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In 2004, singer/drummer Emiko Ota (Mami Chan Band, Sakura, Tornaod, Urban Sax, Villa St Michel) and electronic artist Andrew Sharpley (ex-Stock, Hausen & Walkman, Dummy Run) were asked to change the name of their band æ by a lawyer representing Warp artists Autechre. If Ota and Sharpley did not meet this request within a set period of time, legal action would be taken against them, since Autechre claimed ownership of the logo æ. The duo changed their name and henceforth called themselves A&E. So it goes.

For those who can recall the anarchic elektro-punk approach of the predecessor “Bootleg”, A&E’s new album “Oi!” will come as a surprise – and that’s putting it mildly. The rest – i.e. those who’ve never heard a single note of the duo’s music and do not know anything about the protagonists’ activities or their histories – will also be surprised. Why? Because traditional sounding Japanese singing in combination with a deftly played jazz guitar plus sounds from gameboys and junkshop keyboards plus solid punk drums is clearly something you won’t hear every day. And while we’re at it: That also goes for the duo’s combination of drum’n’bass mayhem and Hawaiian lap steel sounds. And these are not the only fiendish concoctions A&E have in store for their audience.
Luckily, A&E have retained their crazy (bordering on lunatic) humour and their inventiveness in dealing with all the stuff that popular music has come up with in, say, the last 70 years. Both are virtues of the venturous and cutting-edge present day musician. But apart from that, quite a lot has changed for the British/Japanese duo. With their bastard ballads, this “no genre”-band has, yes!, invented a new genre. They themselves do not proclaim that and in all probability they don’t even know it, but it is a fact.

On the one hand, A&E are making “music about music” (call it „meta music“ if you want to). They snatch familiar sounding elements from their original contexts and make them clash with others. Sometimes, the results of these combinations sound enchanting, other times they sound extremely funny, wild, disturbing, cautious, or even effervescent. On the other hand, A&E are not concerned with cultureclash made into sound – their focus is always on the music. Never are their works pure collages, but always musical entities. That said, we now come to the qualities that are new to their music on this album – namely their balladesque songwriting. Now the art of songwriting is something that A&E have mastered a long time ago, but the results used to sound more like grotesque punk rock than ballads. On “Oi” they show us how by means of an experimental (de)montage of the stylistic elements from which popular music is made one can write coherent and absurd songs which are still to be taken seriously. But then these troubadours sing in many tongues. One moment, they play their instruments in a conventional way, the next they use them in an experimental way and, some might think, for purposes other than intended. Their way of combining these sounds is always unexpected – similar to their amalgamation of stylistic elements, which Ota and Sharpley together with their occasional guest Noel Akchoté quote (and, well, “unquote”).

In 2005, A&E recorded electric versions of twelve Japanese folk songs from the late 19th and early 20th century, an era in which Japan opened itself up to western influences. Four of these tracks are included on “Oi!”, where they blend perfectly into the round of pleasantly mild and yet daringly arranged and performed pop songs.

A&E are a band who produce their music simultaneously in time and space. (Or, to put it more straightforward: These two people play “together”.) Their arrangements are pop music as well as anything else. With this album, it has been Sharpley’s aim to construct a frame for the presentation of Ota’s voice.

Bands like A&E have left behind the phase in which musicians started to break up and spoof the dusty structures prevalent in the experimental section of popular music. They do not merely mash up or remix other music. They are actually playing music again.