- Native Instruments Maschine MK3
- Komplete Kontrol
- AKG C214
- A lot of percussion
- Squire Jazz Bass
- Dimavery LP-520 guitar
London jazztronica duo Blue Lab Beats are making music straight from the heart. NK-OK and MR. DM have collaborated with the likes of Dua Lipa, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Joe Hertz, Moses Boyd and Nubya Garcia, among plenty others, finding new fans in Huw Stephens, Jamz Supernova, NME Radio, Jamie Cullum and more. They’ve found a sound that weaves boom-bap grooves and jazz-funk hooks, all created inside Blue Lab HQ – a shed in NK-OK’s back garden.
With the upcoming release of their five-track EP We Will Rise and their single, Blow You Away, Blue Lab Beats let us into their brightly-coloured studio shed to show us the gear that makes them tick. They explain the importance of their African percussion, their love for Native Instruments Maschine, and why Herbie Hancock played a vital role in the purchase of their Fender Rhodes.
Tell us a bit about the studio, Blue Lab Beats.
NK-OK: Our studio is located in North London and it’s a studio shed for making big vibes! We’ve been here for nearly three years. The old studio was a bedroom studio in my flat in Golders Green, London. To make it my own, I added colourful acoustic absorbers so it sounds great in here. Home studios are a lot cheaper than renting one out [laughs].
How do you use your studio?
We record here, we start and finish arrangements and sometimes even mix songs here, too. We record other artists and musicians here, 90 per cent of the time, and when we are finishing off a big project, we will hire a bigger studio.
Which DAW do you use?
Logic Pro for arrangement, Maschine 2 for programming drums. I’ve just always loved the Logic workflow – the simplicity and majority of stuff on the screen just makes sense to me. The Maschine 2 software has an insanely fast workflow, especially with samples, and the drum sounds are amazing.
What is your favourite piece of gear
For drums, my Maschine MK3. Having a drum machine just automatically gets me in the zone for making amazing hip-hop and R&B, and the fast workflow on Maschine is amazing.
For percussion, my African nut shakers. They have an amazing tone. I like using the African bass percussion because it really reminds me of my home, the motherland. And I used to play a lot of West African percussion, such as djembe, when I was age six.
What atmosphere do you try and create in the studio and how does the studio environment help you with your creativity?
I have multiple mood lights on all the time and normally have incense burning just before a session to clear and refresh the vibe. It’s a nice restart to get more ideas on the go – when you have the same energy from your last session you sometimes make something too similar. For us, the aim is to explore, not narrow down your ideas to the same piece of music again and again.
What synth or effect can be heard the most on your new EP, We Will Rise?
Our Roland Juno 106. Also, a lot of sounds from Komplete Kontrol – we start with a lot of presets from Komplete Kontrol and then adjust them to our own liking.
What’s been the biggest investment in your studio? Was it worth it?
Acoustic padding. It seems really simple, but it’s so effective. Also, the Fender Rhodes MK2. When I was younger I always researched the keyboards that Herbie Hancock would use and then I’d listen to loads of demos of vintage electric pianos. The Rhodes stuck out to me the most and also just the real thing is so much better than a plug-in. However, plug-ins are getting very advanced with how realistic they sound.
If you were left on a desert island, what one item would you take with you to make music with forever?
My Maschine MK2. I’d sample as many sounds on the island as I can [laughs].
What is next on your shopping list studio-wise?
I would like a Roland Jupiter synth – any donations are welcome. We used it on Joe Hertz’ Rain in Cuba and the pad sounds are unbelievable on that synth.
What is your dream piece of gear?
A Moog Minimoog – the same Moog J Dilla had, it’s the smoothest synth ever! Our favourite album where Dilla uses that synth is definitely Fantastic Vol.2.
What is your top piece of production advice?
Try out as many genres as you can. Life is too short to stay in one lane.
What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting out building a studio?
Start cheap then build your way up. Mic preamps can be a game-changer – we have a Neve copy. Mic preamps just record and sound so much smoother.
Also, music funds are extremely helpful – PRS and Metallic, for example.
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