2013 in music

“Upcoming trends” is such an outdated phrase, isn’t it? But without articles like this Pitchfork would struggle to fill a page and I’m convinced freelancers on the NME mailing list would struggle to afford their vanilla lattes if they didn’t get payment for 2,000 words on a new band whose name has a serious punctuation problem, so here goes.

Songs performed at their normal speed

For most of the year estate agents and cough medicine sellers and God knows who else have made a killing pretending that a 32-year old session singer from Hoxton is an undiscovered teenage talent found waiting tables at a Cambridgeshire gastropub. The annoying thing is that a cursory glance at Twitter would make most PR-types realise that slowing down to funereal pace beloved 80s hits  doesn’t translate the lyrics into anything more or less meaningful than originally intended. Selling a girl with an acoustic guitar used to suggest that the industry had realised the power in treating women with a bit more respect than in any years following the Girl Power incident. Now it just means “We’ve bought an eighties compilation CD from Aldi and we’re going to use it to the max!”

Of course slowing down songs to ‘reinvent’ them was given a kickstart by unexpected Christmas number 1 “Mad World”. Now I would fight anyone to the death if they suggested all this began with my beloved Alex Parks, the most fine reality TV contestant in history, ever, though she wasn’t innocent in all this. Unfortunately the X-Factor took it to the extreme by having every “Lone Bloke With An Indie Haircut (That We Just Gave Him)” slow down Britney Spears to make them look WELL GOFF.  My favourite X-Factor moment was Aiden Grimshaw being forced to look at his most uncomfortable not just once but twice because the producers assumed this was going to be his “thing”.

Then he went and amazeballed the totes out of everyone with my favourite pop song of 2012, hopefully killing off the slow-downed hell behind him (and us) from now on.

I get the impression that the dog is wagging the tail as much as the tail is wagging the dog, so we should see the end of all this before the summer. There’s only so much indie sensibility the industry can squeeze out of the tube. If  nothing else, most of 1/2-speed versions of Human League songs being used to sell Dulux are so insipid that they’re not going to shift units of either product or soundtrack, thus rendering the whole concept impotent.

More novelty records in foreign languages

Let’s get this absolutely straight, sometimes novelty songs in foreign languages are quite good to have in the background. Unfortunately “Gangnan Style” was power-upped by the Internet, meaning nothing can kill it, not the sun exploding, not a unicorn shitting lava, nothing.

The result of PSY will be the iTunes charts being attacked by every K- and J-pop act with a melody, and God  knows there’s enough of those about, and to be honest, there’s not much accessible to a Western audience for these to make any commercial sense. This is the most baffling thing about PSY; every newspaper article about him has had to explain what the song actually means, and whilst I’m happy that the UK embrace the Korean language (because whilst the French, say, are happy to listen to songs in all manner of languages, you’d be more likely to eat well at McDonalds than hear a “Can i Gymru” song on Radio 1), it was all done for the dance [i.e., the image] rather than the lyrics. Which is such bleak and black irony that I feel unwell.

Inevitably, though, the door has now been opened, so I expect a slew of this sort of thing in the coming months. I’ll not count Costa Del hits, by the way, because these have dried up in recent years, although anyone who wishes to rediscover Eurodance would be alright with me.

The [continued] rise of Thom Yorke’s children

You can hear it with The xx and Liars and Alt0-J, and you’ll hear it increasingly in 2013. Those brought up on Radiohead being positively normal all grew up to play guitars in guitar bands with guitars and shit. All those brought up on Radiohead sounding like passive aggressive C+ coders are making records which used to be sold in Piccadilly Records under the label “WARP REC. & Others.”

These are the children of Thom Yorke, and they’ll play around for the short and medium term for as long as bars exist with abstract noun names hand-written onto the letterbox. There’s some excellent examples of this sort of post-dance (?!) out there, which is good for the indie industry which was worryingly close to adapting Britpop again, and that’ll never do. The only problem from all this, of course, is that sooner or later the country will run out of thin blokes singing in their natural accent over the sound of a busy Macbook, which could see the instrumental movement take over where vocal-led bands stood. There’s only so many things you can do sounding like you’d not like to be called “dance version’s of Radiohead” (isn’t there Hot Chip?) so if the flame dies as quickly as it flared, we’ll at least have had a good time of it.

And Latitude has to make at least one more year, don’t forget.

The [continued, inexorably] rise of Florence Welch

At some point over Christmas, Florence Welch turned up on The Culture Show, for no other reason that the presenter fancied her and he needed a reason to accidentally fumble her whilst tiptoeing around the National Portrait Gallery. It turns out that Welch actua….Sorry, she’s never called that, is she?

It turns out that Florence isn’t just good at sounding like this year’s Beth Ditto, oh no. She knows all about proper art and stuff, and giggles like the art school lecturer you’ve always fancied whenever somebody suggests she could write a song about post-impressionism.  This year has been the year of “Florence Guests on Everything”, both largely ”indie” and largely ”mainstream”, which is fair enough given that she can sing and all, though it does leave her now as a kind of Respected Indie Woman For Hire, and that can only lead to the same nightmarish hell suffered by Cerys Matthews, ensnared by “The O Zone” or whatever was on BBC Two back in the day to become a mainstream voice to the masses, when it was clear that she’d rather be treated like all the other bands of the time.

If the future is as predictable as I fear it may well be, next year will see lots of “Featuring Florence Welch” from the kind of bands talked about above, turning out 21st century versions of Enya for wine bars to pipe out whilst literature students are eating deconstructed pork pies from a roofing slate. Talking of which…

All Hipsters Must/Shall Die

I don’t have a problem with the ‘hipster’ crowd, actually. Indeed some of my favourite people to talk to of an evening aren’t exactly mainstream, and never have been. Unfortunately what used to be considered the fashion of the age has been allowed to seep through everything in society (which certainly didn’t happen with lads in the 90s wearing duffle coats and pointy shoes, thanks again INTERNET).

For the most part, I’m not convinced that the ‘hipster’ thing actually exists, as such. Women walking around as 1950s housewives are doing so because, by and large, that look is just damn sexy. Men walking around like Brylcreem testcards are following the same path – again, by and large – and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem comes with the accompanying soundtrack, as in, there doesn’t seem to be one.

In the 90s and 2000s, music and fashion caught up with each other. Then there was a schism and it’s only just getting back together again. If someone up high can please let it be known that it’s just as acceptable not to look like the only colour scheme in your wardrobe is ‘rust’, that’ll be handy. But by the same token, if we could please stop with backstreet bars hosting hour long ‘gigs’ where the organiser’s best friend reads out poetry over Skillrex, that’ll be much appreciated too.

“Folk” will explode

I understand that most ‘new sound’ predictions overdose on “urban” music (or whichever term is used this week). This is a difficult place for me to venture, because I automatically shut down at the very thought of most ‘urban’ music, even when it’s supposedly the most accessible of its form. You see, it’s not that I dislike hearing the ills of the world put across as a rap song, or with rap influences, but at somepoint in the last 10 or so years, the basic functions of ‘rap’ generally have been sucked out and disposed of, replaced by what I like to call “McDonalds music”. I’ve listened to 1Xtra on a number of occasions, and found it to be a muddle of listener’s bedroom recordings and over-produced autotuned Americans. There’s nothing in the middle, it seems; you’re either a lad from Dagenham finding ways to rhyme “NHS” (“unholy mess”, “Tory pets”, “not dench”) or you’re a “record””producer” who, and I’m not making this up, can say the word “Steven Spielnigga” with a straight face.

I love language and word-play, and very good rappers are superb at breaking up words to create new and interesting rhymes and rhythms. Unfortunately, all that seems to be fading from the scene now, so rather than predict the future is safe in the hands of foul-mouthed women barking swear words over squarking samples, I say….

WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST LIKE MUMFORD AND SONS?

I didn’t wet myself when Frank Turner appeared at the Olympics singing “Screw The Tories (La La La)” or “I Have A Militant Tendency”, or whatever it was he did. Good to see him there, though, and grand to see Mumford and Sons gather in the profits from middle-aged types hunting out an alternative to the Beautiful South. Next year has to be one where those people singing their own songs at normal pace (see the first section) can be guaranteed success without pretending to have some other-wordly concept about them, surely? I’ve received far too many promo CDs from singers who would, ordinarily, garner pretty good support from the usual places as a normal singer/songwriter, but instead feel its necessary to sell themselves as mystic/Pagan/Green Party supporters whose songs come to them in a dream/whilst stoned/listening to “Late Junction”.  Everyone needs a gimmick, but you’re into “hipster” territory if you’re telling me that the story  behind your next single is the result of living on Eigg for twelve-months eating tree-bark.

Pop will rise again….

“Call Me Maybe” is, let’s be clear, a good song. Not great. Not brilliant. It’s good. I don’t particularly like it, frankly, and for really geeky reasons. Such as – the structure is all wrong, the hook is a bit laboured, the backing track is blatantly half-inched from the recording studio’s lift music CD in the style of Father Ted’s Eurovision entry, and so on and so on.

HOWEVER, it’s also a promising sign that pop is back. Not quite completely, but it’s green shoots time, and that’s always something I look out for. I’m a man of simple pleasures. I enjoy good pop, and if that means a boyband sausage factory number, so be it. It’s just no boyband has been given anything decent for years and it’s been a long time since Girls Aloud had anything to crow about, so what you going to do?

Part of the problem is the reality show, for whom “a good singer” means, “can turn one note into 5, one verse into half of the Bible, and one song into twelve.”  Give the X-Factor a pop singer and what do you get? Voted off, usually, or treated as a novelty. JLS were handed some fairly decent numbers for their first album, though now I notice they’ve been dumped in favour of One Direction, whose back catalogue consists of bland, boring, identikit dribble for an exclusive audience, rather than the inclusive outlook of their predecessors. Remember when 5ive and the Backstreet Boys had songs written for them which were genuinely good pop songs, not just love letters to 14-year old Twitterers? Well, that, please.

Spotify will open a club, and other potential “End of the World” scenarios

“The CD will kill off the cassette tape” just seems so cute now, doesn’t it? You might as well have worried that “A panino* will kill off the bacon barm”.

What hasn’t killed off the club DJ is the on-demand music website. iTunes and Spotify and lastfm and all the rest of them – how often did we hear;

“WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE POOR INDIE CLUB DJ?!”

Of course now people are falling back in love with the vinyl LP, though not necessarily with the album, which is why the Facebook sidebar telling you “A friend is listening to…” fills up so quickly because they’re unlikely to be sat there without pressing “skip”,. Spotify has worked where, say, Grooveshark hasn’t by seeping into the national consciousness at just the right time. It was able to sell itself as the ‘mixtape solution’ for party hosts who just wanted to sit around getting baked on that week’s version of ‘drone, and nobody considered the consequences for the city centre clubs struggling to find a DJ who wasn’t just going to press ‘random shuffle’ at 9pm.

The natural conclusion I thought would happen from the success of Spotify et. al would be the owners finding a warehouse somewhere in Shoreditch and shacking up with BrewDog for the ultimate experience in TRENDY LOVE(tm). I’m aware that some achingly trendy people already run club nights where customers can play arcade games, watch Dick Dastardly cartoons and listen to 32-year old sessions singers, etc, etc. The next natural step has to be an on-demand bar, powered by hashtags and the like, a sort of turbo-boosted jukebox. It’s one thing to have a touchscreen jukebox for £2 a go, it’s quite another to have a branded jukebox bar, fed by and promoted for the benefit of an on-line company which otherwise gives away services for free.

(I’m prepared for the news that something like this already exists in a former fabric factory in Limehouse)

I can’t predict – but will hope – that there’s an end to the hypermegasuperstars who seem to release a single every week in  between sessions of appearing in tabloid newspapers. Who/what is a Nicki Minaj, for example? I’ve tried listening to her songs to fathom out whether there was a commercial tie-in with a children’s television channel, though all I got was a burbling mess of pre-recorded keyboard samples overdubbed by a robotic moaning. I’ve known porn with more emotional realism. Ditto Lady Gaga, for that matter, in whom I’ve grown bored having mistakenly subscribed to the hype early doors. If 2013 gives us anything, can it please put all the hypersupermegafamous people into a big room, possibly underground with just enough air for a week, to avoid any further overproduced, under whelming nonsense being released?

(*Stuff off with your ‘panini’s’)

Glastonbury will save, and then bury, the “Big Ticket” music festival

Obituary writing is dead easy. DEAD, hah, like DEAD PEOPLE.

*ahem*. No, it really is, as any broadsheet journalist in the last five years has proven having been asked to spew out 2,500 words on “The end of music festivals as we know it.” (Or for the Daily Mail, “Drugs, drink and easy sex: Is this the end of music festivals as we know it?”

With ticket prices soaring, most bands treating the festival circuit as Premier League sides treat the FA Cup, it’s little wonder that the gleam has been reduced somewhat. I’ve seen pensioner’s television screens with more balance than the coverage given to the “Big Ticket” festivals. In fact, let’s get it over with:

*We know that Reading/Leeds is awful
*We know that T In The Park is……well, Scottish
*We know that Glasto has its moments. Usually on BBC Three at 2am with sodding Sara funking bloody Cox

If austerity is a path followed deeper next year, the best thing Glasto could possibly do is become a celebration of everything music in this country has ever been (aka, “The Olympic Opening Ceremony, just with more 6Music radio presenters”) and then pull the plug on the whole festival thing. Shut down all the “big ticket” items. There’s enough left with the niche, the middle-layer and the below-the-radar. We really don’t need the all singing, all money grabbing behemoth music festivals any more, no more than we need party political conferences. Nobody has ever felt better in life through watching Johnny Vaughan mugging to camera about how 90s everything sounds in the “Mojo Tent”

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2011 – reading tea leaves

It’s the end of Christmas but not quite January, that ‘no man’s land’ between family meetings, food stuffing and New Year champagne popping. You could spend the days watching old Warner Bros cartoons on YouTube whilst dunking Fox’s biscuits into endless rounds of brews (like…ooh I dunno….me) or fall back on that trusty standby of the festive period; the new year prediction game. It’s right up there with the elderly relative favourite, “Guess Which Programmes the Familiar Faced Actors Starred In”, available every Sunday afternoon from ten minutes into the episode.

It would be very easy for me to start with “LibDems will enjoy a massive resurgence in support when the knee-jerk anti-everything reactions die down a bit”. HOWEVER, I have stepped a few paces back to view the picture with a little less bias and have decided instead to predict….

It’s goodbye from Nick, but not the LibDems

Britain’s attitude to the Coalition has been interesting, as this is the first real experiment with coalition governance since the Second World War (it could be argued both cases were created through different definitions of ‘necessity’). There /is/ knee-jerk opposition for the sake of it from certain quarters, the type of “We wanted change from Labour but not this kind of change” blather which fills the comments sections of newspaper websites. The Coalition has achieved a lot since its formation (no, really, look beyond the blather and see what’s been done.)

Unfortunately (and this not going to be a diatribe), all that the Coalition is doing well has been overshadowed by the one big issue it has got completely wrong. On tuition fees for University students, the new Browne report influenced policies will have a detrimental effect on the finances of aspiring students. It’s not quite the Hell and Brimstone “class war” I’ve been hearing, but it’s not quite the place any LibDem supporters wanted to find themselves.

For putting us into Government and threading our fairness agenda through the Conservative-led programme for government, Nick Clegg has to receive a lot of credit. He has taken us supporters somewhere we never thought possible. But, and it’s a biggie, the way he has dragged over our party’s reputation such a large and dark shadow that no further ‘good’ can be completely out of this shadow of ‘bad’. Clegg remains an electoral liability when we need certainty and credibility; we cannot win the AV referendum with a man who called it “a miserable little compromise” leading the charge.

I therefore make the first prediction – that the man who took us into Government will step down before May to give us the best chance of coming out of that process with decent results and a referendum win.

(Okay, so…one-plus-a-bit predictions there, there’s no hard and fast rules about the constraints and such round here…)

Clegg is not the only “Nick” in politics, nor the only one whose leadership is mired in controversy and criticism. Having kept close eyes on the court cases and on-line reactions (always pays to lurk on internet forums), my next prediction has to be…

The slow, certain demise of the British National Party

This is a BIT ‘wishful thinking’ but forgive me. The BNP have been in serious decline for years. Their two victories at the European Elections (Nick Griffin in North West England, Andrew Brons in Yorkshire & Humber) was not followed up by any serious attempt to make hay while the country grumbled. In front of the Question Time audience, Griffin was an embarrassment, firing off his oft-rehearsed anti-everything rhetoric without once hitting a valid target.

The court cases brought against the BNP tell only one part of the story of its certain demise. At the general election, Griffin finished 3rd in the Barking constituency he targeted with more effort than any other. Running parallel to the cases, a general sense of malaise and leadership doubts, has been the upshoot in support for unelected protest groups such as the English Defence League (EDL). Rather tragically for Griffin, his attempts to rebrand his party as electorally credible has been compromised by the attraction of stomping through provincial town centres chanting “You’re Not English Any More” at anyone within ear-shot. The irony can’t be too easy to miss within the BNP.

My prediction therefore is for Griffin to downgrade the BNP to a lobby-group around May (when his party will suffer terribly at the polls, there’s another extra-prediction), though he will remain as an MEP. I suspect the many splinter groups who will come from the BNP before, during and following May will almost all disappear from existence before 2011 is out, leaving the far-right as electorally feckered as the far-left.

The world’s political scene is messy enough now so I darem’t poke a toe into any prediction waters. There are countless potential flash points – unrest in Korea, Obama’s reputation within and beyond the US borders, how the eurozone breaks out of the economic quicksand, Russia (….pretty much everything related thereto….) I’ll begin with…

Africa is the place to turn…towards Asia

Unrest in Côte d’Ivoire, almost certain unrest in Sudan even before the South Sudanese referendum is put, uncertainty in Egypt’s leadership, continued problems in Somalia and Eritrea….Maybe there is always going to be ‘easy pickings’ from looking at Africa and assuming there will be disquiet and disharmony.

2011 will be different, I think; there is increased international financial investment in African states with much to give (China, of course, being the biggest donating country). The ‘pull’ of northern, Arabic Africa from the rest of the continent must seem immense.

A reshaping of political and economic powerhouses is inevitable, as the move away from ‘the West’ to ‘the East’ continues. Europe especially will struggle to meet the challenges of the tipped balance. I worry that, militarily, the West will be pressed into action where there may not be obvious requirements yet today. Economically, Africa will look east.

Economic and political uncertainty across Europe has already manifested itself in riots and protests. I cannot see these dying down over night. There is fear and there is anger, vocal opposition in Ireland, France and the UK towards their Governments, and across Western Europe generally a mood of change is fresh on the wind.

Protests – but not revolution – will still be on the march

The nation states of Europe brought into ‘the age of austerity’ will continue to battle internal pressure and external economic constraints. Storms of uncertainty and unrest will feed the flames, so I cannot see London or Dublin or Paris or Madrid coming out of 2011 without serious and violent protests. The ‘long term’ view, espoused by some in Britain, that the protests are a curtain raiser for forms of ‘uprising’ are particularly silly (and just as “ideologically led” in their dreaming as the protesters allege are the cuts being proposed by government.)

Change and entrenchment of opinion is on the way, that is undeniable, though it seems still to be much light and little heat. Unions and protest groups such as “UKUncut” must keep public sympathy on their side. Similarly, the police will be under more pressure and scrutiny than before, and need to keep both the politicians and public confident in their ability and behaviour.

My prediction…predictions…That an event next year will fundamentally change the relationship between both protesters and public…and possibly between different elements of the protesters too….Not necessarily for the worse or better, just….altered. I am also very sure the police will make another severe mistake in their handling of the protests, one which changes the relationship between police and politicians, police and protesters, and importantly (most fundamentally) between police and members of the public.

(I am not anti-protest at all, looking with a wider view on the recent London protests shows there’s many subjects being stirred around the pot, from tuition fees specifically to anti-establishment generally. I’m not about to suggest that a National-Anarchist revolution is around the corner, heaven forfend…The amount of antagonism and how it manifests will be highly significant next year)

Right, so we have the politics out the way, what else do we have to occupy our time? Oh yeah, the Internet….

Google buys Twitter, Facebook fades, and as for censorship…

Twitter is what you make of it, just follow ‘slebs and you get what you pay for. Well, indeed, that’s the whole point. For all the real-time reactions and ‘two-screening’ (I’m not making that up) the cost is….nil. Though it’s not likely to increase from nowt next year, the business model missing from the centre of Twitter will need to be filled; I predict Google will realise it is missing out from all that lovely search revenue and put in a serious bid for the 140-character blogging bird before the days get shorter.

Whilst Twitter continues to advance, Facebook stumbles and stutters. There’s something not quite….all there with the social network that has spawned a film and a step-change in how we interact with friends and family. Its constant tinkers, complicated security and privacy settings and never ending hunger for more personal info (“It won’t be long before you can email your Info tab to future employers,” as a friend put it), has turned Facebook from the first visit of the morning to something fast becoming an afterthought. Got a Tumblr yet…? Just asking….(I haven’t, but if there’s anywhere to go after Facebook, there’s one very obvious place next….)

I predict further problems and issues as Facebook begins to lose its grip on the world’s social networkers.

Issues of net neutrality, and tighter whips for ISPs to crack (see what the UK passed prior to the election and proposals to restrict access to pornography show that the State has not yet managed to exhaust itself in the pursuit of greater control of its citizens on-line. China may be the “archetypal” national guard against the world wide web; I predict however that Western countries will put down their collective fists in 2011.

(It will be interesting to see how the ‘protest movement’ vibe runs into the ‘restricted internet’ debate, will “UKUncut” take on an additional meaning?)

And finally….There’s the small matter of sport and all that jazz, so in a roundup roundabout sort of way….

I’m assuming the Best Film Oscar will go the way of Inception (no, I’ve not seen it), though a cheeky fiver on Toy Story 3 wouldn’t go amiss for a curveball (no, I’ve not seen that one either). As this year seems to have been ‘the year 3D came back from the dead…again’, next year shows to signs of stopping. I’ll go for a 3D film winning the majority of Oscars in 2012, for a long-term pitch.

This season’s Premier League will be won by Manchester Utd…Yes, I know, it’s a bit obvious a shout, but all credible challengers are having a stumble and Utd have previous in making good when the opposition look away temporarily. So it makes me sound a bit Lawro, deal with it…..

…Right, so 2010 was a right old messy one, for all manner of reasons. Who can possibly predict what will come?

Thanks to all my readers, vistors and comment scribers. Here’s to the Missives still being the place to be next year…

Election 2010 – my prediction

It’s all over bar the postal vote rigging allegations, and injury claims against RisoGraph manufacturers.

History will decide which factors from this election will fade into footnotes – the arguments over the increase in National Insurance, Mrs Duffy, the strength of Peter Hain’s tan…What matters now is the direction of the country after May 6th. From the real truth on public spending and how to slow down the rate of Government borrowing, through to the consequences closer to the home of the ongoing Greek financial crisis and relations with the USA and Russia, this country is facing one of its most uncertain futures. A vote tomorrow could change your life in a way no election has done for a generation.

This election has had many highlights, especially for Liberal Democrat supporters. But the important day is tomorrow – not the “I Love Nick” memes or anecdotes about meeting black men or Alex Salmond whinging like a drunk on a platform; the simple act of a “X” on a piece of paper could well decide the fate of millions.

I have never known an election like it. So predicting the result was never going to be easy. With my finger in the air, the runes and stars consulted, tea-leaves studied, and such like, my gut feeling is below….Let us see what happens when the real votes are counted at 10pm….

CONSERVATIVE 35% (BBC Prediction – 238 seats, Electoral Calculus Prediction – 241)
LABOUR 33% (BBC 310 , EC 305)
LIB DEM 25% (BBC 73 , EC 73)
Others 7% (BBC 29, EC 13)

BBC – LABOUR Short by 16 EC – LABOUR Short by 21

Derren Brown – after the event

Earlier this month I explained the letter sent to Channel 4 following Derren Brown’s “prediction show“. With no reply from them the letter was forwarded to OFCOM, the UK Office of Communications and broadcasting watchdog.

Their reply has not upheld my concerns about the broadcast.

Derren Brown claimed he would broadcast a live lottery prediction show on 9 September, followed by an “explanation” show the following Friday. My concern focused on the misleading nature of the trails, and the lack of a disclaimer advising viewers that the programme would not, in reality, be an actual live prediction.

OFCOM have replied in the following terms…

…[A]fter reviewing the material we do not judge there has been a breach of our regulations.

Whatever solution viewers believed, or whether [his explanations] was all part of the ‘showmanship’ as he indicated at the start of the programme, is a matter for individual viewers to decide.

That he did not definitively clear up how he guessed the lottery numbers is not a problem for us as the regulator.

And there shall I leave it.