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The Edge, Bono, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr.
The Edge, Bono, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr.
Background information
Origin Dublin, Ireland
Genre(s) Range includes:
Alternative rock
Years active 1976–present
Label(s) Island Records
MCA Music, Inc.
Mercury Records
Website www.u2.com
The Edge
Adam Clayton
Larry Mullen Jr.

U2 is a rock band from Dublin, Ireland, featuring Bono (Paul David Hewson) on vocals, rhythm guitar and harmonica; The Edge (David Howell Evans) on lead guitar, keyboards and vocals; Adam Clayton on bass guitar; and Larry Mullen Jr. on drums, percussion and occasional vocals.

Formed in 1976, U2 has consistently remained among the most popular acts in the world since the mid 1980s. The band has sold approximately 50.5 million albums in the U.S., according to the RIAA, and upwards of 140 million worldwide, has had six #1 albums in the US and nine #1 albums in the UK and are one of the most successful bands of the rock era. The band has won 22 Grammy awards, more than any other recording artist.

The band is also politically active in human rights and charitable causes, such as the Make Poverty History campaign as well as Live Aid, Live 8, Bono's DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade in Africa) campaign, and The Edge's Music Rising.


Formation and breakthrough (1976–1979)

The band was formed in Dublin, Ireland on Saturday, 25 September 1976 . Larry Mullen, Jr., then fourteen, posted a notice on his secondary school bulletin board ( Mount Temple Comprehensive School) seeking musicians for a new band. The response that followed that note resulted in seven boys attending the initial practice in Larry's kitchen. Known for about a day as "The Larry Mullen Band," the group featured Mullen on drums, Adam Clayton on bass guitar, Paul Hewson (Bono) on vocals, Dave Evans (The Edge) and his brother Dik Evans on guitar, as well as Mullen's friends Ivan McCormick and Peter Martin. Soon after, the group settled on the name Feedback because of the amplifier noise phenomenon they favored. Martin only came to the first practice, and McCormick was out of the core group within a few weeks.

After 18 months of rehearsals, Feedback changed its name to The Hype. The band performed with their new name at a talent show in Limerick, Ireland on 17 March 1978. One of the judges for the show happened to be CBS Records' Jackie Hayden. The band won the contest, earning a £500 prize. Hayden was impressed enough with the band that he gave them studio time to record their first demo. Jackie Hayden would later work for Irish Magazine Hot Press.

Dik Evans announced his departure in March 1978. The Hype performed a farewell show for Dik at the Community Centre in Howth. Dik walked offstage halfway through the set, later joining the Virgin Prunes, a fellow Dublin band. The remaining four members finished their performance as U2. In May, Paul McGuinness, who had been introduced to the band by Hot Press journalist Bill Graham, became U2's manager.

The origin of the name U2 is not clear. Although it is also the name of a famous 1960s spyplane, the Dublin punk rock guru Steve Averill (better known as Steve Rapid of The Radiators From Space) claimed that it was chosen by the band from a list of ten names created by him and Adam Clayton. In an interview with Larry King, Bono is quoted as saying "I don't actually like the name U2," and "I honestly never thought of it as 'you too'."

Influenced by Television and Joy Division, U2's early sound had a sense of exhilaration that resulted from The Edge's "radiant chords" and Bono's "ardent vocals", according to one author. U2's first release (an Ireland only EP), was in September 1979, entitled Three. Produced as a 12 inch and subsequently a 7 inch, the first 1,000 12 inch copies were individually hand numbered, and went on to top the Irish charts. In December 1979, U2 performed in London, their first shows outside Ireland, but failed to get much attention from audiences or critics. In February 1980, their second single " Another Day" was released on the CBS label but again only for the Irish market.

Boy and October (1980-1982)

Island Records signed the band in March 1980. U2 released its first international single " 11 O'Clock Tick Tock" in May 1980 and released its first album, Boy the following October. It was met with critical praise and is considered by some as one of the better debuts in rock history. Despite Bono’s unfocused, seemingly improvised lyrics, Boy had a specific theme – an examination of the hopes and frustrations of adolescence, touching on fear over sex, identity confusion, death and uncontrollable mood swings. The album gave the band their first hit single, " I Will Follow," which remains a fan favorite to this day. Boy's release was followed by U2's first tour beyond Ireland and the United Kingdom. Despite their unpolished nature, these early live performances nevertheless helped demonstrate U2's potential, as critics noted that Bono was a very "charismatic" and "passionate" showman. One critic was even reminded of a young Rod Stewart. U2 made their first appearance on US television on the Tomorrow show, on 4 June, 1981, performing " I Will Follow" and "Twilight".

The band's second album, October, was released in 1981. The album contained spiritual lyrics with Bono, The Edge and Larry being committed Christians and making little effort to hide that fact. The three band members had joined a religious group in Dublin called " Shalom," which led all three to question the relationship between the Christian faith and the rock and roll lifestyle. While the Bible has remained a major source of inspiration for Bono’s lyric writing, October is U2's only overtly religious album and is generally held to be among their less successful work.

Since 1982, Anton Corbijn has been the principal photographer for U2, having a major influence on their public image. Since their first encounter in February 1982 in New Orleans, they have had a longstanding friendship, mutual inspiration, and shared interest of rock history.

War (1983)

In 1983, U2 returned with apparently a newfound sense of direction and the release of their third album, War. The album included the song "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which dealt with the troubles in Northern Ireland, including the IRA, using religious imagery and what many considered as forceful and almost rebellious lyrics. The ability to use a range of powerful images, taking a song initially about sectarian anger, and turn it into a call for Christians to unite and claim victory over death and evil, proved to many that the band was capable of deep and meaningful songwriting. When some Irish-Americans tried to misrepresent the song as a rallying call for the Provisional IRA Bono responded with what became one of his most recognizable phrases, notably the performance on the live EP Under a Blood Red Sky - "this song is not a rebel song. This song is Sunday Bloody Sunday." Furthermore, as captured in the concert film Rattle and Hum, during the performance of the song on 8 November, 1987 in the USA, the day after the IRA bombing in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, in which 11 people were killed during a Remembrance Day service (see Remembrance Day Bombing), Bono denounced the violence in Ireland and the Irish-American expatriates who supported it. Unlike the style and emotions conveyed by other musicians in the early 1980s, many saw in Bono anger and passion that were palpable, especially as demonstrated by his blunt assertion "Fuck the 'revolution'!"

The album's first single, " New Year's Day", was U2's first international hit, reaching the #10 position on the UK charts and nearly cracking the Top 50 on the US charts. MTV put the "New Year's Day" video, directed by Meiert Avis, into heavy rotation, which immediately launched U2 to the mass American audience. For the first time, the band began performing to sold-out concerts in mainland Europe and the U.S. on their subsequent War Tour. The image of Bono waving a white flag during performances of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" became a familiar sight. U2 recorded the Under a Blood Red Sky EP on this tour and a live video was also released, both of which received radio and MTV play and helped expand the band's audience.

The Unforgettable Fire and Live Aid (1984-1985)

The band released their fourth album, The Unforgettable Fire, in 1984 with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois receiving producing credits. The album took the name and was partly inspired by an exhibition of paintings and drawings by survivors of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It had a significant experimental aspect with the band striving to achieve a more atmospheric sound. Critics and fans alike found Bono's lyrics to be more subtle and poetic, while the Edge's guitar became more effects-driven and his sound more symphonic, and the rhythm section demonstrated its versatility. Some critics, such as Rolling Stone's Kurt Loder, however, found that The Unforgettable Fire ironically lacked the "fire" of U2's previous albums Although listeners would, for the most part hear a new sound from U2, their material, although less overtly so, remained political. " Pride (In the Name of Love)", a song about civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., was the first single, cracking the UK Top 5 and the US Top 40. Arguably the centerpiece of the album, the six-minute long " Bad" was to become a live favorite, but was never released as a single.

The associated Unforgettable Fire Tour saw U2 playing indoor arenas for the first time. U2 also participated in the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium for Ethiopian famine relief in July 1985, which was seen by more than a billion people worldwide. U2 were not expected to be one of the main draws for the event, but the band provided the show with one of its most memorable moments, a relentless 13-minute version of "Bad" in which Bono hurdled off the stage to dance with a fan. The other band members were upset with Bono for spending the time they had planned for playing "Pride (In the Name of Love)," and Bono was convinced he had squandered a chance for promoting the band to a greater audience. Larry Mullen Jr. admitted that the rest of the band had considered leaving the stage as he was performing. The Live Aid version of "Bad" has however become one of U2's most renowned performances, and was an indication of the personal connection that Bono could make with audiences.

In 1985, Rolling Stone magazine called U2 the "Band of the 80's," saying that "for a growing number of rock-and-roll fans, U2 have become the band that matters most, maybe even the only band that matters." The band headlined 1986's A Conspiracy of Hope Tour for Amnesty International. This 6-show tour across the U.S. performed to sold-out arenas and stadiums, and helped Amnesty International triple its membership in the process. In May 1986, U2 headlined Self Aid, a benefit concert held in Dublin to highlight the chronic unemployment problem in Ireland at the time. The 14 hour concert was the largest that had ever been staged in Ireland and it was broadcast live in its entirety on Irish Television. U2's performance included spirited cover versions of 'C'mon Everybody' and 'Maggie's Farm'. Other acts who performed at the event included Van Morrison, The Boomtown Rats and Christy Moore.

The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum (1986–1989)

In March 1987, U2 released The Joshua Tree. The album debuted at #1 in the UK, quickly reached #1 in the U.S., and won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, as well as a second Grammy for the " Where the Streets Have No Name" music video. The singles " With or Without You" and " I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" also quickly went to #1 in the U.S., with "Where the Streets Have No Name" being another heavily played track. U2 was the fourth rock band to be featured on the cover of Time magazine (following The Beatles, The Band, and The Who), who declared that U2 was "Rock's Hottest Ticket". The album, partly inspired by the band's fascination with America, contains country, blues and folk music influences, and is often cited as one of rock's great albums. The Joshua Tree Tour sold out stadiums around the world, the first time the band had consistently played venues of that size.

The documentary Rattle and Hum featured footage recorded from various shows from The Joshua Tree Tour and the accompanying double album of the same name included 9 studio tracks and 6 live U2 performances. Released in record stores and cinemas in October 1988, the album and film were intended as a tribute to American music. Recorded, in part, at Sun Studios in Memphis (along with The Point Depot, Dublin, Ireland), with tracks performed with Bob Dylan and B.B. King, and a song about jazz legend Billie Holiday. Among the live recordings on the album were the Beatles' " Helter Skelter" and a cover version of Bob Dylan's famous song " All Along The Watchtower". Despite a positive reception from fans, Rattle and Hum received mixed-to-negative reviews from both film and music critics.

After an 18-month break from touring, U2 went on the Lovetown Tour (with special guest B.B. King), which visited Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The tour avoided the US and most of Europe. Perhaps feeling that U2 was somewhat stagnating, Bono announced during a December 30, 1989 concert in Dublin that it was time "to go away and just dream it all up again", prompting much speculation from both public and media that U2 would split up after the tour ended.

Achtung Baby, Zoo TV, Zooropa and "Passengers" (1990–1995)

The band began work on Achtung Baby in East Berlin with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois producing. The initial sessions did not go well, with conflict within the band over the direction of the album. Bono and Edge were listening to European dance music while Adam and Larry had the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. U2 were at a stand still. Weeks went by with no progress. Then one day, Edge came up with a guitar riff that turned out to be the song, "One". In November 1991, U2 released the often experimental and distorted Achtung Baby in which the band had used influences from dance music. It was also a more inward and personal record (Edge going through a divorce), and as a result, darker than the band's previous work. Bono refers to U2's new sound as "4 men chopping down the Joshua Tree". Commercially and critically it was one of the band's most successful albums, and like The Joshua Tree, is often cited as one of rock's greatest. It played a crucial part in the band's early 1990s reinvention.

The band's Zoo TV Tour, which spanned 1992 and 1993 was a multimedia event, showcasing a bewildering but extravagant array hundreds of video screens, upside-down flying Trabant cars, mock transmission towers, satellite TV links, subliminal text messages, and over-the-top stage characters "The Fly", "Mirror-Ball Man" and "(Mister) MacPhisto". U2 used the show to mock the excesses of rock and roll by appearing to embrace these very excesses. Live prank phone calls to President Bush caused controversy, as did satellite uplinks to war-torn Sarajevo.

Recorded in 1993 during a break in the ZooTV tour, the Zooropa album followed many of the themes from Achtung Baby album and Zoo TV tour. Initially intended as an EP, Zooropa expanded into a full-fledged LP and was released in July of 1993. It was a further greater departure from the style of their earlier recordings, incorporating techno style and other electronic effects. Most of the songs were played at least once in the 1993 leg of the tour through Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, with several songs becoming fixtures in the set.

After some time off—and a few side projects (the Batman Forever and Mission: Impossible soundtracks)—the band released an experimental album in 1995 called Original Soundtracks No. 1. Brian Eno, producer of a number of previous U2 albums, this time contributed as a full partner including writing. For this reason, and due to its highly experimental nature, they chose to release it under the moniker "Passengers" rather than "U2" to distinguish it from their conventional albums. Commercially, it was a relatively unnoticed album by U2 standards, although the single " Miss Sarajevo", which Bono cites as one his favourite U2 songs, and which features Luciano Pavarotti, became a minor hit in many countries.

Pop and Popmart (1996–1999)

With the recording of their 1997 album Pop, U2 was once again experimenting, this time utilizing tape loops, programming, and sampling giving much of the album a techno/ disco feel. However, the diversity of material on the album is as broad as any other U2 release, with the experimental aspects alongside the more traditional anthemic and ballad. Released in March 1997, the album debuted at #1 in 35 countries, and earned U2 mainly positive reviews. Rolling Stone even went so far as claiming U2 had "defied the odds and made some of the greatest music of their lives." However, American audiences and fans felt that the music industry had exceeded the limits of tolerance in promoting Pop, and the album was seen as something of a disappointment by the public. Frontman Bono later admitted that the band was hurried into completing the album before the impending tour and that the album "didn't communicate the way it was intended to". This possibly explains the re-recording and re-mixing of a number of Pop tracks for single releases and U2's second greatest hits album.

With the subsequent Popmart Tour, U2 continued the Zoo TV theme of decadence. The tour commenced in April 1997; the set included a 100-foot tall golden yellow arch, a large 150 foot long video screen, and a 40 foot tall mirrorball lemon. One of the stops was in Sarajevo, where they were the first major group to perform after the war. The Popmart Tour was the second-highest grossing tour of 1997 (behind the Rolling Stones' Bridges to Babylon Tour) with revenues of just under $80 million. However, it cost more than $100 million to produce. Although the extravagance of the tour was visually and technically impressive, in the early stages, Popmart was occasionally marred with less-than-par performances. The problem stemmed from the band booking their tour before the album was finished. Originally set to be released in November 1996, Pop was not in stores until March 1997. As a result, the band had to spend time recording that had originally been allocated for tour rehearsals. Both the Popmart Tour and the Zoo TV Tour were intended to send a sarcastic message to all those accusing U2 of commercialism. The shows were also intended to be shining a mirror back onto the world, taking all the subtle advertising and messages we are exposed to every day and blowing them up. However, many misinterpreted the band's new image and thought they had "lost it."

Following the Popmart Tour, the band played a brief concert to an audience of 2,000 in Belfast's Waterfront Hall in May 1998, three days before the public voted in favour of the Northern Ireland Peace Accord. Also that year, U2 performed on an Irish TV fundraiser for victims of the Omagh, Northern Ireland bombing which killed 29 and injured about 220 people earlier in the year. In late 1998, U2 released the single " Sweetest Thing" (previously a b-side from a "The Joshua Tree" single), as well as its first compilation, The Best of 1980-1990.

All That You Can't Leave Behind and Elevation Tour (2000–2002)

All That You Can't Leave Behind, was released in October 2000, and was considered by many of those not won over by the band's 1990s experimentation, as a return to grace. The album featured the band reverting to its traditional sound of the 1980s. Regarded by many, including Rolling Stone magazine, as U2's "third masterpiece" alongside The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, it was once again produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. It debuted at #1 in 22 countries and spawned a world-wide smash hit single, " Beautiful Day," which also earned three of a total of six Grammy Awards associated with the album. " Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of", " Elevation" and " Walk On" were also successful singles. The album also would win the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album in 2002 and garnered two Record of the Year awards in consecutive years.

The Elevation Tour saw the band performing in a scaled-down setting, returning to arenas after nearly a decade of stadium productions, with a heart-shaped stage and ramp permitting greater proximity to the audience. The September 11, 2001 attacks nearly led U2 to cancel the last third of the tour but they decided to continue nonetheless; the new album's " Walk On" and "New York" gained added resonance. The tour ended up as the top concert draw in North America in 2001, grossing more than $143 million in ticket sales.

Following the Elevation Tour, the band performed a three-song set during the halftime of Super Bowl XXXVI. The set opened with " Beautiful Day," with Bono entering through the crowd. Next was " MLK". The highlight was a performance of "Where the Streets Have No Name" in which the names of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks were projected onto a pair of backdrops, scrolling up towards the sky. At the end of the song the backdrops were released, descending to the ground in a gentle revisiting of the Twin Towers' fall. Bono then opened his jacket, which he had worn throughout the Elevation Tour, to reveal the American flag printed as the lining, an image that was widely reproduced in the media.

Bono continued his campaigns for debt and HIV/AIDS relief into the summer of 2002.

In 2002, U2 released their second greatest hits compilation, The Best of 1990-2000. This release saw a number of songs reworked in studio, most of them from " Pop", which the band said had been rushed to complete because of the pre-booked Popmart Tour. Two new songs were recorded - " The Hands That Built America" and " Electrical Storm".

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and Vertigo Tour (2003–2006)

The band started recording their album in fall 2003. A rough cut of the band's follow-up album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, was stolen in Nice, France, in July 2004. In response, Bono stated that should the album appear on peer-to-peer networks, it would be released immediately via iTunes and be in stores within a month, although no such pre-release transpired.

The first single from the album, titled " Vertigo", was released for airplay on 24 September, 2004. The song received extensive airplay in the first week after its release and became an international hit, also being featured on a widely-aired television commercial for the Apple iPod. The band, in a partnership with Apple, also had a special edition iPod bearing their namesake released and also made available The Complete U2, an iTunes-exclusive box set featuring previously unreleased content.

The album was released on 22 November worldwide and 23 November in the United States. It debuted at #1 in 32 countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the band's native Ireland. It sold 840,000 units in the United States in its first week. This was a personal record for the band, nearly doubling the first-week sales of All That You Can't Leave Behind in the US. 2005 also saw U2's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in their first year of eligibility.

Using a similar setup and stage design as the previous tour, the band began the first leg of the Vertigo Tour in the United States in March 2005, followed by a European leg starting in June, before returning to North America between September and December. February and March 2006 saw the band play shows in Latin America. The tour featured a much more varied set list than any U2 tour since the 1980s, with a greater diversity of songs played each night. There were also a number of U2 songs featured that had not been played since the early 1980s, including " The Electric Co." and " An Cat Dubh/Into the Heart". Sold out shows for March 2006 in New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Hawaii were postponed due to a severe illness of an immediate family member of the band. The dates were rescheduled for November and December 2006. Much like the Elevation Tour, the Vertigo Tour was a large commercial success.

On 8 February 2006, U2 won Grammy Awards in all five categories they were nominated in: Album of the Year for How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, Song of the Year for " Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," Best Rock Album for Atomic Bomb, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "Sometimes..." and Best Rock Song for " City of Blinding Lights". "If you think this is going to go to our head, it's too late," said Bono as he accepted the award for "Song of the Year".

Next studio album recordings (2006–2007)

As of July 2006, U2 are reportedly recording a new album, although it is unknown at what point in the process the sessions are. According to Bono there are 24 songs that came out of the last album sessions, of which the band took 11 for their subsequent record. Amateur recordings from the band's sessions in Èze, France suggest that the band is indeed preparing its next album. Producer Rick Rubin has reportedly been working with U2 on new material for their next album in the South of France. On September 12, it was reported on the official U2 website that the band was working on a new album in Abbey Road studios.

Green Day and U2 have recorded a cover version of the song " The Saints Are Coming" by The Skids to benefit Music Rising, a charity founded (with support from The Edge) to help in the purchasing of new instruments for the musicians of New Orleans affected by Hurricane Katrina. To coincide with the recording, both bands performed a live version of the song during the NFL Monday Night Football Pregame show of the New Orleans Saints/ Atlanta Falcons game on September 25, 2006. This is the 30th anniversary to the date of the band's forming.

In October 2006 the band switched to Mercury Records after 26 years signed to Island Records, both of which are subsidiaries of Universal Music Group.

A new "Best Of" album, U218 Singles, was released November 21, 2006 containing 16 of the band's most well-known songs and two new recordings; " The Saints are Coming" and " Window in the Skies".

Other projects and influences

U2 have worked with other collaborators; the individual members have also worked in smaller groups together and with outsiders. Bono recorded the song "In a Lifetime" with the Irish band Clannad, with a video co-directed by The Edge. Together with Edge, Bono wrote the song " GoldenEye" for the James Bond movie of the same name, which was performed by Tina Turner. The pair also wrote the song "She's A Mystery To Me" for Roy Orbison, which was released on his album Mystery Girl, while Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. did a rework of the title track of the movie Mission: Impossible in 1996.

Aside from musicians, U2 have worked together with a number of authors, including the U.S. author William S. Burroughs, who had a guest appearance in their video of "Last Night on Earth" shortly before he died. His poem "A Thanksgiving Prayer" was used as video footage during the band's Zoo TV Tour. Other collaborators included William Gibson and Allen Ginsberg. In early 2000, with the release of the film The Million Dollar Hotel, the band recorded two songs for its soundtrack, including "The Ground Beneath Her Feet", co-written by Salman Rushdie and motivated by his book of the same name.

Many musicians have also been influenced by the work of U2. There are several cover versions of U2 songs by bands such as Pet Shop Boys, Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins and The Chimes, and musicians such as Cassandra Wilson, Joe Cocker, and Johnny Cash. U2 have enjoyed reciprocal influential relationships with artists including R.E.M., Bruce Springsteen and Anton Corbijn, as well as exerting influences on others.


U2 are almost as well-known for their humanitarian work as they are for their music. Bono is one of the best-known advocates for the fight against poverty and AIDS in Africa. Some charity organisations supported by U2 include:

  • Amnesty International
  • Greenpeace
  • Product Red
  • African Well Fund
  • Support for Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi
  • DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade in Africa)
  • Chernobyl Children's Project
  • Jubilee Debt Campaign
  • The ONE Campaign
  • Live 8
  • Make Poverty History
  • 46664
  • War Child

The Edge also supports Music Rising, an organisation set up to help replace musical instruments of New Orleans musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Bono has teamed up with Yahoo! to promote the ONE Campaign, which Yahoo! has helped to re-develop. In doing so, Bono has also joined in the "Ask the Planet" campaign of Yahoo! Answers, in which various celebrities pose questions to the other users.


Studio albums

  • Boy ( 1980)
  • October ( 1981)
  • War ( 1983)
  • The Unforgettable Fire ( 1984)
  • The Joshua Tree ( 1987)
  • Rattle and Hum ( 1988)
  • Achtung Baby ( 1991)
  • Zooropa ( 1993)
  • Original Soundtracks No. 1 ( 1995) (released under the pseudonym "Passengers")
  • Pop ( 1997)
  • All That You Can't Leave Behind ( 2000)
  • How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb ( 2004)
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