Posted on February 03, 2016

Interview

# As a duo band who’ve been through so many experiences together, you must know each other really well. Please introduce your bandmate to our readers in your own words.

Kanghee: My boyfriend? He is my friend of course, but depending on how you look at it, a colleague as well… simply put, we are friends who share many different kinds of relationships. 

Jihyun: I cause loads of problems and Kanghee sorts them all out for me… we are good partners who lean on each other for support.

# How did you first meet each other and what were your first impressions?

Jihyun: I’ve played in loads of different bands in the past, but they were all pre-existing bands that I ended up joining. This time round I thought to myself, “might as well have a go at making my own band”. So I started looking for people to play with. The keyboardist from one of the bands I had played in offered to introduce me to a drummer. A good friend of mine was a bass player, so we decided to make the new band a three-piece. We all met up at Sangsu for a few drinks; at that time Kanghee was in Seoul on his last vacation before finishing up his military service. My first impression of him was that he looked like a proper soldier. It was raining that day so the three of us were all sharing an umbrella (ha ha). Honestly, I don’t remember a lot else about it. We drank a shitload of booze that day.

Kanghee: We decided to start the band right away and began making plans immediately. That’s how we started out. It was March 2012.  

# You guys had already competed in two big talent contests; last year you appeared on the KBS ‘Top Band’ show as well. What was it like being on those shows? What did you learn from it all?

Kanghee: The first kind of contest we took part in was Ssamzie Sound Festival. We played that show only 4 days after our bass player had decided to leave the band. We were committed to playing, so we decided to do it as a two-piece band. We were not really that confident that it would work out … so of course, it was a disaster. The second time was on the Hello Rookie show. It was a really big honor to play on that show; we really worked hard and wanted to do well, so when it didn’t work out it really hit us hard. I guess we learned lots of stuff though our failures.   

Jihyun: Yeah, but we did make it right through to the end of year (final) Hello Rookie show. So it wasn’t all that bad.

Kanghee: On Top Band I learned how to be more brazen in front of the camera, and I also learned that there isn’t really anything you can do to affect the results; some people are meant to win and some people are not.

Jihyun: At the start we didn’t really enter with any expectations of winning the show or any of the prize money. It means enough just to get on the show; you only get accepted if lots of people like you. I think it would be nonsense to win and say things like ‘We won! We are the best band around’. We entered that show just thinking it would be a good chance to play a big concert. It is a good system by which to play a show in front of loads of people in a cool environment.

# Right, moving on. You guys finally released your first full length album, “Some Kind of Youth” recently. You have made many songs since your first EP was released, and everyone has been waiting to listen to them in their recorded form. We are curious to know your thoughts on the album.

Kanghee: It feels like we are finally ready to make a proper start. It’s a good opportunity to show everyone what we have done up to now. It’s taken us until now to come up with an album--we had to keep making excuses about why we hadn’t done it, so it got to the point where we just had to knuckle down and do it.

Jihyun: It has made one thing more comfortable for us. Lots of people ask, “What kind of band are Dead Buttons?” Now we can just reply with … “Take a listen to our album”. The EP only had a few tracks, so we didn’t really feel like it told the whole Dead Buttons story.

# Can you tell us a little about the recording process? Any difficulties, help you received, or memorable moments?

Jihyun: Originally, we had planned to record with Crying Nut at their studio, but some stuff came up and it was difficult to record there, so we ended up recording at the SangSang Madang studios instead. We recorded all our instruments there and then came back to Seoul to record the vocals, the backing vocals and overdubs, etc. The mixing was done in Seoul as well. Our first EP was really just made as a demo, so the quality wasn’t all that good, but this time round the whole thing was produced by Insoo Kim (from Crying Nut), and we used much better recording spaces as well as a professional engineer, so the whole thing came out way better than when just the two of us were involved. We were able to do all of this because of the prize money and support we got from the K-Rookies program. One of the things bands need most is money. Making albums, recording music, even practicing, needs money. You even need money to get new strings, else you can’t play any shows. Thanks to the financial support we got, we were even able to make a music video the way we wanted to and were able to record the album in a really good environment.

# A couple of familiar names are featured on your album (Kim Insoo, Kim Jiwon, George Durham and others). Can you tell us how you came to work with them and what that was like?

Kanghee: People often call it the ‘sing-a-long’ part, don’t they? We were looking for people to sing that part in the song and decided it would be best to get our friends to do it for us. What's more, they already knew our music and understood the song so they knew exactly what to do. They knew the words and the melody so all we had to do was say, “Just sing this part please” and they did it easily. Doing it with friends made it all the more fun as well. I think that was the most fun part of the whole recording process. When it’s just the two of us doing all the work, it’s easy to end up not enjoying it.

Jihyun: The session parts were done by Billy Carter’s Hyunjoon and George from Monoban. Hyunjoon did some percussion. He played the maracas and the tambourine; he was really good, way better than if we had done it. George played some cello for us and Insoo played the accordion. All three of them were super professional.   

Kanghee: I think we only managed to get all that stuff done because we had a producer. We would never have thought to add the accordion or cello parts to the songs, but because we had a producer I think we managed to to get as much as possible out of the recording sessions. I think the whole process was much smoother with Insoo than it would have been if we had done it alone. Thanks to him, neither of us got stressed out and we both managed to stay happy throughout the whole recording process.

# From listening to your lyrics, like those of “Useless Generation”, it seems like some of your songs are drawn from frustrations with Korean society and in particular its effect on the youth of today. Is that a fair reflection?

Jihyun: Honestly, I don’t have too many things to complain about. It’s like this: I’ve got good long term friends that I have been close to since I was young and in touch with over the last 10 years or so; those guys are all doing pretty well. They have all graduated from university and completed their military service and are now looking for work, but that is proving more difficult for them. Seeing them struggle like that made me wonder, “Why? These guys don’t cause any trouble and they work hard. They are normal Korean guys, they are not super special, but nor are they useless. Why is it so hard for them to find work?” That song, “Useless Generation”, was just a song to describe that situation. It’s not a song saying ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ to fix the problem. I guess it’s more like painting a picture of the problem. A self-portrait kind of thing.

# How do you go about making the actual songs?

Jihyun: Firstly, we both bring ideas to the table. We bring in whatever we have written and show it and explain it to each other. If we have written some lyrics, we bring just them; if we have a riff then we bring that and explain it to each other. We do everything as a team. Anyway, we take whatever we have and play it together as an improvised jam. We weed out the good parts that come from that initial jam session and record them quickly, then we choose the best parts. Sometimes we might create the basis for 6 or 7 songs in a day. If we can salvage even one of them and make it a full song, that’s cool … if none of them work out, then so be it.

# What made you decide to include the songs from the EP on this full album?

Kanghee: Because the songs from then and the songs we make now are really different. We spend a lot of time worrying over the songs we released on the EP. There are so many versions of those songs that we can’t even remember them all… now that we have them down on the album it feels a bit like they are finally the completed versions of the songs. Also, we had a producer this time round. Firstly, we have to like the songs ourselves. We had some songs that we liked, and having a producer really helped us flesh them out and remove the parts we didn’t need. I think he probably helped out on over 90% of each of the songs. We made the framework of the songs and he helped us out with the details.

Jihyun: If you listen to the songs, the arrangement hasn’t changed all that much. You might think the songs feel a bit different, but the composition is pretty much exactly as it was. I think the feelings of the songs have changed a bit because we have been playing them live for so long. Since we first recorded the songs on the EP our guitar and drum ‘touch’ has changed, and my voice probably has as well. I think that has helped change the songs the most. Of course, the small details were changed by the producer, which will have had a big overall effect on the songs as well.

# The music video for ‘Strangers’ is made up of footage from your UK tour. How did the experience of the tour affect your music and the relationship between the two of you?

Kanghee: The first time we went, it felt like we were kindergartners. The second time, more like elementary schoolers … next time we might have graduated to middle school level, although I’m not sure! Anyway, it feels like we are going through those kinds of phases. To put it simply, it felt like we were starting out from scratch. We couldn’t even call 119 (999 in England). Overall, by the time we got back to Korea we had gained a lot of courage, changed our way of thinking and become a bit more comfortable as a band… so, when we see a band who has just come back from a tour we know that at some point they will have upped their game a lot.   

Jihyun: In the case of someone coming from England to Korea for a tour I think it would be a similar feeling. They would be able to say, “Ah, Asia has this kinda culture and these kinds of characteristics”. It was a tour, but it was also a trip to a new country which we really enjoyed in itself. It was especially good because we got to take our music along with us and show it to people from another land, and they really enjoyed it. That part gave us lots of hope about going forward. We believe we can do well.

# We often ask this question to bands who have had experience touring abroad: what tangible benefits do you think it has for Korean bands?

Kanghee: I always say this: don’t quibble about the small things, just get out there and do it. There is one thing I’m sure of; even if you go with nothing, by the time you come back you will be a whole lot better off for the experience. When we first went on tour, we just went through it like a bulldozer. We didn’t even have the money for bus fares. But we learned so much from doing it. If there happen to be any other bands reading this interview I’d like to say this: who knows if people will like your music or not? But don’t worry about that; if you have pride in what you are doing, just go and give the tour a try. When you come back you won’t be able to describe well in words all the experiences you will have gained.  

Jihyun: If you think like this, it will be an easier decision for you. If you are in a band you have to go on tour. Sadly, in Korea there are not that many people who want to attend gigs outside of Seoul, so it can be hard to gain new fans on a tour here. In other countries the bands are all touring constantly. That’s how you have to do it and how they are doing it. It is the longest used and most effective method of making it as a band, so you should definitely give it a go.

# Your 2014 debut EP “Whoever You Are” became something of an underground sensation and quickly sold out (until it was re-released in May 2015 ahead of the UK tour). What did you make of your rather rapid rise within, at first, the Hongdae punk scene, and then to the level of filming for Naver Onstage, reaching the finals of rookie awards, and touring abroad?

Jihyun: Yeah, we rose up in the scene quicker than we expected. It was hard at first to cope with the expectations of rising up in the scene so fast, but at some point, it became ok.

Kanghee: We had a lot of pressure on us last year, so we fell into a bit of a slump. Before we hit that slump we were always questioning if it was ‘ok’ to do things. For about three months, every time we went drinking we would be laughing and questioning all the things we had to do. We were smiling, but mentally it was tough. We started working in earnest on the album in August last year. We were concentrating on that so much that we didn’t have time to worry about the other things. So we overcame all our doubts quite naturally. When we look at the ‘Onstage’ videos now, we are not really satisfied with any of them. At that time we didn’t really have any knowhow or experience. If we hadn’t had a few drinks we wouldn’t have been able to do it at all. We said, smiling to the staff, “We are just gonna have a drink, then we will do it” … but really we were super nervous and needed to calm down. These days we don’t really worry too much about anything we do.

Jihyun: We don’t have many big expectations for anything either. When we went to take part in competitions or stuff like that we used to get super nervous. We would always think, “Ah, we need to nail this and do a good job” … we didn’t want to think like that, but we had no choice really; after all, like all Koreans, when we were young we were taught to think we must do well at everything. However, at some moment in time we thought, “Meh. If it is so damn hard, why are we doing it?. We just want to make good music and we hope that people will enjoy it, why do we need to worry so much about doing everything perfectly?”. After thinking like that, we stopped worrying about things like how many people would turn up to a show, because after all, all that is important is to make sure those people who do come have a good time. So long as we have fun, that’s all that matters. We are entertainers.

Kanghee: It’s not that much fun to be perfect. There are lots of people who enjoy doing things well … most of the people who come to the shows are not analysing our drumming techniques. Lots of people just come to dance. I think everyone who is at a show just wants to feel something.

Jihyun: We are independent musicians. Not everything we do is DIY, but we are making the music we want to make. It’s a bit like this I guess: the indie scene is a bit like watching a B-movie. If everyone in the world only liked major Hollywood movies, there would be no place for the smaller independent B-movies. To provide diversity in the world, we need these kinds of things. I hope that people’s tastes become more varied and open.

# You guys are famous for being able to drink a lot. Which one of you is the best drinker? And who has done the most embarrassing thing when drunk?

Jihyun: I recognise that these days. I think we drink a lot. Doesn’t everyone though?

Kanghee: I don’t think there is anyone who could live in this world and not drink, is there?

Jihyun: I think we probably drink about the same amount as each other.

Kanghee: Neither of us cause any trouble when we are drunk. If we did anything too bad I don’t think either of us would be able to leave the house or show our faces for a few days. I think there are not too many people who drink as much as we do and don’t cause any trouble while doing it. We really hate being drunk and causing trouble. When we were young, we caused all sorts of problems so these days we think we ought not to. At some point, I guess we grew up.

Jihyun: In actual fact, these days there are shows where we don’t drink at all. In the past, if we were not completely drunk we couldn’t even do the shows, but we have more control over our minds these days. We just have to imagine we are drunk, and we get that same feeling!

Kanghee: In the past I always wanted to be drunk on stage, but now we just drink something like one or two beers before going on.

Jihyun: However, the beer tends to make me burp while I'm singing. It’s probably not a good idea to drink it before singing. Ah, there have been two funny stories. The first was when we went to play a show outside of Seoul. We went to a bar where we were supposed to be having a pre-show meeting, but the no one else turned up. The barman felt sorry for us, so he told us we could drink whatever we wanted. So we did, we drank whatever we wanted, but he never asked us back again.

Kanghee: The second story was from down in Daegu. We had played an opening party for a club there. They had invited a few bands down from Seoul and we were the main act (we have no idea why). As soon as we arrived they started plying us with booze. At some point I completely blacked out; halfway through the show I just fell asleep.

Jihyun: Right. You were playing the song “Hangover”. In that song there’s a part where the drums stop. That’s where you went to sleep. Ha ha ha!

Kanghee: I dunno. I can’t remember it well. There is a video of us playing that someone recorded for us. In the video I’m still playing the drums in the second part of the song, but everyone says I fell asleep. Anyway, the next day I kept apologising to Jihyun… I want to go back there and play to make up for it. We’d better make it a free show for everyone.

Jihyun: We felt really bad for everyone at the show… We did something silly in Jeonju as well. It’s really annoying to have to keep paying for drinks one at a time while you are drinking so we had decided to make a tab at the bar and pay when we were done. We all got really excited and drank a load of booze. But the other people who were with us didn’t really drink much.

Kanghee: I kept warning the others that it was a bad idea to have a group tab. But everyone said it would be fine and that we would just divide it up evenly between us all at the end to save us the bother of calculating it all. So we didn’t worry about it at all and drank loads. The bill came to 400,000 won ($400) by the end of the night, and it turned out that 300,000 of that was just for the two of us. The other three teams had only drunk 100,000 won's worth of drink between them! So these days when we drink, we all pay separately. The other bands always insist that we pay for our drinks separately!

# You have played lots of shows drunk?

Jihyun: These days lots of people are saying it’s not cool for musicians to be getting wasted and playing shows… but honestly I think that if you don’t or can’t enjoy that kind of thing you should head off and watch some classical music. This is a subculture, and anyway, even if musicians are drunk while they are playing, it is still a performance, right?

Kanghee: If a painter was drunk when he painted a picture, are you not going to go and see it? It’s a similar thing. One of the reasons we play in indie bands is because we want to be able to do whatever we want. If we want to drink and play, then I think that these people should understand that to a certain extent.  

# Did you both dream of being rock musicians when you were kids?

Jihyun: For me, I’ve been thinking about it since I was ten years old.

Kanghee: When I was young I lived in South America. There, I took part in some folk dance contests and also performed in the Catholic school choir. They would pick the best kids from school for the choir, and at that time my voice was really big. From the outset I really enjoyed doing this kind of thing. I never did much studying, so my grades were rubbish. I was always just singing or playing the drums and soccer...the first time I played the drums, I was forced into it. Koreans living abroad are mainly focused on the church society, and from around middle school I had to listen to the adult services at the church. My older sister was a drummer in the church band, so the church teacher said to me, “Your sister is a drummer, so you can do it as well”. It is a strange logic, but that is how I started out as a drummer. It doesn’t make sense, does it? But if it had not happened I would never have met Jihyun.

Jihyun: Actually, I really wanted to be a drummer. Kanghee wanted to be a guitar player. But you have to have some drums to be a drummer! I have liked music since I was a youngster living in Daegu. I always listened to foreign music, every day, and when my father would go away on business trips he would bring back cassette tapes of American music, and I would say, “Wow! This is so cool!” When I was 10 years old, Dad came back with a classical guitar; I wanted to give it a go so picked up the text book and tried to teach myself. I think that experience helped me out a lot later on. I got my first electric guitar when I was in the first grade of middle school, and since then I’ve not studied much because all I wanted to do was play guitar.

Kanghee: Welcome to the life of an artist.

# Jihyun, I heard a kind of urban legend that you sleep with your guitar, which accounts for why you play it so well. Can you confirm or deny this rumor?

Jihyun: When you are young you have big fantasies about things. For example, you want to be a racing car driver, but you’ve always had crappy cars. If someone suddenly gave you a great car you would feel fantastic. The first time I ever got an electric guitar I felt like that. Even though it was a crappy guitar I can still remember the smell and the sound it made. At that time I would practice as soon as I got home, right up until I went to sleep. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to play really well, it was just really good fun to play the guitar… so the amount of practice I did was immense. These days I don’t practice anywhere near as much! I can pretty much play to the level I want to be able to play at, I don’t really have the desire to get any better at it. Instead I’m really interested in researching about sound or writing lyrics or making videos. I’ve got loads of new hobbies. I am not very good at concentrating on only one thing at a time.

# So the rumor is just a rumor then?

Jihyun: Perhaps the rumor started because people always see me drinking and holding my guitar. ha ha!

Kanghee: You have got to stop drinking.

# One of the most appealing things about your songs, in my opinion, is your voice. Do you do anything in particular to warm up before you go on stage? Any tips for keeping it in shape?

Jihyun: I do a lot of voice management. I have reflux esophagitis (an esophageal mucosal injury). I have that problem because I do loads of bad things, like smoking and drinking. I heard that cabbage is good for your stomach so I usually eat a lot of that. I don’t drink much coffee and if I do, I make it a latte. Before I sing I try not to eat foods with really strong tastes. I do that kind of thing to keep the voice sounding good. If I feel like my voice is in bad condition I regularly use propolis spray to help my throat. It’s important to manage your voice. If you don’t there will be a time where you want to sing but won’t be able to.

Kanghee: I drink a pint of beer…it’s a kind of pre-show ritual. It’s not just that I like to drink! It is a ritual.

Jihyun: It makes you feel good, right? Drinking it is good, the smell of it is good. If my voice is still feeling bad before a show, I don’t eat anything for three hours before the show.

# Is there any particular festival you would like to perform at?

Kanghee & Jihyun: We played at Stepping Stones Festival (on Jeju Island) once, we would love to play there again. It was one of the best shows, with one of the best environments, we have ever played at.

Kanghee: Among all the festivals here in Korea, I think the most “festival-like” of them all is the Incheon Pentaport festival. The others just feel like big club shows.

Jihyun: If Zandari Festa ever tells us to stop playing there, we will keep playing anyway! Because we are so thankful to them for everything they have ever done to get us to the point we are at today, we will keep playing there forever!

Kanghee: Some people say that the fans only go to see the bigger bands at Zandari and don’t bother with the smaller ones… but at the conference if you listen to all the foreigners who come over you find out that they get lots of recommendations on who to watch over the weekend. As they go round checking out all the bands that have been recommended to them it is inevitable that they will end up seeing loads of other bands as well. I don’t think too many people realise that point. Bands who play there just really need to concentrate on promoting their shows, and then they will see the benefits to be had from playing there.   

Jihyun: It is just the same at SXSW (South By Southwest, held in Texas) in the US. It is a showcase festival. If you go to SXSW you will see that all the bands are carrying around loads of pamphlets and CDs. They really put a lot of effort into promoting themselves. There are so many bands around, so you have to do it like that.  

Kanghee: If you don’t put in the effort and just think, “It will be good if loads of people come, but who cares if they don’t”, then the festival isn’t going to work out for you. I think it is really important to promote your own showcase at the festival by handing out flyers and so on to foreigners and other people who walk by. A good example is the band Theatre 8, who during the festival were constantly out on the streets busking. It makes people curious about you. We played up on a rooftop at Zandari; there is a wall on this rooftop. We would lean over and shout “Hey!” at the people passing below. “You, come up here!”. If they asked what we were doing, we would tell them we were a rock ‘n roll band … and up they would come.  

Jihyun: It was fun, wasn’t it? Ha ha. There is no elegant way to promote oneself. You just have to do it.

# You recently filmed a video for the song”16-22” with the ‘Round The World in 80 Music Videos’ team. How did that come about, and can you tell us more about the concept of the video?

Kanghee: I think those guys contacted the band ‘The Black Skirts’ first. Then they contacted us as well, but it looked like we were not going to be able to make the schedule work, so we recommended some other bands to them. Those bands couldn’t make it work either so we ended up doing it. We met the team and chatted with them, we got the feeling that they were a bit reckless, much like ourselves. We go on tours playing music, and they go on tours making videos, so we figured it would be fun to make a video with them. The resulting video was really fun as well. The idea behind the video was great. I would have never thought about using the masks in the video.

# What do you think about all the clubs closing down at the moment? What could be done to improve the scene and get people more interested in live music again?

Jihyun: I am really interested in this topic as well. Club Spot was the first place where I ever played a concert in Hongdae, and all of a sudden, it just disappeared. Recently Badabie went as well and soon we will be losing 1969 and Ruailrock as well. They are all places I have really fond memories of… Hongdae never used to be like this. Artistic types came to the area and made it popular; this brought capital and investment to the area, so lots of chain shops followed, and the club street has slowly changed to more of a ‘bar’ street. If an alternative method to stop this change could have been found I guess they would have found it by now. Firstly, I think it is important for musicians to gain some power in the scene. I’d love it if the bands could find a certain level of success and then get their own alternative space. They could buy a building and make that space inside. Somewhere like FF or Gogos 2. It is a big problem, but in the long run it is important to think about it and find a solution.

# What is your greatest dream or ambition as a band?

Kanghee: A big dream of ours is to play on the main stage of Glastonbury Festival at around 6pm. If you are going to have a dream, I think it is good to dream big, right?

Jihyun: When we played at AX Hall yesterday as part of the K-Rookies show, I thought about that. We are getting ready for our showcase concert at the moment but we don’t have all that many fans yet, so we can’t play at a venue that is too big. So we chose to do the show not in one of the bigger venues, but in one of the clubs we like the most, Gogos2. But there is one negative point to doing it there. We can’t show any videos or do much with the lighting. I wish we could make an environment in which we could do what we want. It would be great if we had all our own gear so that wherever we went we could do the show in whatever direction we wanted. It would be amazing to be in that kind of situation.

# And personally?

Kanghee: I just want to maintain my lifestyle as it is now.

Jihyun: I have a dream. I want to buy some land in Paju and build myself a house. I will live there. I moved out of my house when I was pretty young and have been renting places and moving around a lot since then, so my desire to have a house of my own has gotten stronger I guess. I want a space where I can hang out with my friends. I’d like to be able to grow my own food there as well. Also I need a place where I could make music as well. When I was a kid I used to grow tomatoes on the mountain out the back of my house… ha ha.

# What are Dead Buttons’ plans for 2016?

Jihyun: Around the start of April or May we plan to leave Korea and never come back …. well, not really. We are going on a tour of Europe and then coming back to Korea for a little while or … going right back out on tour again. There is a festival called CMJ in New York that we are going to play at as well; we got selected last year at Mu:con (a big music conference in Seoul) to go and play there. I think it’s going to be a better show than we can even imagine. I think we will end up playing loads of shows abroad this year; half willingly, half not. At the moment we are focused on getting ready for our showcase concert on the 14th of February. If you don’t come, you will really regret it. We will be doing all the cool things we have wanted to do for ages. We will have six session musicians playing with us as well. They are all pros!

Kanghee: It will be the first time you will see us with a full session band in tow.

Jihyun: You will have so much fun at this show it might kill you!  

Buy <Some Kind Of Youth> by Dead Buttons :

Digital : Monkey3Music | Naver Music | Olleh Music | Bugs | Genie | M-Net | Melon

Physical CDs : Yes 24 | Aladin | Kyobo Bookstore (Online) | Hyang Music | Yes Asia (International Delivery) | Hot Tracks

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Interview: A-lim Lee / Eunji Kim
English Translation: Patrick Connor
Edited by: Rock N Rose
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For more information on the band, check them out at the following sites :

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Deadbuttons
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Dead_Buttons
DoIndie: http://www.doindie.co.kr/en/bands/dead-buttons

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