I don't remember exactly how I found Blue Lab Beats 4 years ago, but they've been a constant part of my playlist. Their super recognisable style is something I can't possibly mistake if I hear it - the synths and the beats are absolute fire.
The young jazztronica duo from London consists of producer NK-OK and multi-instrumentalist MR DM, or Namali & David. Their latest album Voyage (where "Hi There" resides) is an absolute must, if you dig modern instrumental hip hop with jazz, r&b and soul influences.
I'm very happy they dropped by for a chat to share thoughts about their projects, artists they collaborate with, and how they cope with the lockdown.
Hey guys, how's life treating you?
NK: Well, at the moment we're in lockdown because of Coronavirus... so we've not been able to do sessions or touring so it's not been the best time, however, I think everyone around the world is definitely about the importance of just doing simple stuff like going to gigs, clubs, films & just appreciating it's the other small things in life that make it great.
MR DM: Life is ok. My family’s doing alright during the lockdown.
I'm sure you get that a lot, but where's that mystical Blue Lab?
NK: It's located in NK-OK studio shed in North London. We call it the Blue Lab MK2 as the first was in Golders green
How did you get together in the first place?
NK: Me and David met at WAC Arts in 2012. He was doing the live music course, I was doing the music production course, one day David invited me to watch him play with his mates and I saw how many instruments this crazy guy could play and then got in the studio straight away.
MR DM: Got together with NKOK in the first place at Weekend Arts College opposite Belsize Park station, 7-8 years ago. I was in the live music class and NK-OK was in the production class.
Undoubtedly, you've got a very recognisable sound with the synths & drums you use. How did you come to it?
NK: I would say it's from a mixture of what our parents were listening when we were kids, just really living with music - putting all of that soul & energy onto the record.
I've been following you ever since Blue Skies. How did that first EP happen?
NK: Funny enough, it actually came about from someone telling us that "we were not original" so then a few days after hearing that comment we decided to make the song "Movement" and after that song, we were like, "Yo, let's make this duo thing a proper thing and explore new sounds."
MR DM: Blue Skies came out in 2016. Way before that when NK-OK and I were going through beats one evening, I was messing around on a guitar, and then management walked past, heard it, and asked “What was that?”. Then he said, “Do a whole EP of that!”.
Tell me a little more about "Sam Cooke & Marvin Gaye", their influence on you, and working with Kojey & Tiana.
NK: That was one of the quickest and most natural sessions we've ever had. Whilst writing the beat, Kojey was writing the lyrics at the same time and the track wasn't even finished yet but all both pictured the same end goal which was such a dope, beautiful thing whilst making that song.
MR DM: “Sam Cooke and Marvin” was part of Kojey Radical's verse. As a child, I’d listen to both of these artists a lot. A lot of my family listens to them too. On the day we had that session, Kojey brought along Tiana; we didn’t know she was gonna come. And that was (one of) her first studio session(s) and she killed it.
Where's "the Voyage" to? How did your sound evolve until that last album? And what was it like making music with Sampa The Great?
NK: Sampa The Great is also an insanely fast writer. She is so fast she literally freestyles the chorus for next. The lead vocal that you hear on the record was her first take freestyle of the chorus. She's also one of the most genuine, lovely people to work with.
MR DM: Making music with Sampa The Great was a lot of fun. We featured on her track “Made Us Better”. And she featured on our Voyage album on the track “Next (Wake Up)”.
You're collaborating with a lot of London-based artists. How's the music scene there these days?
NK: I think at the moment it's doing amazingly! Stuff like UK r&b is actually picking up really nicely! People like Jerome Thomas, James Vickery, Jaz Karis, Tiana Major 9, Reuben James, Tertia May & many more are killing it right now.
If you could go on stage with one artist/band (dead or alive), who would that be?
NK: Stevie Wonder... Song in The Key of Life was the first record that got me into music I was 8 years old... He's made so many amazing hits. That would be soooo mind-blowing to be on stage with him
MR DM: Can't decide on one! If I could be on stage with any artists living or dead they would be Roy Ayers, Bernard Wright, Don Blackman, Slum village, Bahamadia, Bobby Hutcherson, George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Patrice Rushen, Bob James, Harvey Mason, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery.
Thanks a ton for the chat! Anything else you'd like to add?
NK: Make sure to check out our album Voyage! Peace!!!