Name: Blue Lab Beats
Members: MR. DM (David Mrakpor), NK-OK (Namali Kwaten)
Occupations: Producers, songwriters, multi-instrumentalists
Current Release: Blue Lab Beats's Motherland Journey is out via Blue Adventure.
Recommendations: CHI MODU is one of my fav hip hop photographers, R.I.P.
Herbie Hancock's Possibilities book is incredible, I would recommend getting the audiobook because Herbie is reading it.
If you enjoyed this interview with Blue Lab Beats, visit the band's official homepage. They're also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
NK: David and I started making music 10 years ago and the aim really was to produce for upcoming vocalists and then eventually we wanted to make our own sound in instrumental music.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
NK: For us it’s so important to experiment with different sounds and genres so then your musical vocabulary expands more and more.
As a musician it’s important to recognise music as a huge language. The more you know from experimenting the better your musical vocabulary will become.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
NK: I think that’s the best part of music and creativity. Everyone is so different and has such different approaches to things, like yes we can be in the same genre but our take on the genre will always be different. That’s what makes life so beautiful.
I think the more we learn to embrace that and understand the power of our own thoughts, we can really achieve a massive amount in this world
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
DM: For me personally, in the early stages of creating music, there were a few times when I was almost unable to compose new chord progressions. But then, when I would listen to an old classic record, or go out to watch a performance, especially one which genre is far out of my comfort zone or far from what I’d listen to, that would give me the inspiration to have more ideas.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
NK: For me it was very important that I learnt to make music with a very limited amount of equipment at the beginning and sometimes the limitations can really create some insane ideas.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
DM: In co-creating Blue lab music, we have a heavy use of synthesizers as well as live instruments, implying the futuristic side of our sound.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
DM: For example, if there is a 3rd creative in the studio with us, we’d talk with them a bit first and they’d sometimes tell us what artists inspire them. Then we’d sometimes jam out which is more natural until we have a concrete foundation.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
NK: In my mornings I try to not go on my phone for the first hour so - then social media doesn’t affect the mood for the rest of my day. I like to meditate for 10-20 mins and journal how I've been doing.
At that point I feel ready for the day. Sometimes I might not do all these things, but just remind myself it’s fine and can try again tomorrow
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
DM. We have a Blue Lab track entitled "Movement" which is on our first EP Blue Skies (2016).
When we were first developing the track, NK showed me the demo which had his drum programming in the time signature 5/4, instead of going for the 4/4 route. As we were adding more instrumental elements to the song, another producer in the room accused us of copying someone else’s work, which was obviously not true. (laughs)
Despite this person's doubts we finished the track regardless and that’s the song that first got us both signed.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
NK: The most important thing with being a creative is just remembering it’s completely fine if you don’t feel creative that day. Don’t be too hard on yourself because creativity will always eventually come back. Go on a walk, take 2-5 min breath exercise break just so you can ease your mind to let creativity back in.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
NK: For me instrumental music is a beautiful healing tool. I think you can just really ease out most of the time and it can be very relaxing.
Of course you have instrumental music that’s very much conversation based and then it can make you listen to music way more and maybe even give you a creative spark because you’re hearing so many unique musical conversations.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
DM. I think that in order to create music you have to have inspiration and that will involve borrowing elements from songs in the past. There also has to be authenticity and respect.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
NK: I think it’s very important to reflect on your surroundings and add that into the music as well.
That’s why for me living in London is so inspiring. There are so many different backgrounds with so many different conversations in this place. It just makes a massive melting pot of amazing energy and amazing creativity.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
NK: For me and David we always explain that our music is healing music, whether it be for getting you in a good mood, making you dance, unwind and really relax.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
NK: I think the beautiful part about instrumental music is certain phrases that the guitarist or a saxophonist might use can really be beyond words and that’s how those phrases can really hit your soul differently.
Like sometimes people can try and understand why a musician might approach a lick a certain way. But for the most part it’s just better to listen.