever follows next. Even if Bradford is being totally honest about wanting to write a straight-up American rock record, we can all be too glad he's too idiosyncratic to ever live up to that billing. He's following his own peculiar, obsessive muse still, and in an indie scene sorely lacking in true mavericks and oddballs, we can all be glad for that.

Sunny Daze - A Playlist

Wednesday, 1 May 2013 0

What with the weather finally doing what it's supposed to, you're going to need a playlist to keep going while you soak up the kind-of sunshine, right? Well, once again Endless Window has you covered. Here's another fine playlist, that covers plenty of sounds and ground to bring you a beautiful selection of music that floats in and out of focus like the rays of light. Just scroll down below for the full Spotify playlist and tracklisting.


1) Charles Bradley - Strictly Reserved For You
2) THEESatisfaction - Bitch
3) Janelle Monae - Q.U.E.E.N. (feat. Erykah Baku)
4) Nite Jewel - She's Always Watching You
5) Common - The Questions (feat. Mos Def)
6) Matthew E. White - Steady Pace
7) Stereolab - Hallucinex
8) Toro Y Moi - High Living
9) Big Boi - Tangerine (feat. T.I. and Khujo Goodie)
10) High Places - Dry Lake
11) Club 8 - My Pessimistic Heart
12) Antibalas - Pay Back Africa
13) Cluster - Marzipan
14) D'Angelo - Spanish Joint
15) The Bird and The Bee - You're A Cad
16) The Avalanches - Two Hearts in 3/4 Time
17) Darkstar - A Day's Pay For A Day's Work
18) Nightmares On Wax - Flip Ya Lid
19) Caribou - Bees
20) Terry Callier - Ho Tsing Mee (A Song Of The Sun)

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