Blue Lab Beats

There's a jazz revolution going on in London right now. All over the capital, in back rooms, pop-clubs, warehouse spaces and other venues actively avoiding pillage by the mainstream, a wealth of young talent is collaborating, pushing boundaries, crossing genres. Paying respect to musical elders while forging paths entirely their own.

It was in the midst of such bubbling creativity that the acclaimed duo Blue Lab Beats was born. Or rather, flourished: theirs is a sound that was cooked up in a bedroom studio in north London, a bijou space with blue walls, a blue ceiling and a bed with a blue duvet cover. A production room as tiny and buzzing as Motown in Detroit and Sun in Memphis famously were; a drop-in for London's freshest new acts, from rappers and grime artists to instrumentalists, experimentalists, neo-soul brothas and sistas and more.

And it is NK-OK, aka 18-year-old electronic beats programmer Namali Kwaten, and his neighbor Mr DM, aka multi-instrumentalist David Mrakpor, 23, that they come to see. A double act with a combined love of hip hop artists J. Dilla, Public Enemy and a Tribe Called Quest; jazz heroes Herbie Hancock and Roy Ayers; soul legends Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. Such artists inform Blue Lab Beats' languid, head-nodding blend of boom bap grooves and jazz-funk hooks. Guest vocalists and instrumentalists from the jazz underground help to take them higher.

Blue Lab Beats represent. They fuse minds as well as genres. Their new Society of Sound release, Xover, captures their sultry mish-mash, with its American source and London attitude - the duo neatly side-step the clearance problems that beset so many of their hip hop heroes by cutting up live music made especially for them, effectively sampling themselves. "We just do what we love doing," says NK-OK of Xover, an album they recorded, with their mates, down at Real World Studios in Wiltshire. "Whenever we're together the work flows really fast."

Blessed with uncanny empathy and as producers, a Midas touch, Blue Lab Beats have remixed tracks for the chart-topping likes of Jodie Abacus, Dua Lipa and Rag'n'Bone Man. But it's as artists in their own right that they are really making waves. You'll hear why on Xover, which boasts 13 original tracks: their infectious, wide ranging sound takes from the old and mixes with the new. Live instrumentals by Mr DM - on drums, guitar and Wurlitzer; bass, vibes and piano - and the likes of award-winning drummer Moses Boyd are chopped and dropped into programmed beats.

Time speeds up, slows down. Tempos swerve and soothe. The familiar and the futuristic meet at the crossroads, to dance and jostle. "I liked the way he made beats and he liked the way I played," says Mrakpor, who has a Bachelor of Arts in Jazz Studies from Middlesex University. "I didn't know much about digital stuff but loved what J. Dilla did with turntables, samples and drum machines. But NK-OK was like, 'Let's make a bunch of backing tracks and give them to vocalists'. So that's what we did."

Blue Lab Beats have built a phenomenal live reputation, turning in scorching sets at such British festivals as Latitude, Love Supreme and WOMAD, where, aided by MC Kojey Radical and soulstress Tiana Major-9 they were a hands-down (and in the air) highlight of the Bowers & Wilkins Stage: "The sound that came through that Bowers & Wilkins Sound System was seriously incredible," enthuses NK-OK.

Society of Sound members download the album here


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