Musical masterminds coming together is always special, but when they find each other from an early age and begin creating and vibing, that’s pretty much dynamite. So when the self-professed “jazztronica duo” Blue Lab Beats – Namali Kwaten and David Mrakpor – met at youth arts organisation, WAC Arts, in North London in 2013, at the respective ages of 13 and 18, their musical partnership was a done deal.
Combining the genius multi-instrumental talents of David Mrakpor, otherwise known as Mr DM, with the delectable beats of producer and programmer, Namali Kwaten, aka NK-OK, Blue Lab Beats generate soundscapes that are an energising mix of jazz, electronica and hip-hop with a London flavour.
Since they first started releasing music in 2016, Blue Lab Beats have been introducing their music through various releases and live performances at the likes of Jazz re:freshed, Ronnie Scott’s, Glastonbury and WOMAD. This exposure to gigs is what Mr DM identifies as having an influence on how the duo’s music has evolved. “It’s things such as attending jam sessions, gigs and expanding our use of different musical instruments that has helped us change our sound over the years,” he says.
Last month Blue Lab Beats launched their latest EP, Vibe Central. A continuation of their welding of analogue and digital sounds, opening track Hi There features elements of boogie, as is reflected in the accompanying video which takes inspiration from the Soul Train line dances. Vibe Tribe, featuring American jazz trumpeter Theo Croker, is a particular favourite in its laidback glory, while None Of That sees Mr DM take on a mammoth six instruments.
The EP comes just over a year after the release of Blue Lab Beats’ album, Xover. Their debut album reads like a who’s who of some of the finest London-somethings bringing a new energy to musical creativity in the city – Ezra Collective’s Femi Koleoso, drummer Moses Boyd, saxophonists Nubya Garcia and Kaidi Akinnibi, and rapper Kojey Radical, to name but a few. Many of the collaborators NK-OK and Mr DM themselves knew from Tomorrow’s Warriors, a music development collective championing young jazz musicians.
“Honestly for both of us when we were doing Xover that’s when we were experimenting the most and you’re able to hear even more experimentation on our new projects with synthesizers and the sonics on certain tracks,” NK-OK says.
Whether you’re listening to Blue Lab Beats’ first release, 2016’s Blue Skies EP, their debut album Xover or their latest EP, what’s evident is their impeccable timing musically and fluidity. The guys clearly have a winning formula. NK-OK adds: “The number one thing for me is have fun then always try new things and most importantly be humble.”
NK-OK and Mr DM work just as well collaboratively with other musicians as they do each other as they have demonstrated throughout their releases. Given the opportunity to join forces with anyone from the past or present, they both cite their “dream team”, as it were, as Thelonious Monk (“outstanding chords”), Bill Evans (“ridiculous soloing”), J Dilla (“his feel for drums and sampling was just out of this world”), Anderson .Paak (“such a distinct vocalist, loved lots of stuff from Malibu and newer projects”), and Kendrick Lamar (“this guy’s lyrics are just out of this world man”).
Blue Lab Beats will be playing later this month at Naked City Festival on home turf at Beckenham Place Park, in south-east London, before heading back into the studio again. “We’ve got an album coming later this year so we just need to finish that off,” Mr DM says. “We can’t wait to start sharing some of the tracks from that too.”
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com