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WITH THE RELEASE OF NEW ORDER'S NEW SINGLE, 'FINE TIME', BERNARD
ALBRECHT BREAKS HIS TWO-YEAR SILENCE AND TALKS TO JONH WILDE ABOUT THE
GROUP'S PAST MISTAKES, PRESENT HAPPINESS, THE SINGER'S FUTURE
COLLABORATION WITH JOHNNY MARR, AND WHAT SETS THE MOST GLORIOUS POP
BAND OF THE EIGHTIES A WORLD APART FROM THEIR CHART RIVALS. PORTRAITS BY ANDY CATLIN
"This sounds really f***ing pretentious... but I don't really believe the music
we write comes from us. I think it comes from the people who listen to it. We are
like a mirror. They are like mirrors.
"This could sound mad, right... but I think the music we write comes from psychic
immanations from the people who listen to it."
I'm laughing. Bernard is not laughing.
"Oh yeah. For instance, if I start writing a song, my mind will go completely
blank. From nothing, I'll get an impression in my head. I believe that comes from
our fans. Really. I stay up really late at night cos, when they are asleep, I get
stronger impressions from them. I'm absolutely serious. You seem surprised."
Well, nothing like this has come out before...
"Well, I've mentioned the bit about staying up at night (laughs)! That's why
really. It's pretty hard to say that to someone. They think you're mad don't they?
I'm saying this is how I feel about it. I'm not saying I do everything in New Order.
I can't speak for the rest of the band. But this is what I think. It comes from a
central knowledge centre. People have got conscious minds and subconscious minds. I
can tap into it. I honestly feel that, yeah. But I'm scared to say that. Right now,
you think I'm winding you up, right?"
Oh yeah, definitely.
"That's why I don't tell anyone. They just think I'm winding them up. But,
personally, that's what I believe. I don't believe I come up with the ideas. The
ideas come from all the other people in the world."
You've told this to the rest of the band?
"No, cos everyone thinks I'm mad. I know it sounds like an astonishing revelation.
It's like saying you've seen a flying saucer innit? To me, it's no big deal because
I've been doing it for the last 10 years.
"I don't know about the lyrics. I'm not sure about that. I'm only sure about the
music. The music is a very unselfish thing in a way. That's why I don't feel
possessive about our music. That's why I can't make concrete statements about the
music in interviews. It's like the music doesn't belong to me. It just comes to me.
Like I've got an aerial in my brain. The music comes down. I hear it, and start
playing it, then I record it.
"When I hear the music, it's like a person has gone out and bought one of our
records, plays it, hears it for the first time. So I programme the music into a
computer, sit back, play the computer. I listen to it and try to see pictures. I get
the feel of, say, a park or, say, night-time. Then I'll build a set of lyrics out of
that. It's not a trippy sensation. It's a dreamy sensation. If I say to you now...
well, shut your eyes and imagine some sand-dunes. Imagine a plane going over. It's
just like that. Around the time of 'Movement', that stopped happening. That's why it
was an awful record.
"Say I'm doing a dance record, right. I have to come up with a piece of music. For
it to work as a dance record, it's got to hypnotize you in a way. It has to stun
your brain. If I try to figure out a bass-line for a dance record, it's got to have
that effect. It's a natural effect of the body and mind. It's not a great idea that
I've had. Simply a natural effect that I know how to get out of a piece of music. So
where does that come from? Well, just from observing other human beings.
"I'm not saying that I'm possessed when I write. I wouldn't go that far. Cos I
can still drink a cup of tea and eat a sandwich while getting these ideas."
Not the Voice of God?
(Laughs.) "No definitely not. I believe in God, but that's because I've seen a few
personal miracles happen in my life. What I'm saying... well I'm either right or I'm
mad or I'm winding you up."
There's a strong possibility that you're mad.
"Well there's a strong possibility it could be any of those things. But, no,
there's no wind up. I don't feel mad either. I feel pretty sane these days. I used
to feel mad but that was due to all the stress and strain in my life.
"I feel perfectly sane now. I'm not on the edge anymore. If I get pressure now, I
tend to walk away from it rather than thinking about it. I used to think about
things too much. I can actually relax these days."
I'm sitting comfortably in Bernard's living-room, trying to take all this in. He's
talking as though he has just learned how to. There's a point when I realise I could
be asking him about anything. Just about anything.
I'm asking him about pleasure.
"I'm probably the most unrational person in the world," he is saying. "I act off
my emotions all the time. I tend to want to do things that are completely
pleasurable. I watch telly, I lie in bed. I drink, I go out to Acid House parties."
Are you going to tell me your secrets?
"Well... I find it strange in interviews to reveal all to complete strangers.
Whereas, if I go out, I tell my mates things without thinking about it. You don't
even have to speak about stuff like that. It's just enjoyable."
I remind him how he is popularly regarded. Shy, awkward, even difficult. A hard
man to interview. It's not turning out like that. He smiles.
"I don't think I've been pegged as anything really cos I haven't done an interview
for at least a year. I think I started talking a bit too much about my personal life
last time. So I decided that I didn't have anything else to say. Previous to that,
I'd done a lot of interviews. I'd said everything I had to say. I'd talked about
everything that had happened to me. Instead of just repeating myself, I simply
stopped doing interviews."
He announces his amazement that people are actually interested in his private
"But maybe it's interesting for people who really get into the records to hear
about my childhood and my private details. To try to understand the person that's
involved in making this music. I know it would be interesting for me. But you've got
to draw the line somewhere haven't you? Because it starts f***ing your personal life
up. People start saying, 'Hey, why the hell are you talking about this?'"
The last 10 years, he explains, have been spent killing off his own ego.
"I've not got a great ego. Not now. I'm flattering myself now. Maybe some people
would disagree. But I don't think I have an ego now. So I don't feel a need to go
out and prove myself to be a wonderful, witty, intellectual conversationalist to the
world. I don't feel the need to look good in the Press. I don't give a shit about
There's no Oscar Wilde or Noel Coward inside you, fighting to break out?
"Are you inferring that I was referring to Morrissey then? (Laughs.) Well,
Morrissey does it well but he needs to. Because he don't go out much. But me? Well,
I probably joined a group in the first place because of the ego. In a big city, if
you've not got money, you're nothing. You're just fluff on a piece of carpet.
Especially if you're young. You see all your mates getting married dead young,
working in factories and offices, turning into old men at 25. You don't want that to
happen to yourself.
"I shit myself when I saw that happen to a lot of my friends. So I wanted to be
different. I wanted to stand out really. At that age, I wanted to be noticed because
I didn't just want to be a number. That's why I joined a group. It all worked out. I
got noticed. I got a position of youth culture respectability I suppose. Now, I've
not got the ego in me anymore. I've exorcised that particular part of my ego. I've
reached it and now I've not got anything left to prove."
But you have a sense of your own importance?
"I hear people saying it. I hear people saying how important New Order are. But
I'm not really interested. I know what I am. I don't need someone else to tell me. I
feel we are important though and I know we've written some really good music. But,
for me, the ego doesn't come into it.
"For me, it was a yearning to escape growing old and getting married at 25. That
was all. When the only thing you're looking forward to is going out to the pub for a
pint while your wife stays in and watches telly. Off to Benidorm every year. That
thought just shit the life out of me. A lot of my mates who lived in the same area
as me were pretty mad when they were young. Hooligans really. Then, when they got
older, they just tamed so quickly. Over two years they changed completely. They just
started accepting society and started accepting everything the police told them to
do. Respectability. I thought they were hypocrites because, when they were young,
they were so rebellious. Then they settled down so quick. I knew I didn't want that
to happen to me."
So there was a fierce determination in you from the start?
"I had a determination, yeah. The fact that Joy Division got so big was a big
fluke, but we still had to work really hard. By no means was any single one of us
talented in any way at all. You know you get some people that are born talented?
Well, none of us were like that. We were crap at it naturally. The first songs we
wrote were terrible. Absolute crap. So we knew we'd have to work at it. We knew we'd
have to use a lot of imagination to be any good.
"Then we started to be taken gravely seriously. But that was idea that we got off
the Press. People who knew us personally didn't take us seriously at all. I guess we
took the music gravely seriously too. We really did care about the music. Every song
we wrote was clawing us one step further away from Salford. We had a sense of that
while it was happening. Every song was one step away from working in a crap job."
Hook has remarked that New Order are, "punk's success story".
"Can you still be a punk when you've got Jaguars and Mercedes-Benzs. We've got all
those things. I used to feel guilty about them. Having my own house and things. It
used to be a weight on my shoulders. None of my mates had those things. Then I
thought, f*** it, it might be a good example to my mates and people from the same
background as me. That they could have those things as well if they didn't let the
bastards grind them down."
Of course, New Order were not always the invincible force they find themselves to be
in 1988. Between "Closer" and "Movement", they were visibly and audibly muddled.
Early New Order performances were a seething mass of awkwardness and anxiety.
Expectations were huge. But, understandably, New Order were in a violent state of
upheaval. Not surprisingly, 1981's "Movement" was a disaster. It was not until
March 1983, with the release of "Blue Monday", that they suggested that the
omnipotence of Joy Division might yet be equalled. Even eclipsed. It has been a
painful, pulverising transition.
"I absolutely hated 'Movement'. I've hated it since I first heard it. Never played
it since. It was, as you say, a situation of complete turmoil so I'm not surprised
it happened like that. The first Joy Division songs had been equally awful. It was a
real learning process. Like the first time you get in a car. You've never driven
before and you feel like you're in a huge metal box which is out of control. The
corners are too big and you feel that you're definitely going to bang the car into
something. Then, 10 times later, you think, 'F***in' hell, what was I so worried
about?' It was just like that. Personally I lost confidence. We were all wondering
what to do next. We feared that we weren't going to be so successful with New Order.
When you don't believe in yourself, it reflects on your outlook."
"Movement" has always sounded like it was made by a group without any self-belief.
"Well we did believe in ourselves. We just didn't know what we were going to write
songs about. I was so angry with 'Movement', having put out a record I didn't like.
I'm a person that gets over things by anger. If I can't do something, it makes me
really mad and, once I get mad, I can do it. The other way to do it is to studiously
practice and better yourself. The way schools teach you. But I was never any good at
school so I found my own way of doing things. My attitude was always, 'F*** school,
I'm going to do it my own way.'"
Curtis' suicide took time for the group to deal with, naturally enough. It took
years for them to breathe again with the pain alleviated. For Bernard, the death
presented an odd pressure. Having decided that they would not look for a new singer,
Bernard hesitantly became New Order's vocalist.
"People always ask me about Ian's death," he says, unprompted. "But it's not in my
mind really. Not at all. But I could understand people becoming aroused by it. We
were more bothered by the upsetting aspect of Ian killing himself. Sure, it was a
bit of a dead weight around our legs. The press reaction seemed like nothing though
compared to what Ian must have felt. The career aspect didn't matter because the
personal aspect of it was so heavy. Any upsetting thing you get over with time. If
your mother dies, anything really, you deal with it in time. If I'd thought about
it, it would have been a great wall for me to climb over. But I knew that all I
could do was be myself."
I recall seeing New Order play a severely nervous performance in London in May
1981, just four short months after the release of "Ceremony". Bernard looked and
sounded like a frightened child, his vocals veering between a dolorous croak and a
homesick whisper. They sounded so uncertain. It sounded like the last concert they
would ever play. One year later came the brittle "Temptation" single which, despite
its lack of body, boded well. It would be a year later that "Blue Monday" gave them
their first Top 10 hit and indicated where they were heading.
New Order had transformed themselves from a guttering, moody guitar group into a
soaring, spatial dance force. "Blue Monday" might have suggested that New Order had
become bare-faced opportunists. It might have sounded calculated. It was certainly
hulking. But there was no denying its power or the weight of its emotion. New Order
had found their sound. They were back in line. There would be no stopping them now.
"You're spot on there," says Bernard. "There was definitely an awkwardness about
'Blue Monday'. But that's what made it so strong. At that time, I was really
influenced by Italian disco records. There were two scenes at that time. American
dance music which was very slick and dead professional. That didn't appeal to me
because it was so polished, it was boring. The Italian stuff was funny because you'd
hear the bad mistakes and that gave the songs character."
"I'll tell you my theory right. There are two types of people in this world.
Artistic types and organisers. I'm definitely not one of the organisers but I am
artistic. You can split artistic people into two parts. There are literal people and
people who think in pictures. Now I think in pictures or sound. No words. I didn't
get a record-player until I was 16. The first album I ever bought was the 'Fistful
Of Dollars' soundtrack. The first single I bought was 'Ride A White Swan' by T. Rex.
I never even bothered listening to the words. If you listen to the lyric of 'Ride A
White Swan'... well, what the f*** does it mean? Even if I started wondering what it
meant, I just like the record. I like the tune. If I wanted to get any stimulation
from words, I'd get a book, not a record. I would swallow a record whole, maybe pick
a few words up.
"I think in pictures. So, any music I do personally, I'll see a semi-picture. It's
like a dream. Say I had a dream about this house, it would appear slightly odd. It
would be changed in some way. The room would be slightly weird. When I write music,
I get weird pictures like that. A weird feeling. When I've got to write the lyrics,
I've got to force myself into an unnatural situation. Which is what happened when
"When I became our lyricist and singer, I was forced into an unnatural position.
Every time I write a song, I'm forced into it again. So it's not an easy job and
it's never become easier. It has become easy technically. I know better how to sing
and how to use the resonance in my voice. But writing lyrics hasn't changed. Having
said that, I have actually sat down and read lyrics I've written and thought, 'Yeah,
s'good that!' so there have been times when I've got something out of it. But it's
such hard work compared to writing music. I don't relish the thought of doing it."
Even by the time of "Power, Corruption And Lies" in 1983, Bernard was still
fumbling. Even though there was nothing lyrically as gouche as on "Movement", he
still sounded self-conscious. At least this time, he had learned how to be playful.
Remember "Your Silent Face"? "The sign that leads the way," he sang, "the path you
cannot take, you caught me at a bad time... so why don't you piss off!" One moment
gently reflective. The next hilariously banal. New Order had learnt how to take the
piss out of themselves. A crucial turning point. Never again would they return to
the funereal dirge of "Movement".
"Some of the lyrics are like... well, have you ever tried to write a song, Jonh?
Well it's, er, pretty hard! You've got a set of chords and you listen to that and,
from those chords, you've got to find something to write a song about. I could sit
down and think of a subject I want to write a song about. But there's nothing
y'know. I don't actually feel like going out into the streets, grabbing someone,
saying, 'Listen, you've got to know this!' I just never feel that way."
I remind him of my favourite New Order lines. On "Every Little Counts", the closing
song of "Brotherhood", when he sings, "Every second counts when I am with you/I
think you are a pig, you should be in a zoo". When he stutters through the second
line before breaking into a snigger which threatens to besiege the entire song. In
some ways, I suggest, it is New Order's most emotional moment.
"Before 'Brotherhood' came out," he recalls, "our American manager came over to
listen to some tracks. He wanted to know if we had any lyrics finished. Well we
always leave the lyrics until last. I always sit there in the studio annoyed at
having to do it. It's always such a chore. I'll just sit there completely bored
until a line comes into my head or I get a picture of some scenario. It gets to the
last week of the last month in the studio and everyone's saying, 'Ahem, have you
started any lyrics yet?' I've never got any.
"So the American manager came over and the only track that was finished was 'Every
Little Counts'. He wanted a cassette to take back to the president of Warners in
America. So we played him the song and he goes, 'Well... ahem... that is great...
but when are you going to do the proper vocals?' We said, 'Well, that is the
finished vocal!' So he had to go back and play that to everyone. We could just
imagine their faces in the boardrooms!
"I don't know why other bands wouldn't do it. Maybe it's pressure from the record
companies. Maybe I got that little bit of pressure to do it again. Maybe other
record companies have more of a hold on their bands. Our record companies have seen
we're very successful by the number of records we sell. So they don't try to tell us
to do things differently. I don't think we're wilfully independent. I just don't
think we're bothered by anything. Other than getting enough money to pay the
He's not sure about that.
"Actually, I went very anti-materialistic after I split up from my wife. I didn't
want to own anything at all. What I wanted to do was live in a boat in the middle of
a lake. But, after about a year, I decided that wasn't very practical, if only for
the fact that I wanted to go up to the Hacienda every week. Then I bought this
house, after living on people's floors for the last two years. I've got to get a
builder in to do it up. Then I'll start buying all my toys."
"Oh no. Not train-sets. They'll be computers and synthesizers. The computer is a
big train-set really. It's the same thing if you're technically minded like me. I
never had a train-set. Always wanted one actually.
"All my family have been engineers. My great great grandfather invented loads of
machines in the industrial revolution. He was very well known as an inventor. Then
the family moved to Manhattan and lost all the money. I've always been interested in
technical things. That's why Kraftwerk are the perfect group for me. Let's face it,
without Kraftwerk, you wouldn't have hip hop. All hip hop beats come from Kraftwerk.
They started it all. I love them."
In the midst of all this talking, I'm starting to wonder why most other New Order
interviews have been such deadening struggles. Obviously, all those jerk journalists
have been asking the wrong questions. Perhaps it's easy to fall inoto the trap of
believing that New Order's members are unapproachable, elusive and downright
hostile. That their music is somehow hermetically sealed. That its mystery is
something to be mathematically solved rather than simply consumed and enjoyed. That
we should distrust its silences rather than admire their spectacle. That we should
do anything but surrender. Which is exactly what we should be doing. The rock
press's attempts to impose outlines on New Order have been laughable. It is as
though they have forgotten the meaning of emotion. Or something.
With "Low Life" and, to a larger extent, "Brotherhood", the group proved they
could make albums that were completely realised. Almost flawless. They also showed
how they were making music that appealed to the feelings through the route of the
intelligence. Their music seems to involve and detach the listener. Music that is
able to exalt the listener. With last year's "Touched By The Hand Of God", they
showed how they could make perfect pop singles. New Order are now concerned with
voluptuous movements. That much is clear.
It is not that New Order are beyond analysis. Simply that they are a law unto
themselves. Gloriously remote. But now making music that is close. Crucially close.
It is now difficult to believe that these are the same people who, with Joy
Division, made the most emotionally fraught music of the Seventies. Yet, as last
year's "Substance" retrospective proved, New Order have proved themselves to be
England's most consistent and brilliant pop craftsmen while managing to avoid the
snares of the pop circus. Gloriously apart.
Has it made them happy though?
"Well that's a very difficult question," Bernard laughs. "Erm... it's allowed me
to be creative. I've made a living out of it... so, yeah, it's made me happy. But it
doesn't make me happy when I'm doing a 30-date tour of America. When I'm doing
things like that, I'm forced into a position where I'm (laughs) being a rock'n'roll
legend. I f***ing hate all that. I'd rather get a job on the buses or something. I
believe in the music but that doesn't make me want to be a pop star. Because I've
got rid of that ego thing. That might be a good stage to reach but you need ego if
you're in a group. It drives you on. It makes you strut your stuff on stage every
night. It makes you stick your cock out and act like a star. I find all that self-
aggrandisement deeply embarrassing.
"We might seem remote but I don't feel estranged. Actually, it's getting like
'Spinal Tap' these days. If we seem like the least likely 'Spinal Tap' group, you
should come on tour in America with us!"
But now you've mastered the art of taking the piss...
"Yeah, we've done that maybe. But if I've got to go out and take the piss, I feel
like I'm ripping people off. If I've got to take the piss, then I shouldn't be doing
it. Okay, we might be taking the piss out of ourselves and everything around us,
rather than the audience, but if you play in America they don't know it. Over there,
they thought Spinal Tap was a real group. So if I go out taking the piss, feet on
the monitors, rubbing my cock and all that, they think it's real. They think it's
good showmanship. I'm not surprised they don't realise the irony out there. There's
no such thing as subtle humour in America. If I start acting like Ozzy Ozbourne,
they love it.
"Over here, I think people assume we have some irony these days. I don't think
we're particularly humorous. Or particularly down. we're just like anyone else.
we've got a whole range of emotions. Because of what happened to Ian, some people
still think we're about doom and gloom. Which is crap obviously."
Thinking of his collaboration with Johnny Marr, I wondered if he was hoping to
lead life a little more away from New Order.
"Not at all. Erm... yeah actually! I've been married to Joy Division and New Order
for 10 years and enough is enough. I think I've worked hard enough to take more of a
back seat nowadays. Really, New Order's all about being a group innit? Not a singer
and a backing band. I know the rest of the band want it to be more like that. The
ideal situation for me is if the group write the music and I write the lyrics. Then
we'll be a proper band. It's becoming more like that.
"Okay, I've found my voice. I'm really singing now. But I still don't want to be a
frontman. I'm definitely not Mr Personality!"
But you're hardly Leslie Crowther either!
"But you've got to be Leslie Crowther! When we have a successful gig, I actually
feel like Leslie Crowther. You've got to be a cool Leslie Crowther in a way. Like
Morrissey! To be honest though... I don't understand rock'n'roll groups and all
Bernard claims that "Fine Time" is only out as a single because each of the band
stand to win £250 each from manager Rob Gretton. Very New Order that.
"Yeah, it's only out because Rob said he'd give us £250 each out of his own
pocket. We'd taken four months to do the album, two months in Ibiza and two in Bath.
The longest we'd ever spent. We were so sick of hearing it and couldn't decide what
could be the single. Virtually every track could have made it. We thought 'Fine
Time' was all right but it was more like a novelty record. I think it's funny. Not
like a football record. Like 'Every Little Counts' in a way. So Rob says, 'I bet you
this goes Top 10. If it doesn't I'll give you £250 each.' So that was that. I
couldn't care less if it goes Top 10. I just want the money!"
The album follows in January. As ever, there was a last minute scramble for
"This time, we edited the album at six in the morning on the last day and didn't
have any titles. Usually we have a sheet of paper pinned to the wall and everyone
scribbles down words. They might see something in a book or hear a word in a film
they like. Then, at the end, everyone puts a tick by the ones they like and the ones
with the most ticks go on the album. This time we didn't have any. By seven o'clock
though we'd got them all."
He takes me through a few of them.
"Mister Disco" - "a disco type song, written as an attempt to get in on the Spanish
chicken-in-a-basket market. About a guy who goes on holiday one year and falls in
love with a girl. He goes back year after year but can never find her. An awful
story really. Very tongue-in-cheek."
"Dream Attack" - "a bit of an E song actually. Not like Acid House though. An
acoustic E song!"
He reveals that he and Marr are three songs away from completing an album which
could appear next spring. Not a cross between New Order and The Smiths by any
"Well that sounds good. New Order synthesizers and Smiths guitars. Hopefully a
cross section of weird stuff anf pop stuff. A cross between New Order and The
Smiths, funnily enough! All the ideas we've got so far are top ideas. We've just got
to finish it and put it out."
Next year also brings a collaboration between New Order and director Michael
"What I like about his stuff, which I can also align to our music, it that you
watch his films once and they look like straight 1940s films. Then, if you watch
them again, you start noticing odd things. The colours are odd. There's a dreamlike
quality to them. Something surreal. You start noticing loads of things. In the end ,
they're not straight films at all. There's two levels you can take them on. I think
New Order and Joy Division are like that as well. There's two levels you can listen
to them. You can listen to our songs as straight pop songs. Then there's another
slightly surreal side where it's weirder.
"I mean, Joy Division were much weirder than what we do now. Ian was very
interested in exploring the sick side of people's brains. But I think we still have
a bit of that. It's interesting to explore both sides of people's nature."
Back in 1981, it might have seemed that New Order were just about to crack apart.
These days, it is hard to imagine pop without them. They seem invincible. Just like
The Jesus And Mary Chain. Just like The Smiths seemed in 1984. Might they just get
bored with being great?
"Well there was all that talk about New Order splitting up because Hooky was doing
a solo album and I was working with Johnny Marr. But that was bullshit. I just
wanted to cut off from people. I just fancied dropping out really. There was never a
question of New Order finishing. The only point where we'll stop is when we get
absolutely sick of doing things that we have to do instead of doing things we want
to do. That does come into my mind. I wouldn't want to stop making music, but if I
had enough money, I'd stop touring tomorrow.
"A couple of years ago, we had enormous tax problems so we had to go out and play
vast numbers of gigs. Not because we wanted to play live, but purely to pay off all
the tax bills we had. That's why I seemed so unhappy the last time I talked to
Melody Maker in America. I wasn't happy being Mr Rock'n'Roll. I hate those
"But I don't feel like that now. I feel more cynical about the rock world and
about the music business. But I don't feel much different in myself than I felt in
"New Order means that I've got my car and my cute little house. We own the
Hacienda so I've got a great social life. Sure I'm happy. I'm a really happy person
at the moment. Happier than I ever have been."
He smiles his last wide smile. Knowing that it is too good to dissolve. An
Last updated on 2005-03-07 9:24:00 PM - 9:24:00 PM
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