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Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

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    ultra 2012 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012“Miami Beach is where neon goes to die.” -Lenny Bruce

    According to the company’s website, “DayGlo Color Corp. is the world’s largest manufacturer of daylight fluorescent pigments. We develop technologies that improve and enhance any color, from subtle specialty effects, to glow-in-the-dark pigments, to our classic range of fluorescents.” One might argue they not only improve and enhance any color, but also human beings – that is, if Ultra Music Festival is any indication.

    Throughout the festival’s three-day excursion, which sets down on Bayfront Park in Miami each March, thousands upon thousands of festivalgoers brand themselves with the stuff. Anywhere else this style would be considered fashion suicide, but it’s posh within the festival’s confines. In fact, if you don’t have any sort of neon, sparklies, or what have you, it’s as if you’re not one of them. No kidding, they’ll probably think you’re a narc.

    As kitschy as DayGlo appears to the layman, it adds an aesthetic that’s oddly futuristic in scope. It may seem uniform, but when everyone’s showcasing radiant blues, yellows, pinks, lime greens, et al., it’s hard to imagine you’re anywhere else but some other post-modern world. It’s like you’re in a live-action rendition of The Jetsons, only it’s really loud, everyone’s zoned out on alcohol or drugs, and even the robots are cute.

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    Of course, there’s more to this festival than just arbitrary fashion decor, but really, that’s the stuff you remember. The music’s great, with dozens of artists pushing their respective genres, but it’s the people and the friendly community within Ultra that separates it from anywhere else. Look, whenever I told friends or colleagues that I was attending Ultra, I was met with sympathetic eyes, as I was shipping off to war, or something really dangerous – clearly they didn’t know what they were talking about.

    cap0768 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Cap Blackard

    I’ve never encountered a more jovial crowd, one thrilled to be alive and away from society. Sure, there’s a likely chance the drugs were doing most of the talking for everyone, but at the end of the day, a happy soul is sure better than an angry one. Also, something dawned on me while I shuffled around the park in a glorious stupor: This is the future.

    It’s easy to write Ultra off as an escape to “get fucked up and laid”, but when you’re dancing under thousands of intricate LCD lights, ricocheting an array of colors that somehow go with the extraterrestrial music that’s being pumped out on stage, and everyone’s just synched together mentally, there’s something rather spiritually intelligent about it all. It’s as if there’s this higher plain of existence here that’s being attained, and perhaps we’re the fools for missing out.

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    You don’t even need the drugs to get there; instead, you just have to lose yourself in the ether, and go in with a sense of humor. Otherwise, you’ll begin to really think hell is on Earth.

    -Michael Roffman
    President/Editor-in-Chief 

    Friday, March 23rd

    Neon Indian – Live Stage – 5:20 p.m.

    cap0023 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Cap Blackard

    “I feel like we’re at a seminar right now,” Neon Indian frontman Alan Palomo observed. “And I should have a Q&A about the effects of having a loud monitor.” After some frustrations with sound check, the chilly Texas indie rockers, with a penchant for ’80s New Wave, submerged in the warbly synths of “Local Joke” just as the sun began its downward shift. It was hot, it was sweaty, but it was fitting. With so many DayGlo enthusiasts everywhere, the band’s glossy, liquified jams (or, just its name alone) felt almost too choice for the scene. For a nighttime act, this daytime set did well enough to entertain the hundreds stalking about and soundtrack the thousands having a frustrating time getting in. Plus, who doesn’t want to dance to “Polish Girl” again and again? -Michael Roffman

    Chris Lake – UMF Korea – 5:50 p.m.

    chri lake friday umf korea Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    Located directly in front of the main entrance, the beats pulsing from the UMF Korea stage were impossible to avoid Friday evening. Just two hours after Ultra 2012 kicked off, tech-house DJ Chris Lake was already performing to a tightly packed audience. The UK-bred, LA transplant worked through early monitor issues to develop a double-edged set of beauty and beats. Driving four-to-the-floor tech movements were cut with lush, live female vocals – a body-swaying mixture to help ease revelers into the more foreboding sounds that the stage would offer Ultra Weekend. -Derek Staples

    Loco Dice – Carl Cox & Friends – 6:30 p.m.

    loco dice alongside richie hawtin friday carl cox Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    Initially walking into the Carl Cox tent was like wrapping oneself in a blanket of lights and sounds. And if not properly monitored, the melodic tech mixes delivered by Germany’s Loco Dice would ease attendees into an open-eyed trance. Delicate sounds ran through a solid bottom end, like morning dew trickling through porous sandstone. -Derek Staples

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    New Order – Live Stage – 6:40 p.m.

    cap0170 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Cap Blackard

    Technically, without original bassist Peter Hook, this isn’t New Order. But those who gathered around the Live Stage at dusk didn’t care to notice. Dancing ensued from the start when frontman and guitarist Bernard Sumner, donning his own band tee, strummed straight into the stormy distortion of “Crystal”. Tight and kinetic, this UK collective remains a popular export for Americans, especially with still club favorites “Bizarre Love Triangle”, “True Faith”, and “Blue Monday”, all of which were performed with precision for Ultra’s dance-obsessed crowds. Throughout, a couple of the band’s gooey tracks fell flat (“The Perfect Kiss” and “Regret”), but the two-hit punch of “Ceremony” into “Bizarre Love Triangle” and the set’s eventual closer, “Temptation”, showcased an act that deserved a bigger stage and a proper set time. Still, Sumner remained in high spirits: “It’s great to be back. It’s been a long time since we’ve been here – I dunno why – probably because it’s too nice. We don’t do that sort of thing.” There’s that familiar spirit of Manchester eking out. -Michael Roffman

    Richie Hawtin – Carl Cox & Friends – 8:00 p.m.

    richie hawtin close friday carl cox Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    He may not fill his set with bass drops, but very few DJs deliver with the same level of low end as Windsor’s Richie Hawtin. Atop of the continued floor-rattling bassline, Hawtin mixed in nearly non-existent tones, making you question if you were actually hearing the bleeps or if your brain was simply continuing his well-defined pattern. Hawtin showed no fear juggling the beat and tempo through the mixes. While most DJs rest on the repetitive kick or hi-hat, Hawtin manipulated polyrhythms for jarring transitions throughout the two-hour set. -Derek Staples

    Miike Snow – Live Stage – 8:10 p.m.

    cap0529 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Cap Blackard

    Maybe it’s that they’re on the coattails of a sophomore LP (Happy to You – due out Tuesday), but Sweden’s own Miike Snow commandeered the Live Stage. They had the tools, too. With a center console stripped from ’60s-era Star Trek, Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg (or, Bloodshy & Avant) constructed all the cherry-flavored hooks and lines that strangle the group’s latest material. Opening with the piano and harmony-led “The Wave”,  this became a set that just did not let up, and all of the new tracks were ready-made for festival crowds everywhere. In fact, with accompanying visuals, tracks like “Devil’s Work” and “Vase” felt rather claustrophobic in the amphitheater setting, and frontman Andrew Wyatt, with his grungy decor, appeared as if he were too contained. Basically, they exuded the confidence of a headliner, and depending on the festival, they may very well be ready. Oh, and has anyone grown tired of “Animal” yet? Doubtful. -Michael Roffman

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    Skrillex – Main Stage – 9:10 p.m.

    skrillex 1 friday main stage Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    Just a few years ago, it would have seemed impossible for a U.S. bass DJ to grace Ultra’s massive Main Stage post-sundown, but that was before Skrillex went and won three Grammy’s this year for his West Coast Jump Up. Now having toured the world, Skrillex showcases more substance and control than his earlier drop-heavy bass assaults. With stage production equal to that of his recent Mothership Tour, he had the audience “Breakin’ a Sweat” with his Doors collabo. Skrillex then showed some respect for dub, with a subtle bass remix (for Skrillex, anyhow) of Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock”. He then worked Avicii’s “Levels” through the bass grinder, adding his signature, mechanical bass growl to the track’s lighter aesthetic.

    To the surprise of many, Skrillex went with some straightforward techno mid-set with “Make That Booty Clap”. At one point, he brought the song to such a standstill that you could hear the crowd’s collective inhale waiting for the drop, but no drop was to be had until Skillex blew the crowd back with the newer Wolfgang Gartner collaboration “The Devil’s Den”. The performance may not have included sufficient hyper-drive bass for the die-hard Skrillex fan, but the hour-long performance showcased an evolution in his ability to produce a complex set for an educated, international EDM community – and still get peeps on their feet to rage. -Derek Staples

    Kraftwerk – Live Stage – 9:30 p.m.

    cap0167 e1354713921450 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Cap Blackard

    “Do you think they’re even really doing anything up there,” someone asked me early on during Kraftwerk’s impressive hour-long set. It’s an honest question because, really, the four stoic members that make up the German industrial collective don’t ever do much onstage – at least from what we can see. Instead, they let the archaic CGI animations behind them do most of the work. A minimalistic journey that would have Pixar in tears accompanied “Autobahn”, creepy, robotic dolls (something out of The Twilight Zone) burned into our nightmares during “The Robots”, and a Marxist-like montage sold the crowd on a “Computer World”. In a word, it was weird, but when each member – who, by the way, were dressed in minimalistic Tron-ready suits – exited the stage in procession, it all made sense. The homogenous nature of the four – that structured unity – is downright intimidating with its precise force, and it’s something you just have to witness live to make sense of. Color me jealous: Those sold-out museum shows will blow everyone’s fucking minds. -Michael Roffman

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    Dada Life – UMF Korea – 10:20 p.m.

    dada life friday umf korea Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    Olle Corneer and Stefan Engblom of Dada Life are a mirror of the enjoyment shared by their audiences. A pair of sweaty bodies onstage, the Swedish duo produced high-energy, saw-jaw electro-house. Combined with the bright hues of the tent’s massive L.E.D. screens, the continual bass vibrations and hard-splashing synths were a suitable follow-up to all those still ready to rage following Skrillex’s Main Stage performance. And forget hydration, the duo would much rather pop some bottles of champagne during the peaks of the set than be seen with some thirst-quenching water. If revelers wanted to leave with their brain and all body parts intact Friday evening, this set was definitely the one to avoid. -Derek Staples

    Nobody Beats the Drum – UMF Worldwide – 11:00 p.m.

    nobody beats the drum close up friday worldwide stage Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    In the shadows of Tiësto’s monster Main Stage setup, the future of Dutch dance music, Nobody Beats the Drum, took to the tight confines of Ultra’s Worldwide Stage. Sjam Sjamsoedin and Jori Collignon mixed hip-hop, breaks, heavy bass, and electro to appease a younger audience that is continually besieged by diverse types of audio. Equipped with a classic analog synth and a table full of gear, the duo continually made eye contact to keep the tracks progressing and the people bouncing across the grass. The only negative was that the experience wasn’t shared with a larger number of people, but my guess is that this won’t be a problem for long. -Derek Staples

    Saturday, March 24th

    Yousef – Carl Cox Cocoon – 2:00 p.m.

    yousef saturday caccoon Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    As the resident DJ at Space Ibiza during Carl Cox’s weekly showcase, Yousef holds one of the most sought-after gigs in the business. He kept early attendees gyrating with soft-drop techno and sexy Mushroom Jazz-esque melodies. To add an element of improvisation, he often mixed in new tracks with live drum pad patters. In line with classic house, Yousef pulled in beautiful male and female vocal samples to add contours to the set and give the audience a bit of a breather. -Derek Staples

    Skream + Benga – UMF Brazil – 3:00 p.m.

    skream and benga umf brasil Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    Seminal UK Dubstep DJs Skream + Benga have accelerated the evolution of the genre since joining forces. Once known for their dark, grimy productions, Saturday’s performance was a clinic of Jump Up and bass-heavy electronica. The duo scrapped all melody for underground bangers, made even more raw by the hoarse vocal accompaniment of MC Sgt Pokes. For everyone who felt the U.S. had the market cornered on bass music, the performance opened many ears to the ultra-aggressive, half-time, UK Bass sound. -Derek Staples

    Nadastrom – UMF Worldwide – 4:00 p.m.

    nadastrom saturday umf worldwide Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    The leading ambassadors of Moombahton – Dirty Dutch slowed to the tempo of reggaeton – Nadastrom are a perfect fit for the sunny embrace of Miami’s Bayfront Park. Set against the backdrop of a pristine, blue sky and million-dollar yachts, Dave Nada and Matt Nordstrom kept the gorgeous international crowd dancing in a picturesque scene that seemed too surreal to actually be possible. West Coast Jump Up was a bit of a death knell to actual dancing in clubs, but Nada’s brand of bass music added mounds of sexiness back to the dance floor. -Derek Staples

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    Little Dragon – Live Stage – 5:00 p.m.

    cap0082 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Cap Blackard

    There are a lot of faces to Little Dragon – not literally, but sonically. They shift from tribal trip-hop to “audibly okay” synthpop to soulful electronica, sometimes in the same song – actually, almost always within each song. That’s an intriguing element to the Swedish outfit and an attribute that could work to their advantage onstage – not at Ultra, however. Blame it on the picture-perfect sunny day, or just an all too early time slot, but the genre-hopping collective just felt sort of staple. Frontwoman Yukimi Nagano exhibited the only energy onstage, playing well to a devoted audience, but her surrounding band remained tranquil throughout. The percussion-heavy jams stocking each track offered moments of interest, but overall, it just didn’t do anything for me. -Michael Roffman

    12th Planet and Skrillex – UMF Brasil – 5:00 p.m

     

    With so many DJs in one place during a long weekend, surprises were bound to happen. And few surprises could be any more explosive than a tag-team set by bass juggernauts 12th Planet and Skrillex. Not announced until the day of show, the UMF Brasil tent was packed to capacity with ravenous bassheads ready for a non-stop serious of drops and Jump Up electro-energy. The set included recent collab “Right on Time” and the raucous remix of Nero’s “Guilt”. The duo also managed to separate their individual aesthetics, 12th’s focus on the darker UK Bass and Skrill’s love for West Coast electro-house. With bass literally vibrating the room and two ill-advised drops reverberating in my headspace (Skrillex fans sure love to share), photographic evidence just couldn’t do the set justice. So, please enjoy the vid below courtesy of Bassmaxx. -Derek Staples

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    Metronomy – Live Stage – 6:00 p.m.

    cap0484 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Cap Blackard

    English indie pop export Metronomy crafts flavorful electropop. Sure, it’s a genre that busted at the seams half a decade ago, but the group offers a slight spin on it: The bass takes precedence over the synths. Bassist Gbenga Adelekan’s bevy of lines undulates behind Joseph Mount’s vocals, infusing this quasi-electro funk that’s been a longtime coming for the genre – at least successfully. Through catchy, bubbly tracks like “Heartbreaker”, “Some Written”, and “Everything Goes My Way”, the group offers a tangible, catholic collection of genre shake-ups. The latter track runs off vocals by drummer Anna Prior, whose purple getup sparkled in the evening’s setting sun. Later in the set, the Live Stage erupted with smoke and pyro, after which Mount exclaimed: “There’s nothing more shocking than pyrotechnics when you don’t know they’re gonna happen.” Yeah, their surprised expressions were about as priceless as that highly aggressive jam they segued into at the end. -Michael Roffman

    Duck Sauce – Main Stage – 6:45 p.m.

    duck sauce saturday main stage Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    No duo seem to have more fun at the decks than A-trak and Armand Van Helden (aka Duck Sauce). Backed by a massive inflatable duck, the duo resurrected smile-instigating disco tracks, keeping the mood light in the late afternoon sun. After beginning the set with “aNYway”, the visuals went dark for crowd favorite “Big Bad W0lf”. Not only did the duo turn the mix all the way down to build a tension among the crowd, they actually managed to initiate a daytime howl from the entire Main Stage audience – one that held around until set end for the hysterical “Barbara Streisand”. None of these hijinks distracted the two artists, each masterful at mixing, track selection, and working in tandem to bring the most out of one another. -Derek Staples

    Carl Cox – Carl Cox Cocoon – 7:30 p.m.

    carl cox saturday caccoon Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    No one owns the tables like Carl Cox. A behemoth of a man, Cox counts down the transition between tracks with exaggerated arm motions, then jumps into the decks for the mixes. Often playing four or five tracks at a time, the set was deeply layered with hard dance and techno, keeping both the mind and body busy. The sensory overload continued with a visual onslaught. Lasers, mass amounts of smoke, robots, and hypnotic screen images completed the experience that was Carl Cox. The repetition of most house sets makes two hours nearly unbearable for bassheads and electro-junkies, but pulling away from the dynamics 0f the Cocoon was almost impossible. -Derek Staples

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    M83 – Live Stage – 8:00 p.m.

    cap0827 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Cap Blackard

    It was a short-lived dream of an epic set that never was. After attracting a mammoth crowd (the weekend’s largest for the Live Stage, at least at the time), minutes inched past eight o’clock, and yet Anthony Gonzalez and his team couldn’t be found. Instead, technicians raced about the stage, fiddling with wires and looking horrifically scatterbrained. Oddly enough, the crowd livened up – no thanks to the onstage DJ, who was relegated to essentially “babysitting” the sea of souls – and dancing ensued. Ten minutes passed, then 20, then 30, and eventually 45 minutes, most likely when M83 would have stepped offstage. However, this was when Gonzalez & Co. finally were OK’d to go on, but only to perform two cuts: “Midnight City” and “Couleurs”. The situation altogether was disappointing, but the band slapped out more energy than any act all weekend. At one point during “Couleurs”, Morgan Kibby fell to her knees as her hands just laid waste to the keys floating above her head, while newcomer Jordan Lawlor climbed up on anything he could get his feet onto, demanding the claps from the crowd. It wasn’t a great first visit to Miami for M83, but the devoted thousands who remained only proved that they’re wanted back very soon. -Michael Roffman

    Justice – Main Stage – 9:40 p.m.

    cap1074 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Cap Blackard

    The French duo’s fan base arrived in full force Saturday. From painted crosses to already-fading band shirts, one couldn’t look around without seeing some sort of allegiance to Justice. So, yeah, the Main Stage was overstuffed and continued to fluctuate as the two issued their aggro-dance-y disco to much fervor. Now, it’s easy to toss around religious connotations – you know, because of the whole cross thing – but shuffling around with thousands of fans during an extended performance of “Audio, Video, Disco” might be enough to make an atheist a true believer. The track’s greasy arena rock standards delivered all the sensationalized giddiness that one reads about in retrospectives only it felt earnest. And for a crowd that held up shirts reading “Bitches Love Bass” or, um, an inflatable penis, this was the closest thing to church they’ll ever experience; there wasn’t an ounce of negativity in the air. Justice led the procession with blunt, minimalistic force, and they exorcised any and all demons. Also, chew on this: Who else could throw in a drop as long as John Cage’s 4’33” WHILE offering (what appeared to be) The Black Panther Salute? Not even joking. -Michael Roffman

    Dillon Francis – UMF Worldwide – 10:00 p.m.

    dillon francis saturday worldwide Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    If this is the ADHD generation, Dillon Francis should be its musical figurehead. Francis continually switched between bass aesthetics – from a brain-jarring remix of “Right on Time” to a Luvstep take on Rihanna’s “You Da One”, complete with the slowed-up half-time of Moombahton. When not at the knobs adding the Moombahton flair to tracks like “Me & You” by Nero or Steve Aoki’s “Keep on Dancing”, Francis kept busy interacting with the crowd, pointing to the loudest fans and making funny, sometimes overtly sarcastic, banter behind the decks. In a show of great humility, Francis welcomed stage headliner, and BBC Radio 1 tastemaker, Annie Mac onstage during the close of his set and thanked her for helping him along in his career. -Derek Staples

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    2manyDJs – Live Stage – 11:00 p.m.

    2manydjs1 saturday live stage Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Derek Staples

    2manyDJs are truly a multi-media experience. Dressed in crisp, five-piece suits Saturday evening, David and Stephen Dewaele worked their mashup skills on tracks such as MGMT’s “Kids”, 2 Unlimited’s “Let the Beat Control Your Body”, “Master of Puppets” by Metallica, and Blur’s “Parklife”, all with absolutely hilarious takes on their album covers. The visuals were taken to the extreme for a mashup of Boyz Noise and Erol Alkan’s “Lemonade”, where the cover seemed to actually be playing tennis.

    The set ended as an absolute bash. After taking the crowd to “Out of Space”, the duo performed their take on Nirvana’s “Lithium”, while the famous baby from the Nevermind cover was barraged with trash from a rather grungy pool party. And nothing closes out a set like five straight minutes of confetti floating across the live stage. -Derek Staples

    Avicii – Main Stage – 11:00 p.m.

    avciimadonna2012 Festival Review: CoS at Ultra Music 2012

    Photo by Music Obsessed.com

    The Madonna rumors started circulating early on. Whispers around the park hinted that the Material Girl would be appearing onstage sometime Saturday night. She spent the day in South Beach promoting her new LP, MDNA, so why wouldn’t she stop at that little electronic festival across the bay? As with anything nowadays, it became the worst-kept secret, and pretty much everyone knew she’d be appearing with Avicii at the Main Stage.

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    “I’ve been here in spirit for many years, but it’s good to finally be standing on the stage, looking at all you people who have come here from all around the world,” Madonna exclaimed, after observing the evolving blanket of flesh before her. ”In my world, the words ‘music’ and ‘dance’ are not separated. Electronic music has been a part of my life since the beginning of my career. I can honestly say that a DJ saved my life.” She gushed about Avicii some more, insisting she’s a “huge fan,” and then coquettishly asked, “How many people in this crowd have seen Molly?” It all felt forced and made even more transparent once Avicii opened his set with a remix of “Girl Gone Wild”, during which Madonna stood beside him wearing her MDNA shirt.

    After the whole scheme, Avicii was left to his own vices. What’s odd, however, is how much of a promotional push Avicii received at Ultra, as well. Street teams handed out I Heart Avicii pins all day, while others wore shirts with the same logo. Also, regardless of the international acclaim, it felt odd that he followed Justice, who arguably closed the night proper. Still, the Swedish DJ (who probably had everyone swooning with his choice looks) had a pretty good night. Not only did he receive a resounding endorsement from Madonna, but he also had fireworks to end his set. Basically, you’ll hear more about him this year. -Michael Roffman

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