Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mangoes and lemons, apples and oranges, chalk and cheese: the marks of the beat

Ten years ago, it would have been inconceivable that indie kids would have ‘taken dance music seriously’, but what with the likes of Kompakt and the DFA (with Pitchfork betwixt and between them tine after tine) all that’s changed. It’s been a long time since James Murphy (or his character in ‘Losing My Edge’) ‘first played Daft Punk to the rock kids’, but one of the things that’s remained fascinating for me after (and despite) all the cross-pollination and debordering is that you effectively have two communities listening to each other’s work’s with vastly different ears and expectations… or do you?

Witness the indie reaction to Hercules and Love Affair. A DFA dud, apparently… I confess I speak as someone who genuinely and deeply wondered why people liked Sound of Silver so much. And guess how much I’m digging H & LA? But I digress (in order to engage in a wild and unsupportable generalisation): the people who loved Sound of Silver probably also thought Gui Boratto’s Chromophobia and the Field’s From Here We Go Insipid were the dance albums of 2007…

And so here we are, in a place and time where people with vastly different soundmaps have converged upon a common field (however insipid or sublime)… and from here we go mutually misunderstood…?

One of the ways this shows is when slacker boys bang against amphetamine subcultures. A lot of indie kids who talk/think about dance music have never taken ecstasy in a club or danced all night to techno – and they don’t care to. Take, for example, the friend of a friend of mine. He had eagerly pre-purchased his Superpitcher ticket… but when he got to the gig, he was the only one there. Why? Could it be that Kompakt was reviled in Melbourne… ?!

‘What time is Superpitcher playing?’ he asked the bartender, checking his watch and thinking, sheesh, it’s ten o’clock already.

‘About five AM,’ replied a pierced fellow polishing a glass.

‘Fuck that,’ he said, and went home.

A lot of indie kids dislike house and are deeply suspicious of the gay/disco/gospel culture that is one of its foundational tropes (so are a lot of techno 'men' too though). This is ‘bad’, ‘cheesy’ music that is made using ‘soulless’ machines, instead of ‘real musicians’ (and Steve Albini). And besides, who wants to take E and listen to ‘doof doof doof’ when you can get drunk and dance around with (admittedly better looking) indie girls on the sauce while the DJ plays the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘Maps’. You can mouth ‘they don’t love you like I love you’ at her while you crack fat over the thought of Karen O’s sweat, torso and lipstick.

But (on the other hand) indie kids became curious, or, at the very least, it simply won’t do to dismiss dance music anymore… you might lose your preciously accumulated cred if you sneer at the wrong cat, if you don’t form some kind of opinion on Ricardo. Basically, the contemporary indie consensus seems to be that one ‘should’ listen to some electronic music ‘in some way’ (but only ‘the good stuff’). This has meant that ‘the good stuff’ has been reviewed, usually by half-decent writers with half-baked literary pretensions, who can hide their ignorance and perplexity behind a whole bunch of very prettily phrased phoney baloney.

But what’s ‘the good stuff’? Look out! Here Comes Love… was one of the albums that perfectly captured the condensation point. Indie kids (who’ve never been to a rave) raved about it; dance kids (with some exceptions) just thought the ‘pitcher was raving mad… man, did you hear his cover of ‘Fever’? But, however much Aksel and Kompakt committed ‘credibility suicide’ in danceland with Here Comes Love, both artist and label got a helluva lot of indie kudos from it, and roughly since then Kompakt invariably gets ‘taken seriously’ in reviews from indie rags and websites in a way that Perlon, say, would never do in a million years (Ricardo excepted).

Clearly, it’s not just that ‘Here Comes Love was crap’, even though, I freely concede that I think so, due to my expectations as well as the aesthetic prejudices that I hold (and cherish). What it was, really, was a whole new soundmap (with its own expectations, its own aesthetic prejudices) being brought to bear on ‘dance music’. And this is significant because it is this ‘indiemap’ that has become one of the decisive filters of new electronic dance music, shaping the understanding and response of new releases.

Recently, I read a review that typifies this way of listening to (and talking about) dance music. I want to dismiss it, but I can't, although it smacks of egregious misunderstandings (to me, to me) and is riddled with lazy, ignorant comparisons and non-sensical rhetorical flourishes. But why not dismiss it, if I diss it? Well, simply, it’s because I immediately recognise the indiemap, with its implied audience and the buttons it’s trying to push with them. I should add that this isn’t a Pitchfork review, and that although ‘the fork’ have been responsible for some of the most outrageously stupid and misguided dance music reviews, that they also ‘employ’ (I use the word with the looseness of empty pockets in baggy trousers) writers like Tim Finney, Phillip Sherburne and Mark Richardson, all of whom know their shit and write very eloquently about electronic music. Check out Sherburne’s review of H & LA, or Mark Richardson’s review of Quaristice, which was much more thorough and informative than the one I wrote for RA.

These are all great reviews, and nothing like the one I’m griping about – XLR8R’s for Sascha Funke’s Mango. Now, to these ears, Mango is an all-hat-and-no-pants harmonic/atmospheric tech-house workout as thin and underwhelming as Funke’s moustache. But I never ‘got’ Funke, never liked much of what other people said was his best work.. I never even felt the need to keep Bravo on my back-up drive after I’d wiped it off my mp3 player and sold the CD copy, let’s just put it that way. Anyway, you can read the whole XLR8R review here, as well as RA’s review here, but it’s not the artistic merit of Mango (or lack thereof) that I’m interested in. Anyway, to the chase!

Here’s the opener: “Somewhere between dancefloor utility, lazy-time pop music, and an audiophile’s workout lies the perfect techno album.”

Leaving aside the dubious truth-value of the claims the writer makes, what’s striking is the embedded assumption of ‘what techno is for’, which is, as the concluding sentence reinforces, “listening, dancing, and sleepwalking.” It is these three frames (and Funke’s success within them) that, for the reviewer, “reaffirm(s) Funke as a current master of the minimal techno form” as well as confirming “that the genre still has much more going for it than just its benchmark thup.” Well, I’ve never even heard a ‘thup’, but, unlike most dance music (Perlon) – which just goes thup – Mango is good because you can listen to it, dance to it and fall asleep listening to it (but not in a boring way). This listening, dancing, sleepwalking idea (the 'good things' forever threatened by some kind of unfortunate backsliding back into the land of thup) get expanded on in the next paragraph:

“At times, Mango just feels like an incredibly somnolent rock record, something Morr Music might deliver in a particularly ballsy release cycle; in other spots, it’s full of blinds-shut, bell-toned – oh, how he loves that sound – brooding ambience. Of course, there are plenty of Funke micro beats, perfectly placed, always developing in some way, like compass points leading from a wet winter street into the club that never sleeps yet never really pulls out of its dream state.”

Indie kid A: So, how’d you like the new Villalobos track?
Indie kid B: Yeah, well, I rate it for dancing and listening to, but as far as lazy-time pop music goes, this one sucks, man…
Indie kid A: Yeah… and it keeps on going ‘thup’ - but I *did* like the microbeats.
Indie kid B: Mmm, totally…

Just behind the blossoming bush of adjectives ornamenting the three categories of merit that can be awarded to techno (‘listening’, ‘dancing’ and ‘sleepwalking’) are a pair of tiny little screaming symbols that look like this: ‘?!’. They’re the symbols of a person totally out of place and depth, lost, scared, and worried moreover that they might reveal the at any moment the truth and depth, nay, the 'thup' of their perplexity… but they’re also howling symbols of non-recognition that can easily shift shape into cooing, soothing sighs of contentment, once the categories it blesses and recognises are re-introduced. Witness the ‘relief’: Nathan Fake makes ‘shoegaze techno’. ‘Pop’ goes the dance producer; ‘Scha-wing’ go the indie-kids. Meanwhile, back at the thup cave…

But this is ungenerous piss-taking (as much fun as I'm having with it) – at least this guy’s got his understanding of what the music is/does for him, an understanding that his friends will comprehend and relate to… and this, precisely, is what music is about to most people. Sociability, soundmap, bonding entwined memories and values – the empire of like. There is an idiom (?indieom?), and to me the Mango review was an exemplary form written in this dialect… the fact that I think it’s crap is beside the point… almost... 'the point' (or the question) to me is this:

Why don't techno kids have an idiom for discussing indie music?

Well, it's like Rik from the Young Ones once said to a senior citizen:

'Well, I've got news for you. I think old people are boring. And the only reason you don't understand our music, is because you don't like it.'

....over to Chris...

Chris’ two cents:

When Pete forwarded me the review in question, it immediately made me think of the Big Lebowski. And this scene in particular:

“Donnie – you’re outta your element”. Exactly. The indie kids and the reviewers they read lack the frame of reference to be able to understand and comprehend techno (broadly understood). I don’t have a problem with this when it comes to those who listen to indie; that is unless they start trying to have an ‘informed’ conversation with me. Of course, it is completely an individual’s choice how they engage with music. I must admit, I sometimes struggle to understand how compatible a love of techno is with indie (or when people say their favourite djs are Richie Hawtin and Tiesto). But at the end of the day, it isn’t my call.

Reviewers, however, are a different story. Doctors have to sign up to a hippocratic oath, reviewers really should follow a policy of ‘if you don’t know, don’t say’. When it comes to Funke, the reviewer’s only frame of reference is the Supermayer experiment of ’07, or as he so ineloquently puts it: “Supermayer’s super-minimal-cum-electro-pop/rock effort Save the World”. “Donnie. Shut the fuck up!” “Super-minimal-cum-electro-pop/rock”? Surely a phrase like that should get any writer fired on the spot. Anyway, I digress. The point is this – what exactly does the Supermayer album have in common with the Funke one? Very little, beyond the fact that it is probably one of the few dance albums the reviewer has listened to in recent times and is thus able to compare Funke to. I really can’t see any other decent explanation for this stupid comparison. Again, this kind of (il)logic on a personal level is fine, but it does not cut it for a reviewer.

On a deeper level, what frustrates me about this is that it helps to (re)construct a completely inaccurate frame of reference for those outside of techno – indie kids/whoever – whose understanding is influenced by those lacking even the most basic comprehension of what our music is about. It is exactly these kind of Donnie reviewers that reinforce the (mis)perceptions that surround techno and lead to some feeling the need to justify/explain the love for techno/house/mnml (as I felt I needed to for a long time).

Personally, I don’t give a flying fuck about indie. Never had, never will. I am an unabashed techno purist through and through. Saying that, an undeniable overlap/crossover/interest between indie and dance exists and will surely continue. Given this situation, the best we can hope for is having the frames of references expanded, challenged and pushed. And to do this, it is important that peeps with techno knowledge talk to the indie crowd, rather than leaving it up to a depressing large crowd of Donnies…


  1. I think you underplay the importance of certain drugs in shaping people's taste. And there are plenty of indie kids who like and get stuff on Perlon. I like their sleeves too and that's part of the equation too.

  2. Not at all... heroin has done wonderful things for musical Melbourne - just ask Nick Cave or Warren Ellis ;)

    I like emos for their sleeves, too. I think it's integral. But soon, if everything becomes digital, there'll be no sleeves at all.

    Of course, all these categories are pseudo-arbitrary, aren't they.

    Which drugs have shaped your tastes, anonymous?

  3. Oh just the usual - habitual weed smoking and getting into King Tubby... pills and dancing to techno, and bad prog-house for a while there I'll admit... all the while enjoying listening to Nick Cave... It's only Pitchfork and the dance media mafia that seems obsessed with profiling people

  4. But then I liked some techno-ish stuff before the pills - usual indie-boy crossover stuff admittedly - Underworld, Aphex, Autechre etc.

  5. I'm a little surprised that what's been going on with Modern Love hasn't crossed over into the indie crowd. I could easily imagine the Pitchfork audience getting an album like The Coldest season or Rod Modell's newest.

  6. modern love/modell for the crossover? i am not too sure about that. what is there for the indie kids to grab on to? how would they relate to it?

    and putting it bluntly, it seems like most of the stuff that does crossover - the field - being an excellent example just isnt very good. perhaps modern love is too good to be picked up in indie land...

  7. Well, I was a noise rock teen. I got into electronic music through Thrill Jockey and the electronic releases that Matador licensed... from Fugazi to Shellac, from Shellac to Slint and June of 44, from Slint to Tortoise, from Tortoise to Mouse on Mars, Autechre, Aphex Twin, Two Lone Swordsmen, Mu-Ziq.... etc, etc... and then I tried ecstasy and started listening to techno, and everything changed...

  8. I agree with your main argument, but it loses a lot of steam when you conflate ignorant writers trying to critically examine dance music with ignorant indie kids trying to enjoy dance music.

    What are you trying to accomplish by taking cynical swipes at the philistines who are dumb enough to not differentiate between Hawtin or Tiesto, or not know when a headlining DJ plays?

    If you dropped the cagey and defensive scene preservationism, your point wouldn't get lost in the rockism (technoism?).

  9. ross - i think your comments are more directed at what i wrote. in terms of the cynical swipes, i am guilty as charged. that is just a pet peeve, but you are right it doesn't add much to the general point.

    i do, however, clearly distinguish between listeners and writers. while i personally have trouble relating to the former, i have no issue or problem with them as such. as i said, it is there choice how they relate to the music. writers are a different story. and where the two are related is that writers help construct the frame through which individuals may (mis)perceive techno.

    but as i said, i am a purist through and through. my argument is naturally going to reflect that bias...

  10. I agree with some of this, but Kompakt not that different from 2007 Dial to me, which I know you guys seem to like.

    Dial reached its peak years ago too, like Kompakt, then the albums came.

  11. dial is an interesting one actually... i'd argue that what happened to dial in 2007 is that it really crossed over into 'mainstream' techno/house/mnml if you will, whereas before that it was somewhat of a boutique label. as far as i know, dial certainly hasnt been picked up by indie listeners, except for pantha's album. in contrast, kompakt seems to be a major point of reference for indie listeners, regardless of the fact that the quality of kompakt's output of late has been poor.

  12. I agree with Chris' point about Kompakt. Kompakt gets attention because of brand recognition, regardless of 'Kontent' ;) .

    As far as Dial goes... I disagree about them 'peaking', although we'll see what the next year or two bring. This argument would be stronger if you (anon) could explain how it was that the big Dial albums 'betrayed' the sound, style or intention of what Dial was going for in the first place. I don't think any of them did, at all. In fact, the solidity of Dial's catalogue is overwhelming. I have almost all the releases, and there's nary a dud among them.

    For me (and this is a prejudiced comment), Kompakt lost the plot by doing two things:

    -letting their talented, high profile artists release shit

    -jumping the neotrance badwagon

    I get the impression that when Kompakt got bigger and richer from distribution, that they got slack with their labels. There just wasn't any tightness there. In the early days, you could never be assured of liking every Kompakt release, but this was due to diversity, not quality. Later on, it was a chore having to wade through/listen to all the mediocre crap they were releasing just to get to the gems.

    There's some bitterness there for me. I'm really disappointed in Kompakt. Michael Mayer, Wolfgang Voigt, Aksel Schaufler - they're all very talented people, and I think they got complacent and lazy.

    There's a kind of 'let's just release it, why not, it's a *fun* release!'

    And I feel like saying, 'no, it's not 'fun', it's second rate, and you can do better, and we deserve better.'

    The supermayer album was the nadir for the label, imho. It's the label's equivalent of bloated, dinosauric stadium rock - 'Art of Letting Go' was the one exception, a track that was actually fun.

    Will there be a 'punk' punkt for the label? Will it backlash against itself? I hope so, but I don't think so.

  13. i think i agree with a lot of this article but although it calls for unity i think it gets a bit too 'us v them' in places for those calls to really come through...

    i don't really agree totally with the 'if you don't know then don't say' - fact is, if some so-called 'indie' reviewers didn't have a stab at assessing albums like Funke's then it's likely they wouldn't get any coverage at all on those websites etc.

    and i don't think there's much that could be said for that situation. positive criticism in broader circles - no matter if it's well-informed or trumped-up bollocks - means more people might listen to the stuff and, perhaps, will buy it.

    (as an aside, as far as i can tell H&LA's been getting pretty universal acclaim)

  14. So i gave myself a few minutes to let my toes uncurl and thought about some of the stuff written here.

    Or maybe i should sort of introduce me as a listener: at 14 i was into the peppers and rage against the machine, back then in europe that was considered pretty alternative. By the time i got 16 i got into punkrock and all that stuff. Around the age of 17 though some friends from a completely different background introduced me to underworld and at the end of that year i saw claude young, kevin saunderson, derrick may and tons of others dj. After that my musical taste only expanded to the point i'd call myself an omnivore closest to an indiekid but still massively interested in punk/hardcore stuff as well as techno, (deep)house, mnml and whatever else electronics thrown at me. There you go.

    That's out of the way, let's proceed (i'll add i'm not a native english speaker, sorry for the possible fuckups).
    I do agree with you that i feel that the most important indie-review-machine in the world (yes, i am referring to pitchfork, that resort for failed Literature or Creative Writing BA's ) sometimes feels like they don't know shit about dance music. I for one did not like that sound of silver album (although i thought the first album was pretty tight) and i concur that they only seem to know the field/Kompakt, boratto (whom i really think made a fucking great album), justice and LCD and apart from their "the month in techno column" obviously.

    But what i think is pretty lame is when you talk about being a purist and how they don't get 'us'. Who the fuck is us?
    You're also pretty much limiting yourself to your own context. For me as a Belgian, the lines are way more blurred, meaning that most of my indie friends have been in clubs, perhaps not on E and they do know the difference between a theatre show and a club gig (i.e. between 10pm or 5am). When there is talk about new-rave, i do actually know what rave was in the mid-nineties. My friend's dad had a club that could hold 2000 people, where the classic "first rebirth" hardtrance/techno was first played, where jeff mills and robert armani were playing. So what happens here is that now indiekids (sometimes ironically and i hate that too, believe me) all of a sudden realize that shit they thought back then was stupid (i could hardly talk to my punkrock friends about stuff like this), is actually pretty cool.

    The question is also not whether Kompakt is delivering lesser quality, it's whether they give a shit whether their old die-hard fans are not willing to follow on their change of course which they themselves perhaps genuinely like...

    And being a purist you should know that when it comes to stuff like H&LA, this is not only indiefriendly stuff but also really going back to the roots of electronic music. Or at least one branch of it. You would probably refer to Kraftwerk but to me bands like ESG were doing punk stuff that was actually disco at the same time and from disco it's a small step to the first dj's, to house music and so on.
    So my question is whether it is really possible to try and have those lines so pure as you'd like them. There is way too much of a them vs us story while i believe that 70% of the musicians you are talking about have a way more diverse background and perhaps even taste nowadays than you'd think.

  15. Re Rhak's comments:

    Let's be clear, Chrisdisco and I (Pete) are different... the post contains both our POVs - I think that Chris is more the puritan than I am. In fact, I know he is ;).

    You're right about Kompakt - they've got their own direction, and they don't give a shit. Nor is it their job to make music that pleases their old-school fans. But nonetheless, most of their recent output is rubbish (with notable exceptions).

    Of course there are no clear lines, and any schematic like this has is quasi-abritrary - the question is whether it hits a nerve, and I think it does. There is 'some truth ' in it, that's the only claim that I'd make.

    And really, Chris' two cents section exemplifies another way of thinking/writing/talking aobut music. Chris really does not give a flying fuck about indie/pop music... and do you see RA reviewing Animal Collective, Vampire Weekend or Holy Fuck? I say this knowing full well that Phonica do include groups like tis on their mail-outs. But do Hardwax? Would they? Would the panoramabar ever host bands?

    Maybe Optimo are the interesting wedge in all this, considering that they're totally omnivorous, but they know how to play techno and house - and when I saw Wilkes the other week, he dropped H&LA's 'blind' (in the wonderfully spacious club mix).

    But I think that 'indie' and 'underground dance' (I know this term is woefully inadequate) have vastly different imaginaries which are in many ways incompatible, even though they DO overlap and cross-pollinate continually.

    What's interesting is the relation that each as an aggressively minoritarian form has with its major other. I mean, 'underground dance' pretends that Tiesto does not exist... their relation with their major form is non-relational.
    Whereas in guitar/song based music, it's something much more like US-Canada relations... what do you guys think?

  16. i think that "underground dance music" or whatever is a much more exclusive club. that is, i don't think many of us give a fuck about indie rock, as in your example of hardwax, RA, berghain, etc.

    the indie scene can latch on to labels like kompakt because kompakt is much more melodic than, say, a hello? repeat release. that's not to say kompakt is judas or something, i love them even though their output may be dodgy as of late. it's just that in rock a catchy melody is the most important aspect, whereas in techno it's not. indie kids may listen to ricardo because he gets reviewed so highly on pitchfork, but it's obvious that they are much more inclined to like the field.

    when they attempt to review an electronic record they do it from their perspective, which is fine. if they miss the point then it's their loss, but as soon as they come to ra and try to say robert hood's fabric was shit then we have problems.

    we saw what happens when indie kids try to make dance music in so-called nu-rave or blog house. i think most of us can look at it as shit because we're dance purists. that stuff wont remotely satisfy someone weened on carl craig and basic channel, but someone who likes justice is not about to go to saturday nights at fabric. they have their own form of dance music, and that's fine.

    sure it stings when some publication talks about justice being the big thing in underground techno in 2007, but then again we've always been an underground institution and i think we all want it to stay that way. if indie rock people review a techno record wrong, we can just laugh at them being "out of their element" and move on.

  17. I'm not sure why it's offside for people to like different kinds of music. I've been going to Basics since i was old enough to pass for 18 and my tastes developed with what was going on there - a fairly healthy spread of house, tech-house and techno. I've also gone to see bands when i've been into them and have loved various bits of hip-hop over the years. I've also spent plenty of good nights in Fabric, Watergate and Panoramabar. Am i not entitled to an opinion? I think that so many people loved Sounds of Silver because it was a quality album - maybe as techno purists the indie journos are laughing at your pretentious commentary even more than you're sneering at them. Chromophobia and From Here We Go Sublime were also decent records, not necessarily albums of the year but still good. As a long-standing fan of techno and other kinds of music i'd probably say that it doesn't necessarily make the best album material which is probably why so many disappoint. Slay me at will for this but the only techno (what i consider to be techno) artist album that i can listen to from start to finish without flicking is Ellen Allien & Apparat's Orchestra of Bubbles. Dancing in disused East Berlin power stations when the sun is up is a much better environment for techno than the bus to work on a rainy Tuesday.

  18. I agree with a lot of this post but I feel that it's trying to pigeonhole music into distinct genres when it's really not necessary. Maybe as a person equal part indie and techno/house I can give a different perspective.

    I know when I approach music, I'm more selective based on quality than on genre, per se. "Indie" as an umbrella term for music is (let's face it) pretty useless, and oftentimes genre labels on dance releases are as arbitrary as "Indie" is in other spheres. I'll take The Field's album from last year as my example, as it seems to be everyone's whipping boy right now: I really enjoyed the album (as most did, see Metacritic, or the breathless review on RA of all places), but I didn't listen to it as a dance record. Frankly, I don't see myself dancing to any of it, apart from maybe "The Deal". I don't think I could really give a good genre tag to that record, or to The Field's music in general. I just know that I like it and I think it's well-made music--"Over the Ice", "Everyday", "The Deal" and the title track are all lovely pieces, whatever category they happen to fall into.

    In dance music spheres, then, the post-release negative reactions toward The Field and Supermayer appear to me at least to be a reaction against Kompakt for releasing records like these. I've perceived in dance music that there is a much stronger affiliation to record labels than in other genres of music, and I understand that feeling. But to be honest, were I Michael or Wolfgang or whoever is in the Kompakt office and I was sent something like From Here We Go Sublime, I'd be damned if I didn't press that. I don't even think that that release in particular was pushing any boundaries on the Kompakt aesthetic--it's a pop label more than anything, in my judgment. Go back and listen to Kaito or (fuck it) Dettinger's Intershop and you'll see common ancestors for The Field.

    (I know I'm coming off like a The Field junkie. I really am not that big of a fan, and I find most of his remixes pretty boring/rubbish except the one he did of Gui Boratto's Hera. That was a pretty nice one. I'll shut up now.)

    I agree that I don't think people who don't know what they're talking about should be allowed to make bold statements like the author of that XLR8R review did, and dance music people have every right to be angry at such insipid comments. That review transcends limits of awfulness; I disagree with one of the commenters who said that at least it's getting people in indie circles to listen to techno. First off, it's giving way too much praise to a frankly mediocre record. More importantly, however, it's filling readers' heads with glaringly false ideas about techno, electronica and dance music in general.

    This is bad because the crossover is happening, and it will continue. How else would I, indie kid living in the United States, gotten into techno/house? The answer is because I listen to anything that I judge as good, and the indie and dance music scenes are proving in these days as some of the most fruitful. I don't lament the crossover, either-- I embrace it. Perhaps I'm not "purist" enough, but I think music that bends genre or defies it generally turns out to be some of the best. But for this to turn out well, both parties (i.e. the indie and dance scenes, Pitchfork and RA, marijuana and ecstasy, etc.) are going to have to learn the other's parlance. In defence of indie culture, I will point out the bumbling RA review of Battles's "Atlas", and the widespread ignorance of Panda Bear's Person Pitch record from last year in electronic spheres. I think it was only Little White Earbuds who appraised it (rightfully) as "important of a record for dance music as it is for rock". And I didn't even know Pantha Du Prince remixed an Animal Collective song until a couple weeks ago. I guess nobody wanted to touch that

  19. Here's my review of Raz Ohara being remixed by Pantha - I also mention the Animal Collective mix.

    What's interesting though is that Pantha's mixes of these tracks is dissociative... it establishes a relation of distance that it maintains... as if the music is not interested in 'humming the tune'.

    It's the selfish lover: 'yeah, let's be together, on MY terms'. There doesn't seem to be much engagement...'

    I think it's also a territorial thing, I mean that in terms of the nation-state. Did anyone see/hear Rosy Beaton's woeful interview with Claude Von Stroke on the ABC's JTV? There's a whole paradigm in 90 seconds for you... I wonder if it's online somewhere, I'll dig it up. She had NO idea about what a producer even did, and this is significant because her ignorance is fairly representative of a fair portion of rockist Australians... maybe this says more about Oz than anything/where else, but...

    I also *really* agree with almost everything Fred said, and thank you to everyone so far for posting really interesting and insightful comments!

  20. As an under 21+ in new york, I have a lot of problems trying to penetrate the dance community. I admittedly started out as an "indie kid" (as this post dictates). I got into Justice for a while, and have moved on. Then I went into the more tech/house/tech-house oriented DFA stuff (Juan Maclean, Shit Robot). Next I have moved on to Kompakt and more minimal stuff. The problem in NYC, and perhaps America in general, is that a great deal of the more underground clubs are 21+. Many of shows that are 18+ are the shows that will be filled with indie kids already. So I have a hard time squeezing into the scene and really experiencing it from anywhere but RA, because I don't have a chance to go hear underground DJ's play. I feel like this is weighing my love of the music down to my laptop. Also, as an amateur DJ's with mostly "indie kid" friends, I feel whorish playing "D.A.N.C.E", but it gets people moving. The difficulty in breaking out of one culture and into another is quite difficult here. So I don't think the recent "techno purist" malarkey which the web has played host to really isn't helping anyone to join the scene. The scene can stay underground while not consciously trying to close the gates off to other communities. I agree that there might be more successful crossover if there was more dialog other than the "This Month in Techno's".

  21. Sounds like Tafkaz should move to Berlin! You can be ubercoolische... or is it too late for that? Has Berlin lost its cool?

    Or, question:

    what's cooler, fixed-gear bicycles, or Berlin?

  22. Wow, this has turned into a *really* interesting discussion. For what it's worth, here's my two yen ...

    Is there cross-pollination between the worlds of dance music and "indie" music? Yes, absolutely. Is it a bad thing? No, absolutely not.

    Pete mentioned he was a noise rock teen. I myself was a staunch indie rockist who thought electronic music was "the devil's music" until only seven years ago. Yet here we are, enthusiastically blogging about dance music.

    And, yes, it's clear that many artists and labels in dance music today have been influenced by indie and pop. I fully agree that Kompakt has always had something of a pop aesthetic - just chat to any of the Kompakt boys and they'll tell you how much they love classic pop. (Although whatever happened to their Kompakt Pop sub-label?)

    Pantha Du Prince pretty much gave the game away when he sampled "Pink Frost" by The Chills on his Diamond Daze album. (Although his remix of Animal Collective is interesting ... as Pete points out, he doesn't really engage with the source material at all ... he just Pantha-izes it.) I seriously suspect that quite a few producers of electronic music today were heavily into shoegaze type stuff, but decided to replicate the sounds with laptops instead of guitars.

    So, yes, there is indeed cross-over, and it's not a bad thing. One can indeed cross from one camp to the other, or have a foot in both camps.

    But (and yes, I'm getting to my point) it's pretty clear that a lot of people who attempt to review dance music for indie rags/sites do *not* have a foot in that camp.

    Hell, they don't even have a *toe* in there.

    Now, I have nothing against indie kids exploring dance music, or vice versa. I remember my own exploratory baby steps into the world of electronic music. Until you develop an "ear" for the new (for you) form of music, you try to fit it into your current frame of musical reference. So dance music with clearly discernible chords and hooks will be a lot easier for an indie rockist to handle (at first) than some slamming four-to-the-floor beast. And that's totally natural, and understandable.

    But I don't see how in hell you can even *try* to review something you haven't developed an ear for yet. Because, despite the cross-overs, there *are* differences. There are things you will, quite frankly, just not understand.

    Why? Because you don't speak that particular musical language yet.

    I mean, I don't know *anything* about jazz, but I quite like Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" as an album to chill out to. Does that mean I now have an understanding of jazz and am qualified to review it? Of course not.

    "Perfect jazz creates a cool, sophisticated, 3am feeling. So imagine my surprise when on this album the trumpet player suddenly goes bugfuck crazy and totally destroys everything with a cacophony of noise!"

    I think you get the idea. The point is simple. This is bad criticism, through and through. It helps no one, and it needs to be called. Is it the only kind of bad criticism? Oh, not at all. There have indeed been some shockers on sites such as RA (maybe the most common example is the reflexive need to praise something, even if the reviewer doesn't understand it, because the collective wisdom is that the release is amazing).

    But I've seen these kinds of "indie reviewer who doesn't have a clue takes on dance music" reviews for quite some time now. And, quite frankly, it rrrrrrreally annoys me.


  23. "Perfect jazz creates a cool, sophisticated, 3am feeling. So imagine my surprise when on this album the trumpet player suddenly goes bugfuck crazy and totally destroys everything with a cacophony of noise!"

    Nice one, Cam. Sums it all up nicely.

  24. The most impressive (and awesome) thing about this post/ensuing discussion is that it hasn't devolved into some cheerleader-y shouting match. Kudos to all.

    Sorry I missed that Raz Ohara review, PC. And I agree that the Pantha remix of Animal Collective is pretty much another Pantha track with intermittent samples from "Peacebone"--I don't think it will have much worth except for a rarities collector. (I know Noah Lennox a.k.a. Panda Bear was a big fan of This Bliss, so he probably enlisted Henrik just for kicks.)

    I think where we'll be able to see a potential for some good crossover material is the new M83 album, Saturdays = Youth. I haven't heard it yet, but with Ken Thomas AND Ewan Pearson on production duties, this could turn into something beneficial for both scenes. And talk about a direct allusion to those shoegaze bands cam mentioned....

    By the way cam, I really liked your post. I, too, am a fan of Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew but I'd make myself look like a total fool if I tried to review either of them in a professional setting.

  25. i think that drugs have definitely played an integral part in the cross pollination of dance and rock music... i have a lot of mates who are not of a techno background like myself and who know not much more than 'techno is great when you drop a goog and go nutters...' i think the whole 'new rave' movement has a lot to do with it as well - bands like hot chip have taken the rave image and made it applicable to rock, hence, kids who have never had any regard for electronic music are now starting to see it as fashionable. and on that note, indie these days is more a refernce to fashion than to a sub-genre of rock. the lines between indie and new rave are few but the string that ties them together is fashion or image. where i am from, melbourne, the indie scene is huge. with promoters like streetparty holding events like a weekly night called 'fashion keyboard' - a night where young designers are asked to come and dj once a week - then the point of indie being fashionable and the cross over of electronic music into the indie realm is only solidified. but getting back tot he point of drugs, i'll again make reference to the new rave movement, where it is almost like earning your stripes by being the most munted. i don't think it is a matter of whether thses kids genuinely like electronic music but rather it is easier for them to get fucked up too...

  26. Mike Hill's last comment makes me want to re-post an old rant I did on the rise of visual/aesthetic cultures that ride music (like a pony)...

    ... I think I'll up it, stay tuned.

  27. Actually, here's the bit (this is from a column I wrote in April last year):

    Of fossils, nerdscapes and Ksubi party monsters:

    Meanwhile, in the absence of an organising visual principle (a la Modular records), mnml’s fractious trendencies appear to be fated to attach themselves to (then be disavowed by) a range of genres which are fossilising, being re-born, or just plain miscarrying (again). The nerdscape/blogosphere/production microverse keeps on revolving and evolving new, hyped sounds every few months, but so often these days this only seems to have a (ahem) mnml relation to what the ‘kids on drugs in clubs’ are dancing to, or at least how they understand what they’re doing. Younger peepz, unfussed by the sharp genre-specifics of 90s partying, appear to be picking, mixing and re-arranging parts and pieces of mnml into an overarching ‘style’ unified by visual cues – so the successful parties are increasingly those which offer a wearable subculture.
    Nano’s recent successes (offering a vision of mnml to a dedicated audience) seems to have ‘proved’ (at least temporarily) that the music is viable in Melbourne. And why not? The parties are great, especially in the openness of Miss Libertines. But time will tell whether the style, which seems to yearn for stylistic purity, is at odds with Melbourne’s innately rockist, eclecticist music culture (on the one hand) and an increasingly visualised clubbing culture that subordinates content to coolsie kids in Ksubi jeans who cut their musical teeth on Triple J Hottest 100 comps in the suburbs… shhhh.

  28. I have to agree with tafkaz that here in the US at least, poorly written Pitchfork reviews are the closest most people get to involving themselves with dance culture or really enjoying techno at all. The writers at magazines like XLR8R and Pitchfork are just trying to contextualize dance music in a way that their American (for the most part) readers can understand. Obviously if you know a little more about dance music than the big names you're probably not going to enjoy their reviews, but in that case you're probably not their main demographic anyway.

    While it is slightly annoying hearing people who've never set foot inside a club raving about some overhyped album, living in Los Angeles I follow techno as closely as I can, but even I myself have never even heard some of my favorite tracks on a real sound system. So you can't really blame the average Pitchfork reader for not knowing any better if they have basically no access whatsoever to "good" techno.

    Let the indie kids enjoy what little access to dance music they have and move on.

  29. As far as anonymous (most recent) goes:

    Why excuse ignorance?

    Is that 'the best that we can hope for'?

    I dunno if going out *really* makes a difference. I go out four times a year now, tops, and Chrisdisco... lives in Canberra. So that doesn't really wash with me. Or is the club scene in LA *that* bad? :) It's hardly Kinshasa (having said this I know I'm going to get a message from someone involved in the scene in Kinshasa...)

    Point: If you have broadband and are curious... there's really *no* excuse for ignorance about any genre of music you're interested in. Even the writer at XLR8R could have logged on and checked discogs... it doesn't take that much to fake it *if* you can be bothered and you're unhappy with your own ignorance.

    Back in the 'good old days', jazz performers who fronted for a solo and sucked were booed - they'd have meatballs and soup thrown at them. Now, I'm not saying we should institute something quite so brutal, but ask yourself, would Coltrane ever have gone back into his basement and spent that year slogging through 12 hours a day's worth of practice if his audience didn't have high standards?

  30. New anon here.

    I'd just like to say go fuck yourself to the so-called purists who need Es to enjoy good dance music. Purist my arse. You're just as bad as ignorant indie kids... fucking minimal scenesters. You're not techno purists, you're minimal wankbags.

  31. "New anon here.

    I'd just like to say go fuck yourself to the so-called purists who need Es to enjoy good dance music. Purist my arse. You're just as bad as ignorant indie kids... fucking minimal scenesters. You're not techno purists, you're minimal wankbags."

    Nice one Anon. What a nasty, stinky, cowardly little stinkbomb you've left us... that, and 'minimal wankbags', which I quite like - maybe we should re-name the site?

  32. As if you needed another example here is an annoying Pitchfork review: - though what irritates me more is that they limit their 'techno' reviews to Kompakt, Warp, Burial and Villalobos, and create a massively distorted view of what's being released. The 'month in techno' is different obviously, though quite annoying too for entirely different reasons (ooh look at me, I slept on Magda's sofa last night), but Joe Indie doesn't ever read it. What would spark their attention would be, say, reviews of 12"s or at least label complilations (admittedly they covered the Cadenza one)... though I guess we've got Resident Advisor for that...

  33. Maybe, as an indie-cum-electronics-cum-metal/hc/postpunk fanatic, i need to also point out that similarly, although to a lesser extent, there's a huge difference between the month in metal articles and metal reviews. On top of that there are a lot of indie-fans who completely cringe at some of their indie-reviews content-wise but even moreso style-wise.

    I'm not entirely sure whether that XLR8R review gets all your slack because of it's content. I'm betting you there's tons blogs focused on electronics where people write raving reviews on it. I have a feeling you're more annoyed by the style. So am I, but those sites do it with plenty of their other reviews as well. Pitchfork is however a very important player in music, writing out of one the most important countries in the world (ahem) so they have quite an impact. The downside is that electronics in the USA is only half as mainstream as it is in other places (regardless of how many of the originators of the genre can be found in detroit, chicago and NYC).

  34. The po-mo take is that there's plenty of room for everyone in the new mediascape, and so this kind of 'gatekeeper' function is redundant. If you don't like the way X reviews it, read Y, Z, and Q etc.

    But part of the reason we started the sausage blog was because we felt that there wasn't enough light and shade, and that there was a de facto policy of 'don't ask, don't tell' when it comes to stinky records.

    My feeling on this is that, sure, if it's a minor artists first EP and they're going to sell 300, then sure - they need support, not biting from sites... BUT... what about big records from established artists?

    I feel like some sites simply aren't critical enough.

    Also, having a de-facto policy of 'positive review or no review' has the cumulative effect of making ANY negative review seem out of place, unwelcome, even threatening.

    My personal point of view is that this has the potential to create a culture of boosterism - and certainly, you can see this from forum responses on RA to key records. People get really pissed if you don't praise their favourite artist (like you're supposed to)... this has been a big back/forth idea with me and some other critics for a while now, so maybe I'll finally turn it in to a post.

    I don't know if you can make such distinctions between style and content, when one carries the other and both are demonstrative of a way of thinking - both interact, all are loaded with assumptions, cues - none of it's accidental, unless the writer is in their second language and still merely struggling to communicate 'the point'. of the consistent threads here is people's objection to Pitchfork though, one that's intensified by its clout, especially in the US.

    But their success isn't accidental. On some level it's what people want (even if it's not all the people all the time). Their 'stance' embodies something of a particular way of seeing and being in the world... oh, and they rule... :)

    But I dunno... there are forums, and there would be bridges if people wanted to build them.

  35. And there are bridges, too, I might add. I think the responses show that.

  36. The second line from that Pop Ambient review irritates most: 'The label's prominence and a growing critical reputation have yet to elevate the awareness of the series to those not predisposed to German electronic music.' - this is totally misleading (though I realise we're not talking WMD 45 minutes here) - so my friend whose favourite music is made by Scott Walker, the Beach Boys and My Bloody Valentine, and reads Pitchfork every day, goes away thinking that Kompakt is the big/important/well-regarded name in techno these days. Clearly bollocks though it's not his fault. He liked the Field record a lot by the way, but wasn't encouraged to explore further because Pitchfork don't put anything else interesting in front of him...

  37. So I don't like people who deliberately create the false impression that they're knowledgeable in front of people who don't know any better. That's who.

  38. I have to agree with other Anonymous that Sherburne is a tad annoying himself. Great taste in music, but it does seem to me that with Pitchfork you either get these baby’s first techno album type reviews, or really in-depth name dropper columns like Sherburne’s, which go way over the head of most Pitchfork readers and probably just do more to keep indie kids away from “good” techno than get them into it. Stylus magazine, before they went under, had a blog that, judging from the reactions of my more “indie” friends, did a good job of highlighting dance records while still keeping it fairly interesting for indie readers. Unfortunately, Pitchfork has yet to really strike that balance in either their reviews or columns.

    I don’t think the Coltrane comparison is really a good one, we’re talking about two entirely different things here. Coltrane made jazz music for jazz fans, of course they had high standards. If Pitchfork was writing their reviews with techno fans in mind I’d agree with you, but they review albums for indie fans, who I wouldn’t really say have “lesser” standards, but have entirely different standards.

  39. Maybe we should submit some articles to Pitchfork.

  40. Are you all going to submit them as Anon? We'd have a helluva time name-dropping you all. Mind you, if you're anonymous AND abusive, you'll definitely get published - hey, that's a great idea, and a wonderful way to add your important voices to the discourse... (ahem)

    Guys, could you please help by using a nickname or something? We really want to keep the comments box open and unmoderated, but that requires a level of civility on your part. Feel free to gatecrash, but don't pee on our rug...

  41. Sorry - looks like I started a trend. I wasn't the rude one by the way...

  42. a couple of comments/thoughts:

    1. thanks to everyone who has contributed to this discussion. it really has been an interesting, worthwhile exchange. and i think there has only been one person who has broken with that trend and provided a pointless and inaccurate desription of what 'we' are.

    2. to reiterate a point pete made earlier, it is important to keep in mind that our blog is made up of a number of voices. in regards to this post, it'd be fair to say that pete is generally more open, tolerant and knowledge of indie and other sounds, whereas i am a techno purist and elitist. i know there are problems with that, but i figure it is better being open and honest about my position.

    3. in terms of what i wrote originally, please keep in mind that i distinguished between listeners and reviewers. my complaint was primarily leveled the latter, not the former. while i may not completely agree or comprehend the way some people may relate to music, at the end of the day, that is their prerogative and i am fine with that. reviewers, however, are a different matter. because reviewers play an important role in shaping tastes and in framing the way people approach/understand/comprehend music (especially for 'outsiders' - in this case indie listeners), there is a problem is reviewers dont have a proper understanding and knowledge of the music. reviews based on a limited comprehension of the music and the context within which it operates helps to (re)produce a false/inaccurate/unfair representation of what techno/house/mnml/whatever is.

    4. and it is at this structural level that listener and reviewer are related. in (re)creating inaccurate frames of reference and representation, reviewers may prevent or limit the way new listeners (read 'outsiders') comprehend the music. techno - broadly understood - can be quite a hard genre to get in to, so guides like reviewers and so on - do make a difference. this is why it matters what they are saying. these kind of societal/structural dimensions are really important, but ones that we often tend to overlook/ignore.

    5. i better stop there! thanks again to everyone that has contributed so far. this discussion has been really worthwhile.

  43. Really interesting discussion all, I don't think there is a lot I can add. What originally came across to me as a fairly techno protectionist position has evolved into an interesting discussion devoid of the usual "my taste is better your taste" chest beating that afflicts many music-related debates. The one thing I am interested in is Chris and his self-proclaimed techno elitist position. Much like Pete and others my taste in electronic and dance music evolved from rock/indie/alternative environs, with these cornerstones still be maintained and evolved along with my techno jones. Chris I am keen to delve into the musical lineage that placed your music taste where it is today - surely there must have been non-electronic stepping stones along the way? Do you maintain any non-dance musical love? I tend to feel really dissociative and devoid of some levels of emotional connection when I listen to dance music exclusively - and this can be across all forms soul or sans soul. Care to enlighten me? This is by no means an attack, merely genuine intrigue!

  44. a brief musical genealogy of chris (in reply to nik):

    you are indeed right, they were some non-electronic stepping stones for me (i think there have to be), but since then, i haven't looked back.

    in my early - mid teens i listened to hip hop: mainly public enemy, ice cube, ice t, nwa and so on. around 15-16 i didnt listen to too much music, to be honest, and when i did it was mainly alternative rock/indie, i guess you'd say. around 17 or so i started getting into music again. portishead and bjork were the two artists that i really listened to non-stop. from there i listened to other trip hop (especially tricky) and started getting into big beat.

    my first entry into electronic music was through 'homework' by daft punk and the first two chemical bros albums. these were all very influential on me. around this time, i turned 18 and went to my first party - a ministry of sound party. from there, i listened to more big beat and a little bit of prog/trance (not much!), some house and techno. within about a year - by the middle of 1998 i was getting into techno in a big way. and since then, i havent looked back.

    i dabbled with house a bit early on, but basically i was into really hard techno. from about 2000 onwards my taste started diversifying into dub techno, minimal, minimal house, experimental, ambient and italo. between those different genres and sounds, i find pretty much any mood or musical requirement of mine can be satisfied.

    the only music i listen to that is not electronic is some 80s pop or early 90s (but this tends to be dance). i'd say about 95% of the music i listen to - and have done so over the last decade - has been electronic. as i said, i find all my different moods can be covered.

    hopefully that answers your question!

  45. Thanks Chris, there are many connections along the way that have been similar to mine and I'm sure others as well. I guess the other point that has been lingering in my brain around this whole discussion is that to many people dance music is simply just that. For many it is a tool that provides them with the means to shake their proverbial. It is often seen as faceless and functional and of its place. The blurring of the boundaries seems to occur (and perhaps one of the things that underpins your premise) with the fact that many acts/labels have (rightly or wrongly) utilised marketing strategy, brand association and product placement (Modular anyone?) to create these multi-layered connections and supposed lifestyle options for the kids. Part of this strategic process is no doubt targeting the right media channels (eg Pitchfork) to drive their message to the right people in the right place. It's all very business focused and removes much of the inherent joy and simplicity from the musical experience. This is always going to jar heavily with the enthusiast and the puritan who connect with the music at generally deeper levels. It's like having a McDonald's hamburger slinger visiting your favourite Japanese restaurant and writing a review on his MySpace page about the "slices of raw fish, tantalisingly dipped in a spicy green paste, accompanied by rice, prawn and cucumber wrapped in edible green paper". Next thing you know there's a bunch of people there and you can't get your favourite corner table and their out wagyu beef. Whilst I have rambled off into a corner and now have a deep craving for sashimi, the moral of the story is that we all leave with our bellies full. The difference is that some of us linger over our meals, savour the tastes and aromas, whilst others just want their hunger sated. The interesting layer is how elements of the broad array on offer(be it techno or food) move from the shadow of the curtains into the lights of centre stage. Once they're in full view they're open to all levels of critique - on point or otherwise. Mixed analogies aside, I think there needs to be acceptance of the reality that nothing is sacred in our current climate. Have I made any relevant points beyond ranting like it's only possible in the wee hours of the morning? Probably not, however it HAS been fun!

  46. Tastewise, it's all about the umami (旨味)...

    A whole post should be written on the success of Modular... I think the way they've keyed into the kids is incredible - it would give Malcom MacLaren a hard-on AND a run for his money simultaneously.

    I think that, generally speaking, a lot of these subcultures are visual/aesthetic subcultures first and foremost that have a sountrack which is secondary. Techno, at least in its origins, was to a large degree an effacement of that.

    But I think that the outsider spirit of the early days has given way to professionalisation... I think that Brinkmann really puts his finger on this very accurately.

    I'm sick of slick, of clever, of savvy. Bring on the dirty distortions, bring out the mutants...

  47. I think my description was spot on. You can't speak from a "techno purist" high horse because you're a drug addled listener of minimal. Probably a wallflower who masturbates in front of the decks too.

    Don't even joke about renaming the site. Minimal sausages is a quite appropriate double entendre for the likes of you. ;)


  48. i really dont get what you are on about AbrasiveAnon... if you bothered reading any of the above closely you'd notice that it was me who claimed to be the techno purist but i've made absolutely no mention at all about drugs at any stage. pete raised that when it was brought into the discussion by someone who left a comment. anyway, i am not sure why i am bothering to respond to your drivel with argument...

    and thanks for noticing the double entendre in our blog title. good job. dont worry, we have no plan to change it.

  49. great article. my main beef with shitfork is their misrepresentation of edm.

    to think great albums like Cicada's "Maladies" and The Whip's "X Marks Destination" will be overlooked in lieu of H&LA, damn shame

  50. I dunno, Chris. 'Drug-addled masturbating wallflowers' is pretty good...

    ... but walruses would be even better. I would *really* like to see some footage of a drug-addled walrus having a wiggins... does that make me perverse?

  51. PC it only makes you perverse if you don't see the glorious cross promotional opportunities with Ksubi's newest range of super low, limited edition baby seal skin stovepipes.

  52. I guess that makes me perverse... :)

  53. What a strange and angry post. I love that Field LP - so now it looks like I'm an indie kid, even though I don't like guitars.

    Now you've got me worried that I don't listen to or love techno the right way. What is this need to carve up music, apply labels, and set up a clubhouse?

    Once somebody announces that they're a purist, I stop trusting them.

    That said, I always enjoy your site.

  54. i guess i can't be trusted then... well, my logic is that it is better i declare my bias openly.

    my feeling is that there is a zone inbetween the two extremes of 'there is one way of listening/classifying/understanding this music', and 'it's all relative - different people like different things so you can't classify/judge/etc'.

  55. james - i should add, thanks for the kind words, even when you do disagree!


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