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Deep In Vogue: an introduction to ballroom culture and modern voguing

Throwing down at Vogue Knights, NYC
I have been a bit slack with my Notes column of late, and here’s the reason why.

I love voguing (and you should know this by now.) I love the music, the dancing, the style, the language, the queens (both butch and femme), the battling, the videos, the full length films, the drama, the energy, the past, the present and the future. Voguing and Ballroom culture a very significant and valuable part of the LGBT landscape, the serves to teach children self-respect and personal growth, and gives them a space to be accepted, and to thrive, in.

I love voguing so much that I have written a in-depth introduction to the culture for Boing Boing. Funny as it may seem, this wasn’t an easy piece for me to write—I started and scrapped 3 drafts, which just kept getting longer and longer—but I am happy with this one. There’s quite a lot of material that I just didn’t have the space to include in this piece, and my thoughts are now quite seriously turning towards a book documenting the culture. It really is that rich.

Like hip hop, ballroom encompasses many different elements of artistic expression, from music and language to clothes and design, and, of course, dance. It deals directly with some of society’s most controversial issues, namely sexuality, race, class, gender roles and expression, beauty modes, self-definition and competition. It doesn’t do this in the polemical style we may be used to from punk and political hip-hop, however, where topics are theorised and discussed. In ballroom these issues are lived and experienced, as a vast number of those taking part in this underground scene are transgender, working class, people of colour.

Ballroom includes society’s most marginalised: minorities within minorities within minorities, for whom voguing and ballroom culture is an important resource. In a world where they have been rejected, ballroom not only accepts these people for who they are, it celebrates them, in a variety of unique and different categories. The competitive, prize-winning aspect of ballroom gives some participants a sense of worth lacking in the “real” world (not to mention money), and the familial structure of the “houses”—mother, father, sister, brother—often acts as a real surrogate, as many in this world have been disowned by their biological families.

Here, voguing is not just a dance, and ballroom is not just a genre. It’s a way of life that brings pride, peer recognition and self-respect. The genre of music is one thing, but the culture which surrounds it is another; and both are intricately tied into one another.


To quote the late, great Willi Ninja, who is perhaps the greatest voguer the world has yet seen, voguing is like a challenge dance: instead of fighting you take it out on the dancefloor. Depending on who you ask, this uniquely stylised dance form arose either amongst the inmates of Ryker’s Island, or at gay Harlem dance parties in the sixties (it’s most probably a mixture of both). Voguing got its name from Vogue magazine, as the competing dancers would flip to pictures of models posing, and imitate them, trying to outdo each other in the process. As it developed the dancers became quicker and more agile, and incorporated other forms of dance such as waacking (high speed arm movements and hand gestures) and body popping (though some say that voguing actually pre-dates popping, and was itself an influence on the original b-boys). Fast forward to 2013 and voguing has come a long way, progressing through the styles of old way, new way, femme and dramatics, to today’s almost hyperactive, turbocharged version of the dance. Although key elements of old way voguing remain (posing, “face”), a much more frantic and stylised choreography takes precedence, with signature moves such as the dip (when a dancer falls flat on their back), the duck walk and hair control (using long hair as stylistic element of the dance, in essence whipping it back and forth).

There’s more to vogue culture than just the dancing and the dressing up, and if you have seen Paris Is Burning you only know the very tip of this glittering iceberg. If you want to know more, read the rest of Welcome to the Ballroom, where Voguing is always in style here.

To accompany the piece, here is a 13 minute dj mix I put together of “cunt” tracks, “cunt” meaning “fabulous” in the world of Ballroom. Yes, the c-bomb gets dropped quite a lot in this mix, so you’re getting a warning: it’s NSFW!

CVNT TR4XXX 13min Cunty Minimix for #FEELINGS

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Notes From The Niallist: That’s so CVNT, a ‘Future-House’ voguing mix
03:30 pm


house music

I have a new house music project, and it’s renewing my faith in this whole “making music” malarkey.

It’s called CVNT TR4XXX, or if you don’t mind bad language, CUNT TRAXXX. If you;re wondering why I chose that name, the c-word has been used in drag and gay circles for quite a while as a compliment, and CVNT (for short) is dedicated to VOGUING and the culture that surrounds it, which is heavily gay, trans and femme. 

As the picture I use as a logo states:

CUNT: (adj) a term used in gay slang to describe someone who is impressive, original or fantastic in regards to style or demeanour.
This week the London-based fashion label Long Clothing have uploaded a CVNT mix I put together showcasing some of my sounds, and a lot of others who operate in roughly the same ballpark.

For too long, house music has been perceived as a European-dominated scene (which it is to an extent) but it’s important to remember the roots of this music, and that it was born in the ghettos of Chicago, produced mostly by black and queer kids messing around with drum machines and boxed-up synth modules.

Not to mention house music’s spiritual home of New York City, the town that gave birth to voguing, and that, in the early 90s at least, spearheaded an assault of queer/black/latino/drag culture on the popular consciousness. Madonna didn’t start that shit, you know.

For those of you who don;t know, voguing was not just a fad, it was and still is a unique and complex culture in its own right, and it lives on, stronger than ever. That’s the real inspiration for starting CVNT, watching clips of various new way vogue dancers competing on YouTube and dreaming up a soundtrack to make them go wild to.

There’s some other kinds of house on this mix too, most notably “Jersey Club”, which features a distinctive 5-kicks-to-the-bar rhythm, a little bit of a “B-More”/Baltimore influence (similar to Jersey Club but with breakbeats) and “ballroom”, which is essentially house music for new way voguers and combines elements of B-More and Jersey Club with a heavy dose of 90s diva realness.

I call all this stuff “future house” because these genres are taking house music in a different direction, but one that is still very much connected to the black/gay undergrounds where they started. This music has got very little to do with dub, or spending hours tweaking a synth patch to sound good in a k-hole. This is defiantly DANCE music, designed to make you MOVE. Most of it is based around the rhythm, cutting up tiny samples of speech and music and arranging it around quick-fire patterns. This is music from the MPC generation, where you don’t get money for anything, but the synths are free.

Besides, I’m SICK of boring bloody minimal, ploddy bro-step and electro-house! As “EDM” takes more and more of a foothold in the American consciousness it’s worth reminding people that YOU GUYS INVENTED IT. You still have PLENTY of homegrown talent pushing these genres forward right on your own doorstep, but possibly not in the places you’d expect to find them. 

If I can point anyone in that direction, then it’s a start.

Here’s the mix for Long Clothing, which you can download from their website. The tracklist is here.


Here’s a couple more tracks for good measure, from the Death Drops EP:


You can hear more productions on the CVNT TR4XXX SoundCloud page.


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Notes From The Niallist: is Transgate another nail in the coffin of oldstream media?

Writer Paris Lees, image via lastofthecleanbohemians
“Transgate”, the recent controversy surrounding writers Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill’s comments about transgendered people online and in the print media, may seem like a bit of a storm in a teacup to those who have not been directly affected by the issues.

But it could be a decisive moment, not just for transgender awareness, but also how people view the “oldstream” media (in the UK at least) and in turn how social media can shape and express changes in public opinions exponentially quicker, and much more powerfully, than print and television can. 

That’s one of the very interesting topics of conversation in a Google Hangout-filmed debate posted by Channel 4 News yesterday, titled Transsexual people and the online age of outrage. It features writer Paris Lees, of META magazine and this well read Vice article, Sarah Savage of Channel 4’s My Transexual Summer, and experts on social media and transgender-issues.

Transgate certainly seems, as is mentioned in the video, a tipping point in public aware of the transgender community and the struggles faced by its members. I certainly don’t remember this much debate around a trans issue in my lifetime, and if there’s any heartening aspect to this whole shameful debacle, it’s that the backlash suggests trans people now have more allies than ever before.

But aside from drawing attention to the hateful attitudes certain persons, columnists, and even schools of feminism display towards people on the trans spectrum, this whole issue has made it that much clearer to the public just how valuable our opinions (and our freedom to express them) are to oldstream media. More and more, the cries of “freedom of speech!” and “anti-censorship” employed by columnists and news institutions over the last week are beginning to translate to the general public as “freedom for us to tell you how it is!”

This is particularly evident when commenters try to repost quotes from the Burchill article itself in the comments sections under certain op-ed pieces decrying the removal of her article only to see the quotes themselves removed. It has happened to me, and it has happened to others, and it makes a mockery of any kind of claim to “free speech”. Why should a writer of such low caliber as Julie Burchill be allowed to make statements about a social group, when members of the public are blocked from doing so?

It’s quite simply a PR disaster for print journalism.

This comes at a time when the Levenson Enquiry is trying to establish whether an independent regulator is needed for the British press. As people are getting their news from online sources much more these days, and thus beginning to doubt the role (and agendas) of mainstream news outlets, journalists are unlikely to be able to whip up enough outrage—real or “manufactured”, a frankly hypocritical term journalists LOVE to use about any controversy that they themselves did not stir up—to make people give a damn.

And let’s be clear about one thing, this is NOT an issue of “censorship”, a claim that’s getting bleated over and over in various echo chambers. If the offensive article was really “censored”, then how come it’s so easy to find on another major, mainstream news platform? I thought “censored” meant it would be gone for good? Or only available through a leaks site? Not on the site of the Daily Telegraph, surely?

This quote from Harry Giles very neatly explains the difference between “censorship” and “editorial policy”:

“… the columnists get it wrong … most call the Observer’s decision “censorship”, without expanding what they mean by that. This makes it seem as if the Observer’s decision were equal with a government passing a law against a speech or a type of speech. Government censorship prevents all speech of a certain kind, or an instance of speech, from happening in a country. Newspaper censorship – another word for which is “editorial policy” – says “we do not think this kind of speech should happen in our house”. Granted, because newspapers have a particular important role in a free speech society, they should be more careful about restrictions in their editorial policy than I would about restrictions on my Facebook wall.”

That is part of an excellent blog post by Giles, called Julie Burchill, Newspapers and Freedom of Speech, that dissects Transgate in a cool, calm and steadfastly philosophical fashion. It’s one of the best analyses I have read about the whole matter, and avoids being confrontational, or emotional (which is pretty hard, considering the language used by both Burchill and Moore.) I highly recommend it.

And for more enlightened discussion of Transgate and the mainstream media’s reaction to the “Twitter storm” here is the Channel 4 News discussion:

Transsexual people and the online age of outrage


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Notes From The Niallist #12: ‘Work It’ with Egyptian Lover & friends

It’s the first Notes column of the new year, and it’s time for a little bit of self-promotion!

When I first joined the DM crew I remember talking to Richard Metzger (he;‘s not just bigger than Jesus, you know, he’s bigger than God!) about self-promotion on the site. I explained that the British people are actually pretty shit at promoting themselves, and he agreed. Not that I’m British, mind you. But it’s just one of those things that Americans do so much better than Europeans: selling yourselves, without coming across like utter cocks. Most of the time, anyway.

One of the points of starting this NFTN column was to have a little corner of the site all to myself, where I could talk about the more niche stuff I am interested in, but also to show off some of the stuff I do beyond blogging for Dangerous Minds. And I do a lot. Film-making, event organising, writing, djing, and, first and foremost, making music. 

So anyway, enough beating around the bush.

I’ve just released my latest single, remixes of a hip-house cover of Missy Elliot’s “Work It”, which is available to buy now, exclusively, from Juno Download.

The release contains six remixes, with the lead-off track being a rework by the legendary founder of electro music on the West Coast, Egyptian Lover. I gotta admit, I was pretty stoked when he said he liked my track enough to remix it, but that was nothing compared to how I felt when I heard it. It’s classic Egypt, a straight-up electro-funk bomb, and I am honored to release it. In fact, it made my year.

That’s not to knock any of the other artists who provided remixes, oh no siree. This release is really strong from start to finish. Additional mixes are supplied by upcoming legend Hard Ton, who turn in an Italian piano-house version that would have rocked the original acid raves at Shoom, Berlin based Electrosexual, who comes on strong with a percussive industrial mix, and rising star Ynfynyt Scroll, who turns in a mix half-way between southern hip-hop and Jersey club banger.

There’s also a remix by the mysterious new act Cunt Traxxx, in a “vogue house” style, but you’ll be hearing more about them right here in the very near future. For now, here are the tracks for your earholes:

If you want to purchase any of the “Work It” remixes, hop over here.

The original version of “Work It” is available on my mixtape AKA, which came out last year. You can hear it, and download the whole tape for free, at my Bandcamp page.

And here’s a video I put together for the track, featuring footage from our annual Vogue Brawl party, where only the most fabulous and fierce survive, and everybody is made to werrrk it…

THE NIALLIST “Work It” (AKA album version)

You can follow The Niallist on Twitter:

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Notes from the Niallist #10: the Golden Larynx of Shaun J. Wright
10:33 am


Chicago House
Shaun J Wright

Shaun J Wright. The name may not be familiar, but the voice should be.

Shaun is the owner of the beautiful baritone that graced the best bits of Hercules & Love Affair’s Blue Songs album, released in January 2011. A Chicago native, his work is a real treat for fans of house music, recalling some of the best vocalists in the genre, singers like Robert Owens and Peven Everett, while still retaining a distinct flavor all of its own.

This week, as he appears as guest vocalist on not one, but two separate releases (audio below); I sent him some questions for my notes column:

THE NIALLIST: Where are you based just now and how do you find it?

SHAUN J WRIGHT: I currently spend most of my time in my hometown Chicago. It’s interesting being back here as I haven’t lived here this long since I left for college. Before leaving I was in such a rush to go I didn’t truly have a chance to appreciate the city’s rich textures beyond house music. This time around I feel at ease with being here and it’s been just what I’ve needed to refocus and begin working on my solo endeavor and other collaborations. 

TN: You have two new releases coming out, one with Stereogamous who are from Australia, and one with Kiki on Berlin’s highly respected BPitch Control label. Tell me how recording with these two different acts came about. Were there different processes and inspirations? 

SJW: I met Jonny Seymour and Paul Mac backstage after a gig in Barcelona. They sent me a few tracks and instantly I connected with and recorded what is now “Face Love Anew” (which will be released Nov. 27th, on vinyl and Dec. 11th, digital format). They gave me a lot of freedom to write the lyrics and express them melodically as I imagined. It’s been such a pleasure working with them as they’re so talented and incredibly loving and sweet. It’s also been a great experience preparing for the release with Honey Soundsytem’s HNYTRX and CockTail d’Amore. Everyone has been so gracious and open throughout the process. The remix package is sick and quite the family affair. Honey Soundsystem’s Jason Kendig, my sister Kim Ann Foxman, my boys from Horse Meat Disco, The Miracles Club and Carry Nation! It’s just all types of ovahness going on with this release!

Kiki and I met in Berlin. My other sister, Aerea Negrot, suggested that we meet up to work together. She was spot on. The chemistry was instant for me. He’s a very calm and patient producer and also allowed me the freedom to move as I chose over his sultry tracks. What’s interesting is that the music you hear now is completely different from the music I initially recorded to. He has the insane ability to recreate songs extremely fast and often. This is the second feature of mine being released on BPitch Control. A few months ago I was featured on a song by System of Survival on their album “Needle and Thread”. I’ve been a huge fan of the label and Ellen Allien for years. She’s been quite supportive of my development and it’s been nice to foster a relationship with BPitch Control.

TN: Who have been the biggest influences on you musically? Give us a bit of background on your discovery of music and getting into singing and writing…

SJW: Hands down, my greatest influences were creators of the second wave of house in Chicago in the early 90’s. I was still very young but the music was ubiquitous throughout the city and I found it infectious. Cajual was my favorite label at the time and I religiously followed it’s output along with it’s sister label Relief. I was also into the street dance culture which later become known as juke so alot of Dance Mania and ghetto house reigned for me. From there I ventured into the popular NYC sound at the time, particularly Masters At Work and the output from Tribal America. 

Some of my favorite singers include Rachelle Ferrell, Minnie Riperton, Donnie Hathaway, Bilal, Norah Jones, and Bjork. 

I began writing songs in my early teens but I eventually became more invested in dancing. I think I was hesitant because I was afraid to sing in public and share my writings. I also desired to begin DJing then but I found it intimidating. Now I’m engaging in them all and I think it’s a good time in my life to do so. 

TN: Dance music and culture seems to be booming in America right now - how are you finding that? How as an artist do you feel you fit into that?

SJW: I don’t connect with most of the mainstream dance music and culture. Maybe it’s a matter of age or aesthetic. Either way, it doesn’t move me in the same manner as music found just below the visible surface. I’m not sure that I do fit into that boom. It’s not even a consideration of mine to do so. I’ll just continue to make the music and imagery that feels authentic to me and if it becomes apart of that dialogue I’ll be well pleased. If it doesn’t, I’ll still be well pleased. 

TN: How was working with Hercules And Love Affair? Are there any more H&LA collaborations lined up for the future?

SJW: Hercules was truly a life changing experience. I got to venture to many new places around the world and develop great relationships. Andy took a big risk allowing a newbie to join the crew so I’m grateful for all that it was. 

TN: What does the near future have in store for Shaun J Wright?

SJW: I’m looking forward to spreading my wings creatively. I have a few more collaborations on the horizon as well as a solo EP that I’ve been working on diligently for the past year. Hopefully, they’ll all see the light next year. 

The first of Shaun’s two singles released this week is an appearance with the Australian duo Stereogamous called “Face Love Anew”, which is released through San Francisco’s Honey Soundsystem’s HNYTRX label:

The second release is a collaboration with the Berlin-based producer Kiki called “Spending Time Together/Through Darkness”, and is released through the BPitch label:



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Notes from the Niallist #9: Transgender Day Of Remembrance

November 20th is the annual Transgender Day Of Remembrance, the day we take time to remember all our gender variant brothers and sisters who have died in the last 12 months.

Sadly, in the last year alone, over 250 people have died as a result of transphobic hate crime (and that’s just the reported cases.) These aren’t just statistics—these are people—and you can see their names, addresses and causes of death for yourself, right here.

As I have stated in previous columns, I do not speak on behalf of trans people, I would rather use whatever platform I can to let them speak for themselves. This statement on TDOR is from the website, and originally appeared on rememberingourdeadorg:

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-transgender murder cases — has yet to be solved.

Although not every person represented during the Day of Remembrance self-identified as transgender — that is, as a transsexual, crossdresser, or otherwise gender-variant — each was a victim of violence based on bias against transgender people.

We live in times more sensitive than ever to hatred based violence, especially since the events of September 11th. Yet even now, the deaths of those based on anti-transgender hatred or prejudice are largely ignored. Over the last decade, more than one person per month has died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice, regardless of any other factors in their lives. This trend shows no sign of abating.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves several purposes. It raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people, an action that current media doesn’t perform. Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. Through the vigil, we express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred. Day of Remembrance reminds non-transgender people that we are their sons, daughters, parents, friends and lovers. Day of Remembrance gives our allies a chance to step forward with us and stand in vigil, memorializing those of us who’ve died by anti-transgender violence.

VIgils are being held all across the US (and the world) today, there’s more information available on the website.

For today’s Notes column, I have decided to post two videos, two separate talks by two very interesting people who both appeared at Canada’s IdeaCity conference in 2010.

Just to be clear, I am not claiming that either of these people are representative of all gender variant people in the world (how could any one person claim complete authority over such a wide range of experience?) but rather that their own, very particular stories are hugely interesting and make for great listening.

The first talk is by the performance artist, writer, actress and lecturer Nina Arsenault, and is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a radical thinker. Arsenault seeks not to “make the world a better place” or to offer trite answers to scoiety’s questions, but instead wants to confuse the world, and by objectifying herself make the viewers question our own presumptions about her body and, by extension, “femininity”: 

The second talk is by the well known adult movie performer Buck Angel, who has made a very decent living carving out his own particular niche in the pornogrpahy business. His tale, and delivery, is very different to that of Nina Arsenault, but both share a determination of spirit and sense of pride in their own being (not to mention their own bodies) that is inspirational:

Previously on Dangerous Minds:

Today is Transgender Day Of Rememberance

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Notes From The Niallist #8: Krys Fox and the ‘31 Days Of Halloween’
01:45 pm


Horror Films
Krys Fox

There are people who love Halloween. Then there are people who LOVE Halloween. Like, really, really LOVE Halloween.

Brooklyn-based photographer Krys Fox is one of the latter. To show how much he loves the witching season, Krys has just completed the mammoth feat of of shooting 31 different photos shoots in 31 days—one for each day of October—with each shoot based around one of his favourtie horror movies. Now THAT is dedication to the Halloween spirit! I sent Krys some questions to find out what had inspired him to undertake this epic task, why invert the gender roles in these photos, and what got him in to photography in the first place…
THE NIALLIST: So, how are you handling Hurricane Sandy? That seems like a real horror movie. Has it affected your shoots?

KRYS FOX: Hurricane Sandy scared me last night. It got violent out there. Our building in Brooklyn was shaking and swaying. It sounded like a monster was out there in the wind. Very much like a scary movie. Luckily, we didn’t lose power. Just internet and cable… and I own a LOT of movies so we just had a movie marathon. Halloween, The Mist, Hide & Seek and Sleepy Hollow were our films… As far as my shoots go, I shot four on my last day, I finished the last shot for the series at 9pm on Saturday night. The subways and buses were already shut down by then (and still are) so, I walked a half an hour back home (with all my props, equipment and camera on me) while Sandy started getting windy. It was a bit freaky, but also pretty cool. It was eerie outside and fun to be in it before it got too serious. So, I lucked out. If the storm had started a day earlier, I wouldn’t have finished this epic project.
More photos, and questions with Krys, after the jump. Let’s see, can you name the horror movies referenced in his work?

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Notes from the Niallist #7: Happy Halloween with ‘Disco Argento 1 & 2’
01:01 pm


Disco Argento

‘Tis the season to be freaky, mwa ha ha ha ha!

Hallowe’en is my favorite time of year, it’s basically the gay/goth Christmas! And this year is one of those awesome calendar occurences when October 31st happens to fall mid week. This gives us ghouls the chance to celebrate Samhain three times; this weekend, actual Hallowe’en next Wednesday, and then the weekend after.

Of course, for some people it’s Hallowe’en all year round, but if you’re planning on whopping it up like a banshee over the next 10 days, then you’re gonna need some music. And that’s where I present you with my Disco Argento mixtapes, THE definitive collection of horror-movie inspired funk and disco from the Seventies and Eighties, spread over two volumes and clocking in at almost two and a half hours.

Yes! Disco and electro remakes of all your favorite horror movie themes, from Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday the 13th to Alien and Amittyville! Electro workouts from soundtrack maestros Riz Otiolani, Fabio Frizzi and Claudio Simonetti! Iconic funk inserts from masters of the game like John Caprenter and Alan Howarth, Robert Rodriguez and the mighty Goblin! It’s all here, and it’s guaranteed to satisfy your gore-soaked, blood-lusting, Disco Inferno needs!

Yes, I posted these mixes last year, but they really are that good. And let’s face it, DM has, ummm tripled (or more?) its readership since then. Thee full tracklistings for Disco Argento volumes 1 and 2 can be viewed on the respective Mixcloud pages, but for now let’s cut straight to the chase (music):

Disco Argento 1 by Theniallist on Mixcloud

THE NIALLIST Disco Argento Volume 1 (featuring John Carpenter, Goblin, Fabio Frizzi, Lalo Schifrin, Claudio Simonettis, Zaza and Zitter, Budy-Maglione and disco/funk themes from Halloween 2, Prom Night, Dawn Of The Dead, Cannibal Ferox, Phantasm, Demons, Friday the 13th and more…)

Disco Argento 2 by Theniallist on Mixcloud

THE NIALLIST Disco Argento Volume 2 (featuring Goblin, Pat Hodges, Robert Rodriguez, Riz Otriolani, John Carpenter & Alan Howarth, Todd Rivers, and disco/funk themes from Alien, Nightmare On Elm Street, Zombi 2 (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters), Tenebrae, The New York Ripper, Tentacles, The Omen and more…)

Happy Hallowe’en, ghouls!

You can find The Niallist on Twitter.

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Notes from the Niallist #6: Happy Birthday Divine!
08:26 am


I Am Divine

When it comes to alt-culture icons, they don’t come much bigger or more fabulous than Divine, who was born Glenn Harris Milstead 67 years ago today.

I shouldn’t need to explain to the readers of Dangerous Minds how important a figure Divine was, not just to gay people, drag queens or the plus-sized, but to freaks, misfits and outcasts anywhere and everywhere. I mean, you just gotta love Divine. Anyone who flaunts their flaws that proudly and boldly, turns them into cornerstones of their appearance in fact, should be held up as an inspiration to everyone.

Divine’s legacy has gotten stronger since Milstead’s death in 1988, and in a strange way Divine has come to represent a time when society was both more conservative, but oddly more liberal. What film star would gulp down real, live dog shit on screen these days and be called a hero? I think we need Divine now more than ever, so it’s no surprise to me how truly iconic she has become in recent years.

As today is Divine’s birthday, I contacted Lotti Pharriss Knowles, the producer of the upcoming feature documentary I Am Divine, to discuss the incredible performer, and to get the scoop on their film, which promises to be the definitive document of Divine’s life.

THE NIALLIST: How did this project come about in the first place?

LOTTI PHARRISS KNOWLES: Our director, Jeffrey Schwarz, has been kind of obsessed with Divine and John Waters since he was introduced to their films in college. Many years later Jeffrey interviewed Waters for SPINE TINGLER! THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY, and many other Dreamlanders for the doc YOU CAN’T STOP THE BEAT: THE LONG JOURNEY OF HAIRSPRAY, and became inspired to make a definitive documentary about the immortal star that is Divine.

TN: How is the Kickstarter going? And when is the finished film due?

LPK: Kickstarter is going great—we made our goal of $40,000 earlier this week! But that goal was the bare minimum we needed to raise to help finish this film, so we are setting a new, “unofficial” goal of $50K to see how far we can get by Friday at midnight when the campaign ends.

We don’t have a specific due date, but we are applying to festivals where, if accepted, we’d premiere early next year. So time is definitely of the essence to make sure we polish the edit, get the soundtrack and graphics completed, and legally clear all the photos and footage we’ve included. And none of that comes cheap!

TN: What personally attracts you to the character of Divine?

LPK: I’ve always been an oddball and attracted to others who are, especially people who are fearless about being different. No one embodies that spirit of the in-your-face punk misfit more than Divine. I also love that while Divine was completely subversive, you always felt a tender heart beating underneath the wild persona—I think that combination is ultimately why Divine’s fans love him so fervently.

TN: Divine’s legacy has gotten stronger since her death - why do you think that is?

LPK: Well, we always seem to truly idolized those who leave us too soon: Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Divine. They go out when they’re still young and beautiful, and they’re forever trapped in time… There’s something sentimental about that, because the fans are left to fill in the blanks of what might have happened had they lived longer. I also think there are always those new fans coming along, the next generation of folks seeing the Waters movies for the first time, and responding to those characteristics I mentioned. There are always going to be misfits and outsiders, and so there will always be a need for a role model like Divine.
Divine in Melbourne, Autralia in 1984, pic by Andrew Curtis

TN: Where do you think Glenn Harris Milstead would be today if he hadn’t died?

LPK: I think he’d be an accomplished actor with a wide variety of roles under his belt. He had so much talent, and was just about to enjoy a breakout role out of drag on “Married With Children” when he passed away. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have seen Divine live to play Edna Turnblad again in the Broadway musical??

TN: Indeed it would!! Do you think modern society/culture could produce another Divine? And who do you think is closest to that mantle now?

LPK: I think it’s possible but tough, because since the 1970s we’ve already kind of seen it all and done it all in our culture, and no one could truly have the shock value that Divine and the Waters movies did at the time that they were made. There is no one even close to Divine who exists now, but I see shades of Divine’s legacy in people from Lady Gaga to Sharon Needles [check out The Niallist’s interview with Sharon Needles here], Sacha Baron Cohen to the “Jackass” crew—I think Divine paved the way for them and others like them.

TN: What’s your favorite Divine song?

LPK: Maybe a cliche, but I gotta go with “You Think You’re A Man.” It’s classic, catchy, and totally fuck you. I love it.

TN: I have to admit I am a huge fan of Divine’s music, from “Born To Be Cheap” to the Bobby O-produced classics, all the way up to the Stock, Aitken and Waterman productions. For a complete non-singer, Divine really knew how to belt out a song, and by compensating for the vocal weaknesses with pure attitude made for a very compelling performer. I also like the music because it’s overtly gay but takes no prisoners, it’s very “fuck you” which “gay” music hasn’t been for a long time. My favorite Divine track is probably “I’m So Beautiful”, which actually IS beautiful, as well as cheap, nasty, funny, filthy, and funky as hell. Anyway, what is your favorite of Divine’s many looks?

LPK: God, there are so many… But I have to pick the one-armed green leopard print mini-dress from “Female Trouble,” just ‘cause I love how she STRUTS down the avenue in Baltimore in it, and the (real!) reactions from people on the street. That’s the spirit of DIVINE in her purest form!

TN: Thanks Lotti!

I really cannot wait to see this film, and judging by the people involved it really will be the tribute that Divine deserves. You can see the trailer in this Dangerous Minds I Am Divine post from a while back.

In the meantime, here’s a PSA on body image and self-esteem from the I Am Divine camp, featuring John Waters, Mink Stole, Sharon Needles and Latrice Royale, all set to the wonderful tune of “I’m So Beautiful”.

We miss you and we love you, Divine!


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Notes from the Niallist #5: An interview with drag sensation Sharon Needles
10:33 am


Sharon Needles

Sharon Needles campaign for PETA
In the world of drag, no-one is hotter than Sharon Needles right now. In fact, you could say she is the undisputed queen of drag. Granted, this may have a lot to do with her winning season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race on Logo TV earlier this year, but, to give her her due, she’s been that show’s biggest break-out star ever, with a legion of adoring fans that have come from far and wide, and not just the gay and drag scenes.

Because, you see, more than just being a drag queen, Sharon Needles is a FREAK. She speaks to everyone who has ever felt outcast, for whatever reason, and in this era of dying conservatism (where anything different is labelled “wrong,”) she does a pretty damn good job of standing up for the outsiders. Her winning of the TV show against some fiercely talented and beautiful contestants felt like a victory for anyone who is different, for the bullied, the awkward, the bizarre and the downtrodden.  

So I just had to interview to her. It took nearly six months, but I was finally granted an email interview with this underground superstar last week, and I’ll be damned if I was gonna waste it on bitching about the other Drag Race queens, or questions about drugs and shoes, or having a kiki with the Scissor Sisters. No, Needles’ is a brilliant, dangerous mind and I wanted to know more about the “serious” stuff.

So, if you still need more of an introduction to Sharon Needles, then read the post I wrote about her back in April, but If not, let’s take it away:

THE NIALLIST: Something tells me you won’t be voting for Mitt Romney this year. Do you mind telling us how you will be voting? And how are you finding the political discourse in America in the run up this election?

SHARON NEEDLES: There’s definitely a severe polarization in politics these days. I blame this on the media, and big money. I find politics to be something quite personal, and something that I keep to myself. But as Snoop Dogg, now known as Snoop Lion, has recently said in an interview, you can either vote for Lucifer or Satan. He is choosing neither. True change comes from within, not a 3 piece suit.

TN: As a performer, I sense your work draws a lot from non-typical drag influences, ie a lot of stuff outside the world of drag. You’ve been forthcoming about your love of Marilyn Manson, and most of the interviews I have read with you tend to focus on your drag-spirations, but what non-drag artists have had an impact/influence on you?

SN: Willam S. Burroughs, Andy Warhol, serial killers, under-appreciated horror films, transsexuals, politics, rock ‘n’ roll, and an all around distaste for organized religion.

Photo by Austin Young
TN: Are you going to any of the “Twins Of Evil” tour? And what is your opinion of Marilyn Manson’s most recent work? Do you think there are any cultural figures from the last 5 years that could claim his level of influence and/or subversion?

SN: Marilyn Manson was my Backstreet Boys growing up. Though I’ve felt a disconnect with his body of work in the last decade or so, he was an inspiration to me in my developmental years. Anything after Mechanical Animals, I unfortunately think is downgraded… what went wrong?

TN: Guest question from Mark @ Tranarchy - what would you be doing if you hadn’t discovered drag?

SN: First of all, I’d like to say I love Tranarchy, I’ve been following their work. And if wasn’t doing drag I’d probably be writing, traveling, painting, or dead.

TN: Guest question from Lady Munter @ Menergy - how relevant do you think RuPaul really is to our generation (late 20s-early 30s)? Before Drag Race, he was out of the limelight for quite some time and was seen to be a bit of a naff 90s memory.

SN: So many people hold the responsibility for social relevancy. Pop culture took a much more boring twist in the early 2000’s, with such safe creations as ‘N Sync and Britney Spears. They left no room for the genius that is RuPaul. But unlike so many who have gone to the wasteland of reclusion, RuPaul has proved to be a true pop icon and underground survivor.

TN: After a recent mis-identification involving a dildo, Joshua Grannel described Peaches Christ as being “sex-negative”. Would you say Sharon Needles is sex-negative or sex-positive, and why?

SN: Sharon Needles is an example of American, consumeristic, exaggerated, inflatable beauty. She is designed to be considered sexy, but should never be considered as being fucked. So many drag queens use sexuality as a way of describing their characters, I distance myself from that, there are bigger fish to fry. But in terms of one’s personal sexuality, I’m game for anything.  No one should be judged for something that no one sees, we tend to be publicly scrutinized for something that is the most private thing in our lives, our sex lives. Dead girls never say no.

TN: How was it working with Peaches Christ on Silence Of The Trans? If you two re-teamed to do a different movie and had an unlimited budget and a cast of thousands at your beck and call, what would you like to do?

SN: Working with Peaches Christ was a nightmare come true. It’s very refreshing to work with entertainers that have like-minded concept on drag performing, someone who prefers to frighten and enlighten people, before titillating them. Me and Peaches have discussed working on film projects, though I would prefer our film to have a low budget. Big budgets ruin horror film. If we were to make a film, I would call it “Methamphetamine Zombies.” If Meth can wake the living, then Meth can wake the dead. I smell a sequel.

TN: Speaking of the word “trans,” what is your view on the controversy that flared up a few years ago about the use of the word “tranny” on Glee, and the ownership/use of that word by different communities?

SN: There are real dangerous people doing real dangerous things in this big dangerous world to hurt people. Words only carry the merit that you give them. Intent trumps language. In my culture, language is twenty-six consonants and vowels swirled around to create dialog. Dialog can also be misinterpreted, but I’m the wrong person to ask. I love foul language, I love pushing barriers with my tongue. No one is safe. And I’m a tranny.

TN: You are no stranger to controversy yourself, in particular an incident involving the word “n****r” from earlier on this year. How has winning RuPaul’s Drag Race affected your performance, and have the reactions to, or the expectations of, your work changed since that particular incident?

SN: No. No one controls my art, and no one, and I mean no one, can say I have ever acted out, spoken out, or performed out of hatred. Do yourself some good, do some research, research Patti Smith, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Marilyn Manson, and William S. Burroughs on this very controversial word. Is it shocking? Yes. Have I ever used it without thought? No.

TN: Guest question from Gregor @ Mutate Design - on RuPaul’s Drag Race you were quick to point out you weren’t a “singer,” and struggled with that challenge. What then was the motivation for making a Sharon Needles album? And what can you tell us about your album (which I hope is called “Punk Rock Sex Clown”)  - what are your main musical influences?

SN: I’ve never considered myself a singer, though others have told me otherwise. I’m currently playing Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show, and have since been applauded for my vocal range and talent. My “album”, set to be released at the end of January, is a total example of compromise. A compromise between me and the industry, a compromise between underground and pop culture, and definitely a compromise within myself.  That is why this album is entitled PG-13. All PG-13 films are compromised R-Rated films, and I’ve learned in this roller coaster of a year that happiness and success come with a compromise between you and your detractor.

[The album also features] Jayne County from Jayne County & The Electric Chairs, she was a 1970’s New York Punk Trans goddess ,completely underestimated and underappreciated, but I’ve devoted much of my spare time promoting her past, present, and future.  She will be a guest on one of the tracks of my upcoming album.

Happy Halloween, Hail Satan, kill your parents, and steal everything.

TN: Thanks Sharon!

In this brilliant interview from The Daily Freak Show, James St James interviews Sharon Needles (as Aaron) and the legendary Jayne County:

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Dangerous Minds fully endorses Sharon Needles

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Notes from the Niallist #4: Introducing Ynfynyt Scroll
12:18 pm


Ynfynyt Scroll

They say House music is a feeling, and I am inclined to agree.

For too long House music has been defined by a rigid beat pattern that, almost 30 years after its birth, has barely changed. In fact, it has changed so little as to make this hallowed genre seem stale and insignificant, the opposite of how it appeared the first time round, when (ironically) it wasn’t the beat that defined it so much as the attitude.

I remember hearing House music for the first time as a child of about 9 or 10 and asking my siblings to buy me a compilation of this strange, funky music. They got me a two-cassette release, called something like Hits of House, and unexpectedly opened my ears to a whole new freakish world of camp men from Chicago stuttering over a hard and dark music unlike anything I had ever heard. Sure, I had been obsessed with S’Express already, tuning into late-night radio on my headphones hoping to hear “Theme From S’Express” and “Hey Music Lover,” while also hoping not to get busted by my parents in the next room. But Hits Of House was like nothing I had ever heard. It’s hard to explain to younger generations just how fresh House was when it first appeared, just as it is hard for the listener to recapture the thrill and joy of hearing it for the first time.

But that’s where Ynfynyt Scroll comes in.

YS is a young, Austin-based producer who takes the best elements of house music from the 80s and 90s and squeezes them through the post-crunk filter to create something eniuinely fresh. You know, as opposed to what most of the magazines and websites sell House fans as being “forward-thinking”. Ynfynyt Scroll makes music that actually sounds like it comes from 2012, not 2002 or even 1992.

So blown away was I on first hearing Ynfynt Scroll that I immediately asked Rodrigo (his real name) to do a remix for me, which he thankfully agreed to. I am very happy to report that his remix of “Work It” doesn’t disappoint, coming on a bit like Junior Vasquez draged to a deep south R&B club, but even that pales in comparisson to his own releases, such as the Let Me See It EP on the #Feelings label. I also emailed him a few questions, that he gratefully replied to:

THE NIALLIST: Who are you and where are you from?

YNFYNYT SCROLL: My Christian name is Rodrigo Díaz. I was born in Lima, Peru, but I’ve lived in Dallas nearly all my life. My assumed name is Ynfynyt Scroll, which since 2010 have I used for production, DJing, visual art and as an excuse to be a cunty brat with heavy Islamic fundamentalist undertones.

TN: Describe the YS sound to me.

YS: It’s all about scroll scroll scrolling. Just keep scrolling on to the next thing until your brain goes “ugh, ya,” whether it’s listening or producing. I have almost no intentions when setting out to make a track, I just gravitate toward certain sounds that lend themselves to certain genres, but I don’t think in terms of genre.

TN: Who and what are your biggest production influences?

YS: I am very influenced by bedroom rap producers of the American south, mutli-layered trance pad chord hits, men who love dancing without making physical contact with anyone else, Afro-Peruvian rhythms, breakz and very early house.

TN: I hear the club scene in Texas is hot - is this true?

YS: Well Austin does a pretty good job of bringing talent through. Groups like Elevater Action, Broken Teeth and Peligrosa consistently throw good parties, my Freshmore buds in Houston do a good job too, and in Dallas there’s Track Meet, of which I am a part. We’ve thrown some pretty neat, all-out, immersive parties with movie-quality glowing slime and exotic set designs and neat/fun stuff like that, but haven’t had the frequency of guest that the folks in other cities have had up to now.

TN: What can we expect from a YS DJ set?

YS: You can expect me to be all over the place, to ignore genre and sometimes tempo, to play a lot of really abrasive and tinny, trebley Ha tracks, and to play as much amateur music as possible. You can also be sure you’ll hear your fair share of American southern rap, something that has been a part of every DJ set I’ve ever played.

TN: If you could have written any song in the history of music, which one would it be?

YS: Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.”



There’s lots more to be heard and downloaded at the Ynfynyt Scroll Soundcloud page.
You can find The Niallist on Twitter.

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Notes from the Niallist #3: go see SSION live, immediately!
03:36 pm



SSION in Bullett magazine
Surely you’ll know by now that we’re big fans of SSION at Dangerous Minds. The album Bent (which was originally released as a limited edition free download last year) was one of my favorites of 2011. It’s the kind of artful, emotional, electronic dance music that I always wished the Scissor Sisters sounded like, or that Madonna would make instead of chasing Lady Gaga’s crown.

Well, Bent has now been given the full, physical release treatment by Dovecote Records, and SSION are out on tour to promote it this autumn. That means they will soon be coming to a town near YOU and, godammit, I wish I lived in the States so I could catch one of these shows!

As someone whose music I greatly respect and admire, for the third Notes From The Niallist column I caught up with Cody Critcheloe (who, for all intents and purposes, is SSION), to ask him what he has in store for this tour, and how the album promotion is going:

The Niallist: You’ve stated that you plan on producing a video for each track on your album Bent - how is that going? Is there a narrative thread between these videos? I have noticed some slight stylistic similarities.

Cody Critcheloe: That is true, we’ve completed 5 of the 10 videos so far. We’re still waiting to release a few while we are on tour. The wait is killing me! Yes, there is a narrative thread between all of the videos… I’m not sure if everyone will pick up on it and i don’t know if it’s really important that they do… We will see, I guess.

TN: You put out Bent as a limited edition free download last year, and now it is being re-released physically. How do you feel the free download worked in your favor? Or did it?

CC: Well a lot of people are familiar with the songs, they come to shows and sing a long, and that’s cool. I think it worked in my favor for sure. I mean, do people even buy records anymore? i do sometimes but not like i did when i was a kid… I feel like things are on the uprise though, but then again I don’t have anything to compare it to. This is just they way it turned out.

TN: You put a lot of effort into your stage shows - what can we expect from Ssion on this tour? Any secrets you might be willing to give away?

CC: I think a lot of people have seen photos from shows we did 5 or 6 years ago and assume that they are going to get that, or they see the “Clown” video and think that’s who i am and what we do. That’s not the case. iId need some insane funding and the audience to put on shows that big! When we get the opportunity to do a lavish pop show I go all out, but when you’re touring in a van and sometimes playing to 100 people in a basement or dive bar you can’t really do that! And i actually sort of like stripping it down, i like forcing people to have to deal with it on a strictly musical level… For this tour it’s me and a live band, some visual elements but nothing really over the top. It doesn’t seem to bother people who come to the shows either. It’s still good. I’m a good performer and the band is tight. Also, we have House of Ladosha supporting us on the tour, they are my favorite band in NYC. Check them out!

TN: Who are your primary influences as a live performer? And musically and more generally, in terms of art and style which you poses a lot of, who has influenced you to do what you do?

CC: Courtney Love, The Cramps, Prince, Little Richard, Iggy Pop, Madonna, Queen, Sonic Youth, Darby Crash, the B-52s, and a lot more.

TN: Thanks, Cody!

Here’s the latest SSION video, an interview about the upcoming Live & Wet tour:

And here, for your diary, is the full SSION tour date schedule:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:

‘My Love Grows In The Dark’: SSION’s springtime pop perfection

SSION’s ‘Earthquake’ will rock your world

Feeling good 4-evr, it’s another great SSION promo

Getting ‘Bent’ with SSION: an interview with Cody Critcheloe


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Notes from the Niallist #2: Tranarchy in the UK

I ended my first Notes from the Niallist column by mentioning the collective I am a co-founder of, and performer with, called Tranarchy.

Frankly, it’s Tranarchy that has been taking up most of time, and distracting me from mining the cultural coal face for Dangerous Minds. But that’s the trade-off I guess, as Tranarchy is helping to create the diamonds people discover under all that dust.

As the name would suggest, Tranarchy is a drag-and-trans-heavy collective interested in subverting, and commenting on, normative gender roles. I know that all sounds very serious, but Tranarchy is dedicated to putting the fun first, and letting people discover the message for themselves, without having it rammed down their throats. There’s just too much hectoring in this world already, and not enough people willing to lead by example, i.e. living the life they want to live regardless of what society says. Sniff all you like at the supposed frivolity of drag queens and the “feminine” aesthetic, as historically has been the case with male-dominated, straight society, but always remember how much guts it takes to flaunt your otherness in public.

Besides the political aspect, however, there’s something almost magical going on with Tranarchy. And I mean “magical” in terms of seeing dreams and desires become a reality. We started the collective just over a year ago, and as we have grown at a surprising rate, we have managed to put on events and happenings that, just 18 months ago, we (literally) could only have dreamed of.

So far, we have hosted Manchester’s first ever vogue ball, called Vogue Brawl (now into its second year.) We’ve held a number of interactive film screenings in the style of the legendary Peaches Christ’s Midnight Mass in San Francisco (Showgirls, Zoolander, Mad Max: The Road Warrior with Empire Drive-In and Abandon Normal Devices.) We have created promo videos and photos shoots for our events that show off much of Manchester’s untapped talent, and these are beginning to get attention in the States and further beyond. Our most popular film so far is the promo for Vogue Brawl 2: Pride Is Burning, which can be basically summed up as “The Warriors in drag.”

The collective is very aware of gay and trans history and we want to celebrate that. We’ve held a few outlaw parties inspired by the original New York club kids James St James and Michael Alig, and documented them in the style of the sadly-missed pioneering NYC videographer Nelson Sullivan.

This is where it gets interesting, though. Our first outlaw party was a reclaiming of the Manchester tram system, which, as anyone who has ever used public transport will know, can get pretty hairy if you stand out in any way. Our last outlaw party was even bigger, in terms of execution and impact. It was an invasion of, and statement about, Manchester’s annual “Pride” festival of gay culture and awareness.

Every year, Manchester Pride is held in the city’s Gay Village and attracts up to 40,000 people, making it one of the flagship gay Pride festivals in the UK. However, the amount of money raised for charity as opposed to the amount of money raised for personal profit has been a major, running issue for a while, as has the fact that a festival celebrating gay visibility, and interaction with the wider, local community, is held in a walled-off compound that charges people to enter.

However, the one thing the Manchester Pride organizers don’t have control over is the large canal that runs right through the Gay Village, and along side Canal St, where much of the festivities take place. So, as a bit of a lark, Tranarchy took a barge down to the Village this year, and crashed the Pride party to perform a few numbers and make a basic point.

We have issued an official Tranarchy statement detailing some of the problems with Manchester Pride to accompany the YouTube video, and here is an extract from that:

Freeing Pride is not an attack on Pride as a party, and it is not just about the fences and the ticket prices. Its about setting Pride free from the businesses and individuals who seek profit before the well-being of our community. It’s about asking what the event is really about, who benefits from it who should pay for it, and remembering why we do it in the first place! Its about asking whats more important; extra cash for an organization reaching out to the most vulnerable among us, or getting to see Steps [90s pop band] one last time before they slip into room 101?

In short, we were all incredibly nervous about pulling this stunt, but it turned out better than we could have hoped. Check out the old voguing queen we encountered at the end of the video, in the Piccadilly basin, which is a well-known cruising ground:

Our YouTube video channel is here, and for regular news updates, subscribe to Tranarchy on Facebook.

For more info on Tranarchy, and past event pics, visit

A much longer piece, detailing the objections to how Manchester Pride is run, can be found at Manchester Pride Investigation.

You can find the Niallist at and on Facebook.

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