With an uninterrupted DJing career that’s stretched back further than the past forty years, there are few who can match Derek Kaye’s first hand experience, involved in scene after scene, watching them come and go. Given the fact British DJs were still announcing records when a very young Derek started out on his homemade mobile disco, it’s fair to say UK club culture has come a long way since then.
Drawing from his wealth of knowledge in groove music and his adept technical nature, Derek has managed to evolve with the times and currently finds himself at the forefront of the re-edit scene, following in the path of his childhood friend DJ Greg Wilson, who had followed Derek into DJing back in the seventies.
Having lent his acute engineering to the Super Weird Substance studio, aiding the development of Greg’s new label, Derek will be playing Super Weird Happening #6 on the Estuary Stage at Festival No.6 alongside the label’s skilled programmer, Peza whilst the whole crew take over the Stone Boat the next day.
Feeling rejuvenated from his recent trip to Ibiza, we caught up with Derek as he prepares for Portmeirion;
YOU HAD AN INTEREST IN MUSIC AND ELECTRONICS FROM A VERY YOUNG AGE. WHICH CAME FIRST?
I would have thought music realistically, because I’ve always enjoyed music from when I was a little kid before I would have understood anything to do with electronics. So music was definitely first.
THAT WAS AS A CONSUMER THOUGH, IN TERMS OF GETTNG INVOLVED IN A HANDS-ON MANNER, DID YOU START TINKERING WITH ELECTRONICS OR DJING FIRST?
Well in that case, I suppose the electronics side. I was always one of those kids that liked to take things to bits to see how they worked; gadgets and gismos, which would often get me into trouble. I suppose I took an interest in electronics from a very young age and I would have thought that probably led to my interest in the disco, technology side of things.
I had enough of a knowledge base to make my own disco; as in a drawer that was turned upside down with two turntables in it - they weren’t matching turntables or anything… I just took these two old record players apart and put them together, having seen a disco at a friend’s house. He was a lot older than me and one of the people who he worked with in an electrical appliance shop had made this unit with two turntables in and it was the first time I’d seen anything like that. They weren’t as readily available as they would become in later years. So based on that idea, I set about making my own. It was nothing fancy, there was no mixer, I just installed a switch that would swap from one turntable to the other; so as one 7” single (12” hadn’t been invented yet!) came to an end I could start the other one - I would have been about 11.
WHAT KIND OF PLACES WERE YOU PLAYING OUT IN FIRST?
At 11, in my bedroom! The first public events I did were at the School Youth Club. I did a few nights where I had some lights with bell push buttons to switch them on and off and an unbelievably dangerous light unit that I made out of an old mini reel to reel tape machine that would trigger lights on and off as the spool went round feeding live power to wires placed around the circumference working on a distributor principle.
It was madness to be honest; as the thing went round it would arc like crazy with big blue sparks flying everywhere! I had to hide it in a box with a lid so none of the teachers could see this death trap of a contraption that was giving this lovely light display. So the Youth Club would have been my first venue; in a school called Quarry Mount in Wallasey, which, by the way, is were I actually first met Greg Wilson as 10 year old school boys!
WHEN DID YOU START DJING IN ADULT VENUES?
It was about ’73/’74 when I started to actually do public bookings, like weddings, 21st parties etc. which would eventually lead to the club-side of stuff but that wouldn’t have come until ’76 - by which point I was on to my third mobile. Greg had come along to quite a few of my gigs and really wanted to be doing it for himself so he had bought my second mobile which I think he had borrowed the money for off his nan or something, and he had a mutual friend who went in on the venture with him called Paul Bernard.
My first residency was in ’76 and I was still at school. I had heard that a club in New Brighton called the Chelsea Reach may be auditioning so I went down to have a look not even knowing if I would get in being under age! The assistant manager told me that I could come back the following Tuesday and do the night as an audition. I was so nervous because here I was watching another DJ audition and remember thinking, “oh this guy is really good; I’ve got no chance.”
His name was Mike Nixon (worked under the name Mike Rice) and to this day I still remember him as a great DJ in my eyes. I still went the following week though and did my thing. Some of the tunes I remember playing on that night included Rufus Thomas ‘The Funky Bird’, The Ohio Players – ‘Fire’ and the Chi-Lites – ‘Too Good To Be Forgotten’. I ended up being offered two resident nights, Monday and Thursday - so I was doing mobiles at the weekends and the Chelsea Reach on a Monday and Thursday, they were my two residency nights.
The Chelsea Reach also had function rooms upstairs so it worked well for me as they would pass my name on to people booking parties and I would get a lot of the bookings with the mobile.
DID YOU HAVE TO LIE ABOUT YOUR AGE?
I didn’t actually lie about my age but avoided ever mentioning it and was never directly asked. But it became an issue down the line because, what happened one day; I was in the local a record shop in my school uniform but when I came out the manager’s wife saw me and it then became an issue. I had to go to the Citizen’s Advice to see if I could legally work there. It turned out actually that it was fine for me to work there, so long as they stopped me from drinking, because I did have the occasional pint! The age thing wasn’t broadcast to members of the public but the management knew but I’d been working there quite a long time by this point anyway.
YOU SAID THAT YOU SOLD ONE OF YOUR MOBILES TO GREG WILSON. WAS THEre MUCH RIVALRY BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU WHEN YOU STARTED OUT?
I don’t remember it as a rivalry as such … By the very nature of the job, egos are involved but I don’t remember there being a rivalry as such but I’m sure there were things that Greg would tell me about, like maybe bookings he got, that I thought, “Oh, I wish I’d got that!” And I’m quite sure that worked visa-versa.
I remember Greg was always more organised from an administrative point of view; he’d be on to all the mailing companies, which was essential in those days as you relied on those promos from the record companies to keep you ahead of the pack. I can remember Greg getting mailed certain things - and again visa-versa probably - and thinking, “Ah god, I wish I got that track or this t-shirt.” So there wasn’t a rivalry against each other, but maybe moments of jealously lets say - but nothing too acrimonious haha!
WHEN YOU STARTED OUT DJING PEOPLE WERE STILL ANNOUNCING RECORDS. DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU ENCOUNTERED MIXING?
It’s a really mad thing because the lineage in this country is so far behind the U.S. it’s hard to fathom. Everybody introduced records in this country and you’d get the chopping from one deck to the other but the actual running mix really took a long time over here to develop. The first step really needed to be the vari-speed turntables.
I went to Germany in 1978 and I did some gigs over there but I visited a club in Heilbronn called Its and they didn’t talk all night, they had Technics turntables - I think they were Technics 1100’s, which weren’t like anything I’d ever seen. They had a little rotary vari-speed dial for each speed format so there was 33 variable and 45 variable. So I guess that was the closest I saw to running mixing ever and I was still completely unaware of what Francis Grasso had developed years earlier over in America with the running mix technique and what the likes of Kool Herc was doing over there.
It wouldn’t be until later in the UK when Greg had started working in Wigan Pier that I saw a UK DJ box with vari-speed turntables and he was perfecting the mixing to a fine art on a pair of Technics SL-1500 MK2’s, which had a digital read out of the speed and pitch. That club was so far ahead of anything I’d ever seen in the UK, built by Terry Lennon on the theme of a New York club, it really blew me away!
THERE ARE FEW DJS WITH A CAREER SPANNING MORE THAN FOUR DECADES. WHERE HAS YOUR DJING TAKEN YOU OVER THE YEARS?
Surprisingly, not that many places away from the UK - because I’ve always been fortunate enough to be in residencies or events close to home it actually suited me to stay close. The last few years though I’ve started travelling a lot more and being offered more and more gigs and events a lot further afield.
YOU’LL HAVE EXPERIENCED SCENE AFTER SCENE COME AND GO - WHICH DO YOU THINK YOU HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON?
Various moments I guess, but how much of an impact I actually had I’m not sure. I spent a few years in Oldham, in a club called Romeos and Juliet’s after the Liverpool branch of the same name had closed, that was a huge venue in Liverpool city centre and they still had the live band thing going on.
I’d play for an hour then the Al Robbins Band would come on for about 40 minutes or so and play all the latest disco stuff. They were actually really good musicians these guys and could cover everything fro Chic to Donna Summer to Funkadelic but do them really well and were always current. I was playing a more commercial disco stuff in the main room, while in the smaller room the DJ was playing the stuff I really wanted to be playing. His name by the way was Roscoe Travis, that’s his real name but if ever you’d have thought a DJ’s name was invented, that’d be it! When I went to the Oldham and moved from the disco stuff to the jazz funk thing that I’d always wanted to be playing and built up a really strong night up there.
We also hosted a lot of the jazz funk all-dayers in that venue too. With DJs like John Grant, Colin Curtis Pete Girtley etc.. I still love the jazz funk now. At the same time the new romantic / futurist thing was kicking off too and I put on my other head to host what would become a really busy night and series of futurist all-dayers inviting DJs like Steve Proctor, who was also championing that scene in Liverpool and Paul Rae who was playing in Manchester to come and play too.
I remember going for a meeting with the late Tony Wilson to get him to plug it on Granada TV’s local what’s on thing as I would hire the up and coming new wave of Manchester bands of the time and he was really bemused by the term futurist, quizzing me for ages about why I used that term. I seem to recall it being called the futurist scene by many at the time though.
It’s really funny when I think about it now and the almost parallel worlds I was playing in. One night I’d be donned in the blouson tops and crazy hair being the completely underground new romantic hipster playing Bauhaus and Gina X and then other nights, coming back from Spin Inn records in Manchester with my bags of horrendously expensive Japanese import jazz albums and 12” and being Mr. über-upfront funk guy.
I left Oldham in ‘82 and took a residency in Birkenhead at a club that I would eventually buy into called Rupert’s. I had great years there, and worked all over the North West for the following years playing dance stuff, having left the new romantic and alternative stuff behind in Oldham.
I was I suppose what I would call a utility DJ; I would pick up a mic when required, had my credible nights playing upfront stuff, and also the commercial nights too when required. I had some incredibly busy dance residencies in the nineties in places like the Buzz Club in Liverpool and a truly huge Thursday night at Mr Smith’s club in Warrington which would have over 2000 people every week! And I would do guest spots at various North West clubs like the legendary Bowlers, Wigan Pier, The State, etc.
I guess a lot of people know me from those Buzz / Smiths days, as I would be selling a lot of mix tapes at that time and the profile was pretty high. I would also have my first remix out on vinyl around that time too, (‘96 I think) which was for Hi Bias Records - Kim Richardson ‘Higher’. I get a lot of DJs who are around now telling me I influenced or encouraged them during those times, so I guess you could say that was the time I had the most impact on.
HAVING WATCHED DANCE MUSIC EVOLVE OVER THE PAST FORTY YEARS, CAN YOU SPECULATE ABOUT WHERE IT’S CURRENTLY HEADING?
Haha! The short answer is no, absolutely not. I think what I like about the scene I’m involved in now; groove-based, not necessarily disco, but a bit broader than that. I’ll pluck things from house, electronica and all those different eras - I like anything that doesn’t insult my intelligence. What’s good about this scene at the moment is that it’s making people revisit and understand more about the history of where dance music has come from. I think that’s healthy because as with anything, I don’t think you can successfully move forward without looking back and understanding these roots.
Where is music going to go now? Oh god, I’d like to think this whole groove-based scene would serve some influence on people but unfortunately there’s the whole - it’s always existed - formulaic EDM scene.
BUT WITH THAT SCENE GROWING INCREASINGLY MORE ABSURD, DO YOU THINK THERE’LL BE A TIME WHEN PEOPLE START REACHING OUT FOR STUFF THAT’S STILL ACCESSIBLE BUT WITH A LITTLE MORE SUBSTANCE?
I think it will mutate into another form. I think there will always be that wishy-washy side to anything. I think the current EDM thing will mutate into something else but for me to say what it is… I really don’t know. I would like to think that some healthy interest from young people in the stuff we’re doing. A lot of the tracks I play are revisited versions or even the originals of older tracks, but it’s not aimed at an older crowd. There’s a genuine interest from a younger crowd. I think it’s healthy that they’re showing an interest but how much of an influence it will have, I just don’t know. Do any of us know where it’s going to go?
I THINK IT’S FAIR TO SAY YOU HAD A REAL BOOST IN POPULARITY ON THE BACK OF THOSE REVISED TRACKS YOU’VE BEEN DOING. DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN YOU FIRST WENT DOWN THAT PATH?
This current wave of music production started with Mass Production ‘Shante’. I liked a lot of what I was hearing from some very, very good re-editers, remixers out there. I became interested in the whole re-edit thing because of Greg being involved in it as well, so I guess that had a huge influence on me. I was listening to some of his mixes and I liked the takes on the stuff I knew and I felt like having a go at that. It would have been about three or four years ago now.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU HAD YOUR STUDIO?
Since about ’95, when I built the house I decided I wanted a studio. I’ve always been interested in music; I play a bit of piano, a bit of guitar. I just fancied making my own music. A good friend of mine, Nick Murphy from the BassHeads, he was a good friend of mine and he was a neighbour on the Wirral. He was always into his music and he had a multi-track in his house and some midi instruments and this, again born out of the interest in both music and technology, fascinated me.
I thought, “I really fancy doing that myself.” So when I moved from my house in Greasby I was determined I was going to have a studio of some sort. So that’s what I decided to do. The room’s properly acoustically set, I got a company to draw up the plan’s for the sonics and frequency traps in the walls to give a flat response right through; it’s a room within a room.
It’s only a small working environment but it’s been great for me, especially with these new re-edits. I do also have a multiway through to a big lounge on the other side of the house that houses a grand piano, drum kit, percussion etc. so if I really wanted or needed to I could do live sessions, but unless my son’s band want to do it it’s highly unlikely I’m going down that road now. I simply don’t have the time for my own projects let alone other people’s with the workload as it is.
PEOPLE USE WORDS INTERCHANGEABLY THESE DAYS, BUT YOU’RE VERY PRECISE IN YOUR TERMS. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN EDIT, REWORK AND REMIX?
Well, for me, an edit, like say when I did the re-edit of Inner City ‘Good Life’, the reason I tackled that, it was just a private thing really because I was discussing my favourite version of that track with Greg and I was saying that, “from a sonic point of view and everything else, the 7” version was my favourite but it just wasn’t long enough and didn’t have the intro or outro for today’s mixing arena.
So that’s all I’ve done with that; that’s why I called it the ‘7” Stretched Edit’. So an edit for me is taking a track like that and editing it to your own purposes; using the original track, there’s a couple of effects in there but I’ve not added anything musically - I’ve not played anything into it. I’ve literally cut the track up and mixed it in a way to suit me. For me that’s a re-edit.
A rework is a mixture of re-editing and rearranging a track and - where needs be - I replay the parts to give me the essential parts I need to break the track down, to thin it out and then bring it back in again. So I might replay the bass line, it might be a bit thin so I’ll fatten it out. I might replay or even add some keys. So it’s adding musical ingredients in there as well; be it guitar, be it bass - not so much with percussion because even with re-edits you’ve often got to add at least some subliminal percussion, just to liven up the track.
Then a remix is like we’ve done with the likes of Bryan Ferry, Rosin Murphy, whoever - we would normally get a set of stems so we had a complete breakdown of the song; a multitrack. So we can then choose how we want our version to work. It’s completely down to our discretion how we’d like the track to sound. Whether we use all or any of the original stems or replace everything and go off on our own musical journey. So that’s a remix, for me, they’re always commissioned - as in the artist has approached us to do the track.
YOU SAID YOU ENJOYED TAKING THINGS APART TO PUT THEM BACK TOGETHER AGAIN WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER. DO YOU THINK THE EDITS, REWORKS AND REMIXES APPEAL TO THAT ASPECT OF YOUR NATURE?
Yeah, mentally, that’s probably a very similar thing. That’s kind of a joyous area of it; deconstructing to reconstruct. Definitely yeah, that’s exactly what it is! I also have incredible patience with musical elements so I don’t mind sitting listening to just a kick or an 8 bar loop for hours to tune it, although that can also be a curse when you’re up against deadlines!
WHAT’S YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH GREG WILSON’S SUPER WEIRD SUBSTANCE RECORD LABEL?
I’m the backroom studio man, if you like. From taking the vocal sessions to building up the musical aspects of the tracks; from the original Super Weird mixtape - all the tracks on there, which were not necessarily recorded by me but by Luke and Kermit and everyone else on the team.
I think the whole Super Weird Substance thing is that it’s a team effort. There are a lot of people involved on that level. My role is in the background, taking care of mastering the tracks and studio engineering but ultimately Greg will make the decisions on the production and everything.
OUT OF THE LABEL’S EIGHT SUMMER RELEASES, WHICH HAS BEEN THE MOST FUN TO WORK ON?
Hmmm… That’s a tough call isn’t it! Bloody hell fire! There’s so much and they all come from such a different place. From ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ being one extreme to ‘Summer Came My Way’ being what it is. I think ‘Summer Came My Way’ probably, the work Luxxury did on his remix was fantastic. I think he put the right essence on that track; it was a really nice touch.
I also really like the drum and bass type version, Walter Ego’s. I think he’s done an amazing job on that as well. I really like that. ‘Summer Came My Way’ probably but ‘Don’t You Worry Baby The Best Is Yet To Come’ is magnificent. Vocally it’s stunning, absolutely stunning!
The Reynolds girls are just a dream to work with. To work with people in a studio environment, they’re the ultimate kind of singers. You give them an idea and they will absolutely portray that as you envisaged - and some! They’ve almost a psychic power between the two of them; you don’t have to mention harmonies or anything, they’ll just be on it and stay on it even with a track they’ve never heard before.
MUSIC PRODUCTION ISN’T SOMETHING THAT’S NEW TO YOU THOUGH. WHAT KIND OF THINGS DID YOU WORK ON IN THE PAST?
I’ve done a host of different types of production work; I did have a production company at one time producing stuff for radio, ads, jingles, stings etc. - with a 6-10” studio partner call Mark Johns. The reason I mention his height is that we had to keep all the lights high so he wasn’t butting them or burning hair on them!
Along with Logic (which had been developed from Notator, which I used so stuck with it. For the music side of things, we bought a SADiE system, which is just the absolute dogs danglies for editing! Seriously, if I was editing lots of stuff or still doing radio production stuff that would be the system of choice for speed. In fact it was the SADiE system that got Greg interested in digital side of things during his hiatus period. He would come up to the studio armed with a notepad and I would train him up on it as it was the perfect introduction to digital editing format for him as it was based on the original tape splicing type editing technique, which Greg had mastered to a fine art on his B77 and was used by the BBC and all sorts of media companies who needed to edit up news stories or sports clips in a hurry. It was sonically brilliant too.
It cost a fortune (I mean thousands and plenty) but was so worth it. It was before the days of domestic broadband too, so it was jiffy bags and DAT tapes then later I.S.D.N. lines to get stuff through to the radio stations.
YOU’LL BE HEADING TO FESTIVAL NO.6 THIS WEEK. WHAT’S GOING ON THERE?
Two different stages; I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a cool festival to be doing and one that’s always been on my radar! So on the Saturday (5th September) I’ll be doing the Super Weird Happening, DJing b2b with Peza and also homing in on the front of house desk because I know the tracks inside out. Then on the Sunday I’m doing the closing set on the Stone Boat disco party for Electric Elephant. If we’ve got the weather it will be absolutely fantastic and really excited about.
I’ve also got to mention Sophie Lloyd who’s been so instrumental in the booking but can’t actually be there herself this year due to a certain little baby being born. So congratulations are in order I think!
HAVE YOU PLAYED THERE BEFORE?
No I haven’t - I’m a No.6 virgin! But it’s one of the Festivals that I’ve really wanted to attend and possibly play for years. There are some seriously top drawer DJs playing too, so looking forward to hooking up with some of them.
HAVE YOU SEEN THE PRISONER?
Yeah I have seen The Prisoner, I remember as a kid. I’m debating whether to get a black jacket with the white lines along it.
I’D BE CAUTIOUS OF GOING OUT ON THE ESTUARY IN CASE A BIG WHITE BALL STARTS CHASING YOU…
Haha… The music police! - Or if I get that jacket it could be the fashion police!
WHAT OTHER PLANS DO YOU HAVE FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR?
I’m just back from Ibiza, which was great; I did two very different gigs and loved them both. First gig was at the legendary Ibiza Rocks House at Pikes on a Sunday. What a place that is! It just oozes a kind of history in its walls, and you can’t help thinking “oh if this place could talk”.
I met up early there with Mark (We Love) Broadbent and Sarah his lovely Mrs. for the famous Sunday roast which has such a reputation I absolutely couldn’t refuse. Then went to do my poolside set, which was basically within the confines of absolutely anything but no house what so ever. Those gigs are a joy for me because I will draw from those years of jazz, Latino, indie, funk, etc. etc. and play really leftfield of the perceived norm. Even got to play Black Sabbath.
Then the following night I did the Melon Bomb party on the top of Ushuaia Tower. It couldn’t be more different to Pikes as a venue. It’s an incredible space with fantastic views all round and extremely swish and opulent. Melon Bomb is an event on the up; hosted by Scott Gray, Juan Corbi, Ben Santiago and the man Paul Reynolds, who is not only one of the nicest guys in the business but has to be one of the most industrious DJs in the world! He does so many hours day and night every day. But I suppose he’s quieter in the winter, but probably not much!
The actual event was really, really special - such a great night! The Melon Bomb guys played back to back with a great set which warmed up nicely for Bad Barbie who is an absolute nutcase of a beautiful person and nowhere near as bad as she makes out but knows when to drop the right tunes and did a proper full on disco set; encouraged and supported all the way by her man Dominic Bandoni who is from the same nutter camp and was actually a DMC mix champ himself a few years back.
There’s something very special about doing a gig in a DJ box looking out to sea in one direction, the illuminations of the Hard Rock Hotel behind you and planes coming in to land right above you so close you think you could touch them - or was that just the booze?! I’ve got to say that the whole trip was brilliant and I got to meet some great people, especially the lovely Fay Reynolds, who absolutely nails the art of getting to a mans heart. The food and hospitality was amazing!
Back home the week after Festival No.6 I’m playing in Manchester Cathedral for a Todd Terje live-event. I’ve never played a cathedral before so that’ll be interesting. Then after that various events coming up, including a night called Boogaloo in 24 Kitchen St in Liverpool and I’m playing there with Sunny Side Up, who are great too. I played with them down in Matlock in Derbyshire and they were rocking some serious vinyl with such a great enthusiasm a joy to watch.
Besides the weekend bookings I have a new residency starting at the end of September along with Dave Booth who is a DJ who never seems to get the props he so deserves. He’s a great DJ and can cover all sorts of event. He’s a big northern soul collector too, and a musical anorak like myself, although we won’t be doing the northern thing on that night. It’s going to be in the Magnet in Liverpool on Wednesday nights aimed at the student population doing groove, funk, disco etc. and is going to be called HOT LUV. So pretty busy to be honest…
HAVING WORKED AS A DJ FOR SO LONG, YOU’VE PROBABLY HAD ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE COMING UP TO THE BOOTH. WHAT’S THE STRANGEST REQUEST YOU’VE HAD?
Haha! I’ve had them all you know. From people coming up and ordering drinks - people obviously slightly worse for the wear - to those who come up to you when you have a packed dance floor and go, “can you play something we like” or “can you play something we can dance to.” God loves those idiots! Or “play this ‘cus everyone’ll love it!” People coming up and asking to plug their phone in to play a song…
With some people it’s all about them, it’s almost like they’re completely blind to what’s going on in front of them. They’ve got this mind-set that they want you to play a bit of The Spice Girls or something - it’s so obviously not on that tip and you’ve got a packed dance floor - but they’re convinced that you’ll be the DJ hero if you put The Spice Girls on for them. And everyone’ll go, “Yeah! Well done mate!”
What I do like is the curveballs you can throw in, especially in a disco set. Like Todd Terje’s version of ‘Jolene’, I think I played that at The Bombed Out Church, the reaction was quite remarkable to be honest - I was surprised.
I’m trying to think of the strangest record I’ve been asked for… Some guy would not leave me alone… He was really pissed at this gig and he wanted me play a Frank Ifield song. He kept going on about Frank Ifield because it was the anniversary of his mate’s death or something and it reminded him of him - but it had no relevance to anyone else there whatsoever, so as sorry as I may feel for the guy he ain’t getting Frank Ifield!
See Derek Kaye at Festival No.6 in Portmerion, Wales which takes place from 3rd-6th September. Find out more here.
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