If you’ve ever lost yourself in a swirl of twisted disco on the dancefloor, chances are that Daniel Wang was providing the soundtrack. 

Born in California and raised in Taipei, before returning to the United States to gain a university (and musical) education, Wang is a master of blending soul, disco and house music during his always-exuberant DJ sets, and he’s no stranger to Irish shores, having made many appearances over the years. 

He returns to the Irish capital to appear at the Dublin Disco All-Dayer, taking place at Orlagh House in Rathfarnham, Dublin, on 3 February, and hosted by Fatty Fatty Phonographics. More information can be found here, and tickets purchased here

909originals’ Emer O’Connor caught up with him. Over to you, Emer.

So, Daniel, in just a few days you’ll be performing in a stunning Georgian mansion in Dublin, for the Dublin Disco All-Dayer. Are you excited about it? 

Yeah, and it’s not my first time in Ireland. In fact I’ve always kind of feared that I was coming to Dublin too often! 

I’m being totally honest here, because everyone who reads this and people who know me already, it feels a bit like family, because everybody’s danced together so many times. You and I have danced together at least three or four times, right?  I think even in London!

Yes, in Corsica Studios! You actually got a hold of my red panda hand puppet and you had him up in the DJ booth for the entire night. 

Ha ha, I know.

In fact, one of my questions was when did you get your panda hand puppet – was it before mine, or after?

Yeah, that famous picture, that was like 2004 or 2005…

Oh, it was before me, then. Ha ha. But I didn’t know you then. 

Well, it came from Japan. It comes from, I think, Uji Matcha – the place where powdered green tea was born. I just saw it in some online video, they had an ad campaign with the Matcha panda. When I went there, I think some friend wanted that thing as a gift, one of those catcher arm toys, you know the ones…

Lest we digress, best get back to the interview, Daniel. So as we just discussed, you’re a long time favourite here in the Emerald Isle and you’ve played for some stellar Irish promoters like Bodytonic, Nightlife and Homebeat. Over the last 15 years, since you first shimmied across my radar, I’ve not heard one grumble from anyone ever about your performance, about your track selection or your super fun personality. How do you do it, what’s your secret?

As I was saying, I come to Ireland so often, it’s not that I feel pressure, it’s not anxiety, but I always do feel like I have to think a little more. In fact, I keep all my playlists at home, after I come home from gigs that went especially well – whether it’s Japan or Brussels, or especially Dublin – I keep a list of the things I played at the last party, so I try not to play them again. 

I do that with almost all my gigs, and furthermore – and I’m not saying this to flatter you – I feel the Irish have a special relationship with music. You could say that Irish and Italian people are like the Afro-American people of the European continent. 

The melodies and the rhythm – there’s a sense of soul, your heart is much more in it, and I know that comes from Irish musical traditions, where kids are singing in schools, they sing in choirs, they sing in church. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s so much a part of the culture, right? 

The truth is I think, what I do works well with you guys in Ireland. I feel very strongly about ‘what is music’ and ‘what isn’t’ and I’m definitely known for not going to the mainstream or being this person who plays techno and noise and things that are just loud, and to me are very disturbing – when people only rely on a bass, a big kick drum or very repetitive musical structures to pound an audience into submission. 

I feel that in Dublin – and with Irish crowds in general too – I feel like I can do what I do best, to show off melody and musicianship. 

So if you ask me why? Well, I feel comfortable when everyone feels the same way about music as I do, whether they’re conscious of it or not. I think that’s interesting, because with a lot of DJ cultures, especially at festivals, the word ‘music, music, music’ is thrown around so much, but really, the larger the commercial event, the less music is really being played. 

It has something to do with the propaganda – a portrayal of consumerism – in that we need to go pay loads of money to get drunk and go to this festival and worship these DJs who get a lot of money but don’t actually deliver a lot of music. 

In Dublin, you have people that really feel music passionately, but it’s also a smaller scene, in general. Ireland is not a very big country. So I think the pleasant accidental result of that is that things always still stay pretty intimate. 

I know you have big festivals too, but it’s usually a lot of people who know each other, who are comfortable being together, and it doesn’t feel like you’re herding buffalo, like what you get from really big festivals in UK or on the continent.

So that’s why I’m looking forward to this event on 3 February because it’s an intimate environment. I also have to think about what I’m playing with for this event, because it looks to me like the architecture is something traditional and beautiful. 

In that kind of environment, I wouldn’t be playing dark, strange, sexual sounds, that you might have when everybody’s sweaty and it’s dark, you know? I’m really thinking about what I could play so that architecturally it works, because that place probably has a certain feeling of tradition and even maybe of optimism or prosperity. 

Well there is certainly a history to the house itself, a lot of recognisable figures from Irish history have visited in the past – Daniel O’Connell, Padraig Pearse, and others. There would have been a fair amount of partying that went on back then, too, I would say. I’m sure you’re going to be great. 

OK, thank you for the nod. That’s interesting. Yes, friends have recommend me books and links about Irish history, and I have a good friend from my college days, who is Korean American but she ended up marrying an Irish-British husband, so she’s been living right beside Newgrange.

Is this the friend whose son I met the last time you played the Bernard Shaw Pride night?

Yes, he’s in Trinity College right now. 

Now, obviously music has clearly been your passion since a very young age. I heard that when you were growing up in Taipei (Taiwan), that you went to a stadium with your father to check out a laser show backed by the music of Giorgio Moroder’s The Chase. Did your family have a love of music also, or were they there more for the visuals?

It was definitely the love of music. I feel kind of silly saying this, every DJ, every music lover says this, but yes, I grew up with music. It’s pretty hard for humans to grow up in the 20th century and completely avoid music. It’s everywhere.

As a sideline, at the beginning of 2023 – almost one year ago now – I was getting no DJ gigs at all. The truth is, I’ve been doing this for a living for 21 or 22 years now. I’ve earned my living almost exclusively from DJing and I realised I don’t want to depend on this art form for the rest of my life. 

I’ve seen a lot of my older mentors, guys from New York, how they suffered financially during the coronavirus. So I’ve been doing historical tour guiding in Berlin.

That’s cool.

Yes, and it’s really interesting, I mean the topic of music goes way back here. You know, Johann Sebastian Bach was writing music that was presented at the court of the Prussian Kings maybe two or three subway stations from where I live. 

That’s amazing.

My dad was really into classical music – this is in the 1970s of course. He was not classically educated – he was from a traditional Chinese family and his father was a soldier in the nationalist army for Chiang Kai-shek, they were against communism in the 1940s. 

But my father was just a naturally musical person. I think when he got his nice sort of middle upper class well-paying job, he spent some money getting a Sensei stereo system from Japan and bought a lot of records. My father had a huge playlist, the best of classical music, a lot of Tchaikovsky. We grew up listening to Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy – very beautiful stuff, great for children too. I remember listening to the In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Greig – all that typical classical stuff that I think is really good for kids’ brains and their souls. 

I experienced the same upbringing myself, my mum bought an amazing soundsystem and lots of world music. Several friends of mine were lucky enough to grow up with the same. It’s definitely in your blood. I listened to classical, jazz, world music and quality Irish folk rock, which I believe all leads itself to disco!

Yes, I think so too. And I really think all these influences for children are not to be underestimated, I think it’s vastly important. It’s actually very disturbing to me when I listen to very monotonous hip hop music or techno music, or even most of the pop music on the radio now. 

We don’t need to pull punches about this – it’s very poorly produced, it’s very harmonically poor, and I’m thinking ‘this is what kids are growing up with’? It’s depressing.

Shocking isn’t it?!

Yeah I don’t think it’s a conservative, or, you know, old fogey traditionalist view to say that all those classics, whether it’s jazz, Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, all these things have an incredible effect on the young person’s brain. 

There’s a certain period – until they’re like 10 years old 12, years old, 16 years old – that these things have a lasting and defining effect on neural development. It’s really not to be underestimated. My father by the way, like a lot of Asian people, was into The Carpenters – Karen Carpenter – she was really big in Asia. I think it’s  because of that very pure tone that she sings in.

Absolutely. So with such an amount of passion in your family for music, especially stemming from your father, what drove you to study literature, languages and psychology in New York, and Chicago as well? You even got a job in a synth and guitar store? 

Yes for five years I worked in a synthesiser and guitar shop and it was the best apprenticeship I could ever ask for. I feel a bit funny saying all this, because I used to mention this stuff in interviews. I still do, but I’m also aware that I’m turning 55 this year, my hair is turning grey.

It’s very strange to me, and I realised I’m caught between my youth and even a certain nostalgia for childhood. The fact is, I’m going into my well into middle age – my boyfriend is already retired, he’s fixing up his family home because his father passed away. His father was 98 years old and passed away two years ago. 

So, I’m actually going into a different season of life, but I feel music certainly keeps the fantasy and the spirit young. It’s not holding onto the past – it’s keeping something beautiful and eternal and timeless. 

Now getting back to your question, both of my parents are musically gifted. My father can play the trumpet, he plays some piano – we had those at home in California. My mom could sing – she has perfect intonation. I’ve been told, with no prejudice, that among Chinese people, the incidence of tone deafness is almost zero because when you grow up with a tonal language, your brain is built into the language and it’s forced to think about whether the tones are correct. 

I’ve noticed this – when I’ve worked with musicians here in Europe, techno guys and all that, they don’t hear the difference between a white key and a black key. I’m not kidding. It’s very strange to deal with people who make music for living but they’re actually tone deaf.

I saw in one of your videos you had this mouth organ that you were getting keys from, and I thought ‘my God, what is that?’ I had never seen it before. Also the way that you deconstructed the pieces of music –   obviously you learn by ear or play by ear?

So, the little pitch pipe – that little circular thing – that’s a standard tool as far as I know in the US. All the guitarists were using it in the 70s and 80s. 

Back to the shop – I worked there for five years, and the truth is, it was mostly technical stuff that I learned. For example, nowadays everyone knows the Moog synthesiser or Roland synthesiser but actually in the mid-90s, a lot of people didn’t even know what those things were. 

Nobody was saying ‘we’re gonna use a mini Moog to play the bassline’, or it just wasn’t so common. There were a lot of digital synths back then. So that was a huge apprenticeship. I also learned to play the theremin there, and I got to meet Bob Moog, and hung out with him several times, I set up the home studio for Roy Ayers, and I also met people like David Bowie and Brian Eno in the shop.

Oh my god, amazing. Did you also meet Peter Pringle – he’s something of a master of the theremin?

I think I met him once.

As I was saying, my dad was very musically gifted, and my mom was also musically gifted, but she came from a very traditional Chinese background. Her dad was actually a scholar under the Qing Emperor. She was born in around the early 1930s, when playing music as entertainment for the masses had no value compared to studying and reading books. 

Now, believe it or not, even though we’re in the 21st century, and I grew up in the US, in the western world, the mentality that I grew up with came from my mother. I really believed, like all my cousins and everyone in my family, that the proper thing to do for me would be go to school, get a PhD, study literature, do something academic. Then I would be assured of a very stable, respectable living. That’s the way I thought until I was about 22 or 23. 

That’s why I went back to university to get a Masters and a PhD, in Chicago. I was torn between going to the University of Chicago where I got my master’s degree in language and literature, and these blues clubs, where I heard real people singing and playing the blues. I also went to hear Frankie Knuckles several times, because my friends knew him. 

I remember one time we were at this party in my literature and language department. A few of my colleagues started playing guitar, and I started singing along – singing the blues just for fun, like “boo bah boo, bah dee duh bah doo doo”. 

They were like, “You know you can actually sing? Why didn’t you tell us this? We thought you were a bookworm?” I had this kind of funny realisation – what should I do with my life? Do I want to stay in Chicago for five or six more years pursuing an academic degree? Or, maybe what I really wanted to do all along was music? That was in 1993 or 94. That’s why I moved back to New York and ended up working in that synthesiser shop.  

Every young person has it nowadays – people who can’t sing a note or play a note to save their lives, and they still feel that music is their passion and their life’s calling. You know what I’m talking about. 

In a sense, I don’t think that’s wrong, because music is also a subjective perception, and you might have somebody who is absolutely tone deaf and decides that they want to sing – we see this all the time on talent shows like X-Factor, right? They can’t sing a note to save their lives but in their own minds, in their own world, they are Pavarotti, they are Aretha Franklin. I think that’s fascinating, because who could deny that they feel that way. 

I feel the same way when you go to these festivals, because people are caught up in this crazy moment of techno beats – and it’s just noise to me – but I can intellectually accept that in those peoples’ subjective reality, they are just as much in the moment, in the groove, in some harmonic and rhythmic ecstasy, the way that other people are when they listen to Tchaikovsky or funky disco beats. 

It depends on the listener and their understanding of what’s in their heads.

So with that rationale, would you be then making excuses for the forerunners in populist electronic music today, who rip samples and put them up against generic, fat beats, and completely mangle what was once a beautiful track? Does that excuse it?

OK, there’s two answers to that. This is good, this interview has some depth now. Number one is I was one of those people, because with the first record I made in 1993, I was just so excited by the idea of old disco music and house music I just ripped some old samples and threw them together. And that’s still the best selling record I’ve ever made. 

So that was done as a parody?

Yes there was a sense of parody, I had a huge sense of irony about it, but for other people it’s not irony. 

Second of all – currently I’m working on Hitler, the Third Reich and World War 2. These are topics I work with every week. I take people through the original concentration camps here, where they kept political prisoners – this is part of my job now. People ask me, “How did people believe this Hitler evil guy?” and I say, “It depends on the reality you were in”.  

It’s the same way in America nowadays – there are a lot of people who feel they’re on the right side of history, on the right side of things, but they live in an American, consumerist society, a media-controlled reality. In their mind, by calling out people based on identity politics or racial identity – whatever prejudices – they feel they’re doing the right thing. 

Music is a metaphor for that too because it is such a gripping, emotional, spiritual reality. People dive into it. There are people who worship Taylor Swift – I think she’s probably a good person, she seems nice – but her music doesn’t create that spiritual grip for me. At the same time, there are people who believes she reaches them in all spiritual and emotional needs.

Let’s talk about your productions with Balihu Records – you established the label back in 1993 in order to get yourself gigs, because you were up against the titans of the era?

I’m totally honest and objective about this – I think I’m still just a small fish in a big pond, except I’m a small fish who never really wanted to be one of those guys. When I did that in ’93, the big names – they were even my heroes for a brief moment – were Masters At Work, and in New York, Junior Vasquez, the big DJ at Sound Factory.

But the people who I felt were really interesting, who I went out to hear, were people like Frankie Knuckles, who had a resident gig in New York, in around 1995/96 in a gay bar with 200 people in it. He was getting some big gigs in Europe, But it wasn’t like the situation we have now where people are getting tens of thousands for a gig. He was getting maybe a couple of hundred dollars to play in a bar for a night. 

Also, Francois Kevorkian and Danny Krivit are still two mentors and friends of mine, I’m still talking with Francois a lot. 

You also got Tony Humphries to play the very first track you made on the radio back in ’93?

It was a scream. My friend Eddie Matos did a lot of records in the early 90s too, underground house classics from the Lower East Side of New York. He called me up and said, “Listen, Tony Humphries is playing your record, Look Ma No Drum Machine, on Kiss 98.7 FM!” 

But the truth is I haven’t had big commercial successes. It’s not like guys like David Guetta or Bob Sinclair, they seem to all have something…

Commercial appeal?

Or Daft Punk, It’s not that much different from what other underground producers do, but I think there are other factors involved. So no, I don’t have a big career – I’m still earning just a little over €20,000 a year. 

So would you be more than happy to keep things low key, so you don’t have the added pressures brought on by mega success?

In the end I think I’m a particular type, too. Number one, I know I’m queer. My mother didn’t know I was going to turn out to be homosexual, but she always said, “you know, you’re smart and you’re different from other kids” and I have to thank her for the rest of my life for this. 

She told me, “it’s important that you be yourself and you don’t try to be someone else”. She would say this to me when I was like 12 years old. So it’s far more important to do what makes yourself and not other people happy.

Especially because as I’m studying the Third Reich now, and looking at America, a lot of the time in history, the majority does get things wrong. The majority opinion should not be the determinant of what’s right, what’s real or what is interesting or sophisticated or beautiful. 

When you look at most great classical composers in their time – and what I’m doing is not Tchaikovsky or Mozart, of course – many died poor and penniless and unknown, because what they did wasn’t accepted by the majority, and second of all it didn’t correspond to popular tastes. Thy live in their own beautiful, subjective reality. 

People who do music live in their own peculiar reality – somewhere between mathematics and pure emotion. It’s very abstract. It’s the deepest level of the human brain, I genuinely believe that. I’m a bit like that too, I’m a queer, three US dollar note. 

You’re known as the Professor of Disco, partly due to your brilliant performances on the Electronic Beats series over the last few years, deconstructing tracks, using your 303 and vintage synths. But have you ever thought of teaching electronic music at university level, seeing as you’re clearly a naturally gifted teacher?

 Well, the truth is, I’ve had a few offers already from two music schools here. I even met a guy on a train once, who told me “I know who you are, you should come teach for us”. 

But these are not state sponsored schools or real universities, so my instant instinct is to say “no”. The Chinese have a saying, which in English is, you cannot make a silk purse out of a sows ear.

Yes indeed, as Gaeilge, in Irish language, “Ní dhéanfaidh an saol capall ráis d’asal’ which means, you cannot make a racehorse out of a donkey!

Or, in China, you cannot sculpt a Buddha statue out of rotten wood. 

So why are you saying that, in this context? 

Well, because when you’re teaching this kind of thing, it’s like old Chinese martial arts movies, where the old sensei or old samurai will only accept a certain kind of student when that student has shown themselves to be worthy in some way. It’s not just that they have the technical or mental ability – they also have a moral character. 

In fact I don’t even want to go into it – but, you know, two years ago I certainly was confronted with some ugly incidents. You meet people who want to get into electronic music, and a lot of what is driving them is fundamentally narcissistic, and driven by commercial and personal greed and egotism. In my case especially, I’m just not into that. 

I understand – but would you not think of doing this at an academic level, and talking about the history, and the theory, for people who are actually interested in the subject?

The truth is, I would really love to do that, but I don’t have the technical qualifications. I can’t read music very well, I can sort of follow things on sheet music. 

I don’t think you need to know how to read sheet music to teach history and theory necessarily.

I think I’d be good for middle school or primary school. I had a wonderful music teacher in primary school – this was in Taipei. She was an American lady in the American International school. She would make us take off our shoes, she would turn out the lights – we were these little kids in 5th or 6th grade – and she would play us bizarre ethnographic music, or Fleetwood Mac, or Kitaro, a Japanese synthesiser composer. Very spiritual and mystical. 

For adults, I think actually I’d be good too, but right now I’m working on my own album. I’m working on a few projects, and I need to get them done. 

Excellent. You’re finally getting back into the studio, I’m delighted to hear that. 

I’ve been saying that for about six or seven years, but it’s been a funny blur because of coronavirus and social media too. I’ve realised that with most of my heroes – whether they are DJs or producers or keyboardists – if you look at their YouTube videos, 2,000 people are clicking on them. Then you look at other people doing stupid stunts, trying not to land on their faces while jumping across buildings – they get 2 million hits.

I suppose a lot of people are quite basic in their needs, they’re exhausted from working for low pay and poor conditions. Also it’s quite expensive to go out these days, not everybody can afford it. The guys doing this Dublin Disco All Dayer are doing an amazing job, for what it is.

I know a lot of the time that when I’m booked, I’m usually playing for friends who, whether politically or culturally, I don’t feel good taking money from them. I usually tell them, ‘give me €500, minus the hotel’, I want to have some money left in my pocket afterwards. It’s not a way to get rich. 

You need to be paid for your gigs Daniel, especially seeing as you didn’t get so many last year.

Well, thankfully they’re starting to come in now. I got to go to Japan recently. But these are gigs for love and not for money. I think sometimes my brain is still adjusting to social media, 

I only created my first Instagram account in 2017 – it’s not that long ago. And it’s only been five years that I’ve had studio capability and the proper software and tools, and these new studio monitor speakers, for my room to try to realise the projects that I want to do. 

I think there is nothing more tragic than an artist that has some good or decent concepts but doesn’t have the technical means to realise them correctly. You hear that – all those songs, those weird B-sides that DJs play, where’s something wrong with them, and they didn’t become hits. 

Even though I’m not making hits, I want to write tracks that sound right to myself. I’m not gonna listen to them and hold my head in shame. 

So, you have an album in the pipeline but do you also have any remixes planned? You’ve worked on some over the years, for the likes of Crazy P, Charles Webster and Brennan Green? You’ve not come across anything since that you wanted to give the Daniel Wangle?

Well I’m totally objective, and to be fair, I’m not really proud of those remixes now Brennan helped me a lot – he’s technically really good – but Brennan even said, when he listened to that Block 16 remix, Electrocution, he said he was embarrassed that we did that. 

Part of me feels a bit like that too – when I listened to it, I’m putting the theremin in there, I’m doing some strings and they’re a little bit out of tune. I could have fixed it, and I could have placed them correctly in the mixdown. This is what sound engineers do – the strings are floating in the background beautifully – the kick drum is nice and dense, it’s thick and dry and somewhere in the middle. 

There are lots of technical factors like that which you should consider when you’re doing a remix. I just didn’t have that level of technical expertise. With Crazy P as well, the bassline is way too low in the mix. Also, the bassline isn’t not funky enough. I would have added different things – I would have done a lot of things differently with all the knowledge I have now. 

I’ve had a few offers of remixes now – Bob Sinclair sent me a message after he tagged me in his Instagram, he was like, ‘Danny Wang’s in the house’, and it’s got two million views.. I was like ‘Oh my God, wouldn’t that be funny if I made a record with Bob Sinclair’?

Why not, go for it?

I don’t want to compromise my ideals. It doesn’t matter to the rest of the world but it matters to me – that what comes out from my studio with my name on it, should be something lasting and is not a flash in the pan, not to disappear a week later, I really feel that way.

So you would be super choosy who you’d collaborate with? 

There are two or three people playing on my album anyway, my guitarist here in Germany and these girls who sing with me, and for me.  

Think about it – don’t you have a few B-sides that were lost album cuts and no one else really knows them, but you love them to death? What were your favourite B-sides, I’m just curious?

Well I was such an indie girl back in my teens – listening to the Verve, Ocean Colour Scene, The Charlatans – I only ever bought their CD singles. When I really got into dance music, I wasn’t a DJ, I never bought records, I just went out and danced all the time. So I’ve only ever been a dancer, I didn’t know what was an A-side or a B-side. I just thought it was great music for me to dance to. 

In a way the whole digital age, USBs and all that has made things very accessible, which is good.

Well we’re all feeling really so fortuitous to have you grace our shores again Daniel on February 3rd, can you let us in on any little secret gems as to what you’re planning to play on the day. 

I just drew up a list. Every time I play gigs – I’m sure most DJs don’t do this – the USB stick has 2,000 or 5,000 piece of music on it. If you just scroll through, you’re not going to properly know what to play. Over the next three weeks, I’ve got three gigs. 

Let me see my list – I just wrote this down – there’s a B-side by Tantra, an old Italo-disco act from 1979/ 80. I recorded and digitised a lot of these B-sides so I can play them. There’s a record by Asha Putley I really love, everyone knows it, it’s called Music Machine. It’s got a great groove, it’s very dark and I’m quite sure the bassline that Yoko Ono borrowed when she did Walking On Thin Ice.

There’s a whole load of downtempo stuff that’s about 110BPM to 114 BPM. I found a nice cute Italo track from these Italian producers from 1980, it’s called I C Bell – Love Explosion. It’s a good one, and anyone can find it on YouTube. 

One last question – what was the first record that you ever bought?

As a child? Hmmm, I think I bought the 1978 US Grammy Award Winners, because there was a whole bunch of songs, the Bee Gees were doing their thing; the John Williams orchestra playing the theme music from the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind; and Leo Sayer was doing You Make Me Feel Like Dancing. I asked my parents to buy these records for me in Taipei when I was aged 9.

Oh, other ones were Diana Ross Upside Down and also Pink Floyd Another Brick in the Wall. I heard the groove – it was a disco groove, basically. And later, in middle school, Patrice Rushen Forget Me Nots. I was obsessed with that. All the other boys in school were making fun of me, the heterosexual, normal boys were getting into heavy metal in 1982, but I was the only boy in school who liked that song. 

Well Daniel, I can’t wait to listen to what you have in store at the Fatty Fatty Phonographics Disco All Dayer.  Thanks so much for spending the time with us on 909originals, see you soon. 

Thank you Emer – lovely to see you and your red hair again. 

Interview by Emer O’Connor. More information on the Dublin Disco All-Dayer can be found here.

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