Tag Archives: punk

Kill all rock stars?

This is going to make a little bit more sense if you read my post about the Amanda Palmer gig last night first (summary: it was awesome, but she made a comment about groping people that I was really uncomfortable with). But it’s still not going to make much sense because it’s one of my rambling what’s-happening-in-my-head-right-now posts.

I’ve realised that I really like idolising people and putting them on a ridiculous pedestal. Don’t get me wrong – it goes against all of my cultural ethics. I’m into DIY, I’ve helped out at and organised gigs, and I’m used to hanging out with the bands before and after the shows, having them sleep on my sofa etc. But I’ve realised in my mind there’s a complete separation between the DIY music scene that I’m involved in and accounts for 80% of the music I listen to, and the ‘professional’ music scene.

It’s not anything to do with how much I like the band – anyone who knows me (or is friends with me on last.fm) can verify that I fucking love Ryan Harvey’s music. As in, I’ve apparently listened to him over 5000 times since 2008 (lulz). I met him earlier this month because I organised his gig in London and we hung out, chatted and got drunk until about 5 in the morning afterwards, and then hung out again the day after. The thing is, I wasn’t starstruck at all. Not even slightly. The fact that he’s made lots of amazing music that’s helped me a lot didn’t make him intimidating. He seemed just like me and my friends because he IS just like me and my friends – a class-struggle anarchist organiser. I admire him loads, but it’s in the same way that I admire my friends who do really good work. He’s said some things in the past that I haven’t agreed with 100% – but I don’t agree with anyone 100%, and it just felt like the disagreements I have with my friends in the pub/social centre/whatever every weekend.

[I LOVE IT WHEN I START RAMBLING WITH NO AIM AND IT CLARIFIES MY THOUGHT PROCESS, OH SHIT THIS IS ACTUALLY GOING TO HAVE A POINT TO MAKE YOU GUYS.]

Despite being involved in DIY music on some level for the past 4 years, my attitude to (relatively) commercially successful artists is still as ridiculous as it was when I was 11. I kind of thought I’d got over it when I stopped idolising Morrissey on account of the fact that it was ridiculously hypocritical of me to defend him all the time. For anyone who doesn’t know, I was really, really, really obsessed with Morrissey for a couple of years, so that was kind of a big deal for me. And then I found a way to relate to him which can only be described as seeing him as an embarrassing uncle at a wedding. He’s a human, who says things that I dislike a lot of the time. Honestly, when I realised that I fell out of love with him for a while. I think this is a bit hard to explain to someone who’s not/never has been a Morrissey fan. But it’s a whole world, and there’s a very, very well maintained image and backstory and context to it all, and the more you buy into it, the better it all becomes. It’s very self-perpetuating. So as soon as that was shattered I hardly listened to Morrissey for ages and pretty much exclusively listened to relatively DIY/underground music. I then realised that his music is still hugely important to me and I don’t need the other shit. But, I’m not going to lie, I really, really miss being that into something, and his whole enigma and performance (I mean that in the broadest sense possible) was amazing and important to me. There’s still a Morrissey section on my bookshelves with all the books about him and The Smiths I read at that time, just to give you an idea of how big that world is if you choose to participate.

But I thought I was over all that. I kind of missed it, but I felt like my newfound DIYlightenment meant I was immune to it, even if I wanted to get obsessed with something/someone new. Until I got soul-crushingly obsessed with Amanda Palmer last year. The weird thing is, I actually first started listening to the Dresden Dolls in about 2007. I was kind of into it, but it wasn’t really the right time in my life and I didn’t really relate. But then I rediscovered them last year and was like FUCK. And watched some Dresden Dolls/AFP videos and pretty much fell in love.

Then I decided that the fact that I was involved in the DIY scene, but still felt like this, meant that it was okay! It wasn’t because I was a lonely outsider with no friends, as I had been for most of the time I was into Morrissey (although I was equally, if not more so, emotionally vulnerable in other ways last year). It was a legit thing, and I could totally reconcile these different parts of my relation to music/musicians. And sometimes she plays for free and sleeps at fan’s houses, this is just like DIY!

Last night, when she made the totally offhand and obviously not at all thought out comment about groping people was the moment when the illusion shattered for me, in the same way it did about Morrissey. It was very different, because whereas with Morrissey it was a slow process over months, this was in an instant. I realised that with large artists I really love, I always end up making excuses for the fucked up shit that they say, because I want to maintain the illusion of them in my mind as superhumans. For ages I denied that anything Morrissey said was racist, and told people they just didn’t understand the context, because I felt threatened by it. With Amanda Palmer, it was more subtle, as honestly most of the things she’s done that I’ve had a problem with (the NWA covers, her response to being criticised for Evelyn Evelyn) I think were more out of political naivety than anything else. But even admitting that she might not have known that those things weren’t cool was uncomfortable for me – when I do fandom, I do it 100%. Even though to my friends I actually did criticise the NWA stuff, internally I was still justifying it to myself as being subversive and part of her art. Because it’s not about individual examples, it’s about the overall picture of seeing them as perfection.

Interestingly (I think), Morrissey and Amanda Palmer couldn’t be more different in terms of how they relate to fans. Morrissey has always been incredibly aloof and cagey about his personal life, whereas Amanda pretty much keeps the world updated via Twitter and her blog 24/7. The thing is, it doesn’t make any difference because both of those things were just aspects of the persona to me. Someone making themselves as human and as down-to-earth as possible doesn’t do anything when there isn’t an actual human connection. And I don’t mean queueing up to hug them after a show. I mean actually spending time together as equals.

A few months ago, in the midst of Amanda Palmer fandom, I wrote the first half of a blog post. It wasn’t condemning DIY as such, but it was defending ‘non-DIY’ (whatever that means) to a greater extend than I ever have before, or will ever again. The thing is, I never wrote the last half. Only I know where I was going with it, and I never finished it, because I just lost interest. And now it can’t exist because I don’t agree with what it would have been. So consider this the second half.

Because the thing is, I’ve realised how much I actually do value the DIY music scene. Even though for the most part I fucking hate the punk scene and think it’s a boring, uncreative, self-indulgent mess, I also know that the boundaries of DIY now extend far, far beyond that, and what we can make is genuinely better than what they can give us. Because as soon as an artist gets up on a high stage in a massive venue, the power dynamic is fucked up, and not conducive to equal discourse. I realised that a large part of the reason I’ve defended some artists is because I didn’t know what else to do. There’s no real way of reaching them, there’s no real way of moving the discussion forward. Their voice is always, inevitably, going to be much, much louder than yours. It doesn’t matter how much they don’t want that, it’s an inevitable consequence. I’ve enjoyed my times as a fan, I’m not even going to get cocky like I did after the Morrissey obsession and say it won’t happen again. But I will say that I’m not going to defend it again because honestly, I don’t think I can do it healthily. I strive for equal relationships with everyone in my life, and in society generally, and making exceptions is fucking bullshit. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have heroes, or people you admire. I have loads of them, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But once there’s any division between them and you, things become problematic.

I realise there’s one really obvious flaw in this, and it’s still something I’m trying to figure out, any input is more than welcome. How do artists who find themselves with large fanbases stop this happening? If hundreds of people had decided to go to that Ryan Harvey show 1) They wouldn’t have all fitted in the venue, and even if they had nobody would have been able to see him if there wasn’t a stage and 2) We definitely wouldn’t have been able to hang out with him afterwards, or if we had it would have really disappointed a whole load of other people who would have liked to have done the same. As it goes, I think Amanda Palmer does a better job of trying to relate to her fans on an equal basis than pretty much any other semi-mainstream musician I can think of. But it’s physically impossible to have a personal relationship with hundreds of people, write a full response to every email, etc. An elitist system of only playing small gigs which only a few people could go to wouldn’t be any better, or anymore egalitarian. For the obvious reason that you’d be excluding loads of people, but also for the fact that there’d be a huge clamour for tickets and the end result would be that the artist was effectively gracing you with their presence, which doesn’t solve anything. Part of me is worried that I’ve just been spoilt by the DIY music scene and the fact that I take for granted the fact that I can get drunk and debate with lots of my favourite bands. Part of me is worried that I’m just projecting my somewhat obsessive nature on to the whole thing and that other people have the ability to see all musicians as equal to themselves (although as someone who’s seen Morrissey and Amanda Palmer in the past month, it doesn’t feel like it’s just me…).

Any thoughts on any of this, especially the last problem would be more than appreciated.

Somewhat anxious about posting this because yeah, for anyone who didn’t know before reading this, I am totally fucking ridiculous. Now you know.

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The Possibility Of Counterculture

I feel like so far my posts on here have been slagging stuff off, without any positive suggestions. So now I’m going to be positive (going to have to slag some stuff off first, though..)!

To avoid confusion, it should be stated that I don’t use counterculture and subculture interchangeably. An example that I’ve heard (I think it might be on an A//Political record, but I’m not sure) is ‘Punk is a subculture, anarcho-punk is a counterculture’. I don’t really agree, if only because different definitions of both mean it’s nowhere near as black and white as that. Broadly speaking, a subculture is different to the dominant culture, but has no ambition beyond coexisting with it, whereas a counterculture is at least partly defined by its opposition to the dominant culture.

Often in radical circles an emphasis is put on trying to distance ourselves from subcultures as they’re alienating to ‘normal’ working class people. However, often this ends up being based on slightly archaic ideas of what the working class are like, and creates an equally irrelevant and subcultural identity. I can understand that this is in reaction to the idea that to be an ‘anarchist’ one has to adopt a series of lifestyle choices (veganism/freeganism, squatting, punk) that, realistically, are never going to appeal to the majority of the population (and in the case of freeganism, wouldn’t work if they did), and also that those choices are activism, in and of themselves.

However, this doesn’t mean that we should reject the idea of creating an inclusive radical counterculture. The best way of describing what I have in mind is actually ‘folk culture’, but without the geographical confines implied by that. There are numerous struggles that have made use of culture as a means for not only spreading the message, but passing on knowledge and memories to a new generation. One notable example here (no matter what your opinion of the politics) is clearly the use of music by the Irish Republican movement, especially when relating to historical events. The existence of shared culture brings movements closer and keeps significant historical events relevant. The only criticism in the case of Irish republicanism is the fact that, although the music when it was first being created was representative of the wider culture at the time, it has stylistically not changed much for over 100 years. Traditional folk music, and the identity that goes along with that, definitely has a place in the culture and should be preserved, but for music to continue to be a relevant tool, it also has to evolve with the times. On a positive note – Irish republican folk-hiphop anyone? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beltaine%27s_Fire

Now, to bring this back to where we are now. Personally, I think that in a limited capacity, the anti-globalisation movement has been relatively successful at chronicling itself culturally. The only time when this really struck me was when I realised how much I knew about the anti-FTAA protests in Miami in 2003. I’m not talking about the issues here, I’m talking about purely the events that took place. I’d never read any reports of the protests, or seen anything on the news. I don’t know anyone who was there. Everything I know about those protests comes from songs. From them, I know a bit about the tactics used on the day (by protestors and police), who the chief of police was at the time (John Timoney), which are important in terms of knowledge. But, in some ways more importantly, they convey the emotion of the days. Listened to as a whole, the songs* come across as an expression of collective grief and trauma, but also hope. For US activists, I’d assume that there’s enough people who remember those days, or know people who do, that the incentive to learn from them is significant. But in terms of an international radical movement, one of the best ways to spread the message is through music (as well as action reports, poetry, art, etc). I’m not arguing that these things are revolutionary in and of themselves, but the space they provide for us to express ourselves and learn I strongly believe can bring us closer together. This doesn’t mean we have to alienate ourselves from mainstream culture, you can listen to Lady Gaga if you want to. Rather, it’s a recognition of the fact that, although we’re ‘normal’ people, we’re also part of a wider resistance movement, and sometimes alternative culture can facilitate that. It only becomes an issue when there’s an exclusive culture created where you have to like punk, and can’t listen to anything on the radio. The message is what’s important, how it’s expressed has infinite possibilities, so let’s embrace that, have fun, and hopefully learn something too!

“Here we are a movement, suffering from the stains

of Genoa and Miami, and the question that remains is

When will we be ready, to surge once more,

Armed with visions of tomorrow, and the knowledge from before?”

Global Justice – Ryan Harvey

*I realise this list is probably not exhaustive, I’m pretty sure I’ve even missed out some out that I like, but for a general picture :

  • A Day In Miami, Talkin’ FTAA Preparations, South Florida and Global Justice by Ryan Harvey
  • Butcher For Hire and Miami by David Rovics
  • The Fence by Evan Greer

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Strange Homes [Review]

Strange Homes - Mallory

If you carry on following this blog, you’ll notice a few reoccurring themes. One of which is that I fucking love punks with banjos/mandolins/accordions. Seriously, recommend a band like that and there’s a 99.9%* chance I’ll like them. What can I say? I’m set in my ways…

So, that said, it’s not entirely surprising that when I stumbled over this album, I knew about 6 seconds into opening track ‘The House You Were Raised In’ that I was going to enjoy it. The track features guest vocals from Sofia Albam, who also plays in Sons Of  An Illustrious Father (who you should also check out and I will most likely review soon, see: http://www.myspace.com/sonsofanillustriousfather ). Throughout the album there’s fantastic use of vocal harmonies, or, to use more punx terminology, gang vocals.

The lyrics are spot on in terms of balancing and combining the political and personal, which is refreshing, because as much as I love a protest song, they can sometimes feel more like being shouted at than something to relate to.  The overall charm of the band means that they get away with recycling certain lyrical conventions of the genre (burning buildings, pipe bombs, hopping trains, I’m sure coffee must be in there somewhere) without coming across as a parody of a folk punk band. Clichés aside, the vast proportion of the lyrics are interesting enough to be worth trying to decipher, even in the parts where they get slightly overshadowed by the general musical chaos. Musical chaos meant in the best possible way!

Although the album is undeniably catchy and sing-a-long-worthy while you’re listening to it, I found that it took a few listens before any hooks jumped out as memorable, but I think that’s actually a good thing and stops the album seeming shallow. My main criticism is that there could be more variation between songs, but from what I gather the band are all pretty young and haven’t been together that long, so I’d assume that with time there’ll be greater experimentation, and possibly more variation in sound.

Overall, a really promising album from a band with a great amount of talent, and great ethics to match, who are definitely worth supporting. You can download the album (and everything else they’ve produced) for free at:

http://malloryband.org

http://www.myspace.com/mallorytheband

*It’s not 100% because I wasn’t sure if Against Me! had ever used said instruments, and didn’t want to take that risk.

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It’s not us, it’s you…

So, there’s a blog post doing the rounds at the moment, seems to be every other link I click on, which is Tom Gabel from Against Me! defending their new song, ‘I Was A Teenage Anarchist’. I’m not going to link to the song, because if you’re reading this I probably like you, but to give you an idea: it wouldn’t sound out of place on a U2 album. I’ll link to the blog post because it’s unavoidable: http://ifeelsicktomystomach.blogspot.com/2010/05/i-was-teenage-anarchist.html Shit, just realised the song is on that page. I’m really sorry.

I know every anarchist on the internet is busy deconstructing this at the moment, but I’m going to go for it anyway. I’d like to say first that I’m not a disgruntled, betrayed, former Against Me! fan. By the time I was getting into that type of music they were already signed to Fat Wreck and on the road to generic pop rock. It might have been different if I’d heard them when they first released ‘Baby, I’m An Anarchist’, but I didn’t, so it isn’t. First off, I’d like to congratulate Tom on his justification of police brutality against himself:

Next thing I knew one of the cops had grabbed me by the neck, twisted my arm behind my back and started dragging me over towards their parked cruiser. They slammed my face down onto the sun-baked trunk of the car., kicked my legs apart and started going through my pockets. Every time I tried to get my head up off the burning trunk it was slammed back down harder. After a long and immature verbal exchange, most of the immaturity being on my part (I think the words “fucking” and “pig” were used quite a lot if I remember correctly)

Now, I have no doubt that he probably was fucking annoying. But he’s been followed by two cops, obviously picking on a teenage kid cos they can, and comes away thinking HE’S the most immature? Read the whole account and make up your own mind, but I think it’s disgustingly disrespectful to victims of police brutality to imply that he deserved what happened cos he swore a few times.

That wasn’t the main point of this though. The point was, that although I have respect for a lot of the stuff that Tom mentions he did when he was younger, it’s a case of  ‘if you’re not now, you never were’. The fact is that no matter what way you look at it, Against Me! have betrayed everything they claimed to stand for. In general, I don’t really give a shit about bands getting big and signing to major labels. It’s just a bit unfortunate when you spent the first half of your career claiming you never would.

Which leads me to the title of this post. IT’S NOT US, IT’S YOU. Yes, there are always people in activist circles who are fucking idiots and demonstrate the exact opposite of what it should be about. But, where I get a bit unclear, is how this justifies doing nothing, renouncing your ideals and signing to Warner Bros?

I feel like the revolution sold to me when I was a teenager by the punk scene, by the Anarchist scene was a lie. The real revolution was the political awakening. That initial spark that made me want to change the world. And that’s what I’m interested in, maintaining that fire.

If he ever felt like he was ‘sold a revolution’, he missed the point to start with. The beautiful thing about anarchism is that if you can find two anarchists who have exactly the same politics, you probably haven’t found two anarchists. I’m not sure whether Tom’s in a position to pass judgement on a movement he clearly never understood. He’s reduced that movement, incorporating everything from striking workers, to the black bloc, to people planting community gardens, down to his limited experience of the anarcho-punk scene in one part of America. The constant conflation of the anarchist and punk scenes as one and the same really doesn’t work. I got fucking sick of the punk scene pretty quick because yeah, it’s full of people who think anarchy means you can get drunk all the time and be an inconsiderate asshole. I could have dismissed it and left it there, but I knew there was more to it than that. And yeah, in the anarchist scene there are people who think they’re right, everyone else is wrong, they have the answer. The problems are nothing to do with punk or anarchism though, you’ll get people like that anywhere, whether or not they try to justify it with their political position. Maybe Tom didn’t spend enough time outside these circles to know that everyone else is exactly the same?

It also seems like pretty convenient marketing for the band. They clearly lost most of the anarchist and punk communities  back when they signed to Fat Wreck, and the remaining few when they signed to Sire. They had their tyres slashed, van graffitied (‘REMEMBER WHEN YOU MATTERED?’), and there was an article in Maximumrocknroll advocating pouring bleach on their merch table. Against Me! have a lot of reasons to hate ‘the scene’. But, if they hadn’t got signed to Fat Wreck, and could continue leaching off it, I’m sure they wouldn’t hate it. After all, if it was always just a fashion, might as well. One of the excuses they first used when signing to a major was that it would spread the message to more people. Clearly that meant the message that anarchism is a childish phase that we all need to grow out of! That’s…helpful. To be honest, if the band had stayed on an independent label, but renounced anarchism, nobody would care as much. Likewise, if they’d gone down the major route, but kept their ideals and continued to ‘spread the message’, yeah they would still have seemed like hypocrites, but it would have seemed more justifiable. As it is, it just seems like, and I really didn’t want to say this, but, selling out. Renounce your politics, make your music into generic stadium rock, and, hey presto! You make loads of money. It’s a tried and tested formula.

It’s not “heresy for an anarchist to say ‘FUCK Anarchy'”. However, Tom, when you say it after supporting Obama in the last election, it’s a bit different.

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Adults!!!…Smart!!! Shithammered!!! And Excited By Nothing!!!!!!! [Review]

Adults!!!...Smart!!! Shithammered!!! And Excited By Nothing!!! - Bomb the Music Industry!

I actually only found out about this EP a couple of days ago, because I went on the Bomb The Music Industry! website because I was gonna use them as an example for the anti-copyright post. Anyway, I didn’t, so now I’m just going to review it.

I have a bit of a weird relationship with BTMI!, mainly that I love about 20% of their stuff, but think the rest of it is pretty meh. Not sure how that happens but there you go. This EP was no exception, which when there’s only 7 songs on the whole thing is a bit unfortunate. The first song ‘You Still Believe In Me?’ pretty much sounds like Generic BTMI! Song 101. Not bad, but nothing special. ‘Planning My Death’ is a livelier ska punk number, nice brass section, but drags on a bit (at 1 minute 57)…

Quite enjoyed ‘Slumlord’, but it made me realise the other thing I feel this record is lacking, compared to some of the earlier stuff, which is genuinely witty lyrics. I appreciate the sentiment of ‘All Ages Shows’…but I got bored. I have nothing to say about ‘Big Ending’ except that it made me want to turn off my computer. Now for some positivity (not in a Good Clean Fun way..)! In general I’m not fond of the overly catchy chorus, it’s sort of the lowest common musical denominator. But, after what felt like an endless sludge of trumpets/synths/shouting that I’d sort of stopped paying attention to, ‘The First Time I Met Sanawon’ was a welcome break, and is by far my favourite song on the EP. NO FLAKING NO LEAVING!  Quite enjoyed the epic-ness of the closer, ‘Struggler’, but it’s not amazing…

I would like to say that I have a lot of respect for Bomb The Music Industry!/Jeff Rosenstock in general, in terms of ethics and making bizarre unclassifiable music in a scene which has a tendency to repeat itself. The EP (and every other BTMI! album) can be downloaded for free on http://www.bombthemusicindustry.com

Oh, and here’s a lot of people who disagree with me… http://www.sputnikmusic.com/soundoff.php?albumid=47722

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Goodbye To The Rank and File [Review]

Goodbye To The Rank And File - Casey Neill & The Norway Rats

It should be noted first off that I’m writing this review almost a month since I first heard this record. In this case, I think that’s a very good thing. It should also be noted, that this was the first record that I’d been really excited about for a long time. That said, it’s probably not surprising that when I first heard it, I was a bit disappointed. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t have the raging Earth First! protest songs of his early work, or the more subtle bluegrass influences of the Casey Neill Trio era. But I persisted, because I really wanted to like it, and now I’m glad I did.

It’s now one of my favourite records of this year so far. Beautifully crafted folk/rock songs of letting go, leaving, and looking back. Part of me does miss the political aspect to his earlier work, but at the same time, I’m glad he hasn’t just rewrote Dancing On The Ruins Of Multinational Corporations for the past 15(?) years. The different progressions and phases, and ability to reinvent himself without forgetting his roots is one of the things that makes Neill such an incredible artist.  From his words on ‘Guttered’: “Me I still cling to the things that once fueled us/ In on The Kill Taker, Cometbus & Unrest” it’s obvious that Neill isn’t afraid to wear his influences on his sleeve. Which brings us neatly on to another song off the record, ‘She Floated Away’. Covers are never easy, and I really wasn’t expecting to be impressed by this, simply because the Husker Du version is one of my favourite songs ever. However, this version pays tribute, while still changing it enough to be interesting. I’ve always thought the Husker version sounded like a folk song, so in some ways I think it could have been taken further, but still definitely a nice addition to the record.

As it is now, there’s only two songs that my opinion hasn’t really changed on since I first heard the record, ‘Radio Montana’ and ‘When I Came To You’. ‘Radio Montana’ is a new version of a song on the earlier Casey Neill record, ‘Memory Against Forgetting’. To put it simply, I just don’t think it’s as good, it overcomplicates it and doesn’t leave as much room for his voice to shine. ‘When I Came To You’, just really doesn’t do it for me. I’m not sure the duel Casey Neill/Little Sue (I think) vocals quite work together, and it just doesn’t feel as emotionally deep as the rest of the record, but that might just be me.

However, this is easily outweighed by the splendours of ‘Ouroboros’, ‘Idyll’, and my personal favourite, ‘When The World Was Young’. The nostalgic tone is perfect, with lyrics such as “What ever happened to those who swore they’d never stray?/There’s an undercurrent of dirt and stain no shine can wash away…”. I could basically quote that whole song, but it doesn’t mean anything without Neill’s rich voice, or the excellent backing of the Norway Rats.

So yeah, since this record came out just under a month ago, I’ve listened to it while bunking my last ever day of school, waiting for nightbuses in the rain, cycling home as the sun rose, and, yeah, basically non-stop. Perfect soundtrack to all of the above, and more! It takes a few listens, but I promise this is an album well worth persisting with. It’s available now, from In Music We Trust Records and various other places!

http://www.caseyneill.org/

http://www.myspace.com/caseyneill

http://www.inmusicwetrust.com/

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