Groundwork – Blue Lab Beats are the young scientists at the heart of London’s jazz explosion

Blue Lab Beats come through with a genre-defying mix of jazz, UK rap and 90s hip hop for the first-ever Groundwork mix.

6 months agoText by

Blue Lab Beats

There’s so much new music in the world, all too often we forget about the old stuff. That’s why we’re launching our new feature, Groundwork. A series of mixes and playlists from some of our favourite artists, Groundwork is all about digging into an artists’ roots and discovering the music that made them who they are. 

If you’ve opened a music magazine, read a blog or just been outside in London after 9 PM recently, you’ll have heard about the city’s current jazz explosion. From the bubbling sounds of the Giles Peterson-helmed Brownswood Basement to legendary institutions like Ronnie Scott’s, the city is churning out new jazz talent faster than you can play a chromatic scale. In the middle of it all are Blue Lab Beats aka producers NKOK and Mr DM. Their debut album Xover dropped last week and features contributions from some of London’s best talent including Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia and former Notion cover star Kojey Radical.

In honour of the release, we asked them to kick off our new feature, Groundwork and they didn’t disappoint. Coming through with an hour-long mix of their influences, they cover everything from hard bop to Roots Manuva seamlessly. It’s the perfect accompaniment to their new record. Get stuck into it below and read about the inspirations behind the mix after the jump.

NKOK: I put together the mix. It’s all of our inspirations in one mix, for me and Mr DM, we have similar inspirations, so it was quite easy. At first, it was hard to get it all into one hour but mixing it all was really fun. We started the mix with hard bop which is the period of jazz that my gran introduced me to, she got me into jazz when I was thirteen. She just bought a jazz CD over, and it had Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Nat King Cole on and I just thought it was incredible. Then I realised that hip hop samples it all the time and I became obsessed.

Thelonious Monk really got me into jazz; his playing is just like ‘I really don’t give a shit’, how he plays the piano, it’s purposefully odd, he doesn’t care. Drummer wise, Poppa Joe Jones is an absolute legend, he’s a drumming god, he used to put the sticks down and play with his bare hands which is a hard thing to do. The real foundation of jazz is upright bass. Every instrument has its own thing, but bass is a hard thing to get right. It’s the thing people talk over, but you actually have to listen. He’s the other guy, it’s the drummer and the bass, they’re the backbone.

Our new album is all about jazz’s spirit of collaboration. Mr DM has known Moses Boyd, Nubya, EZRA collective etc. for years; everyone wants to make good music, everyone wants to make healthy music because there’s a lot of crap in this world. We want to keep people’s minds focused on good stuff. For me and Mr DM, I want our music to feel like people could listen to it for as long as they live.

Mr DM: I got into jazz through my parents and my grandparents, they were all fans of jazz. I’ve been a fan since I was four or five years old, I’m influenced by the same artists as NKOK really, as well as Charles Mingus, Miles Davies, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Betty Carter, the list goes on, of course, Herbie Hancock, so many legends.

I know Moses and co because we all went to a programme at the South Bank Centre for young musicians who were into jazz. It was a thing called Tomorrow’s Warriors, it was free which was great, run by this double bass player called Gary Crosby, he helped us all out a lot. That’s how I know all these cats, all, if not most of them, went to that place.

Blue Lab Beats’ debut album XOver is out now.

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