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The New Cool: Creating Blue Lab Beats

Photo by Ruthe Zuntz, used with permission from Native Instruments
NK-OK and Mr DM are London's Blue Lab Beats.

The creation of beats probably has its origins in the early days of hip hop when DJs would sample and blend the drum breaks from their favorite records. Today, the process is more akin to a musician with an instrument, and though the beats sound familiar, they're as fresh and original as an Art Blakey solo in the hands of talented duo Blue Lab Beats.

Formed by young Londoners NK-OK (19-year-old Namali Kwaten) and Mr DM (David Mrakpor, 24), Blue Lab Beats have become an integral part of England's exploding modern jazz community. As a production and remix team, they've collaborated with young UK jazz stars like drummer Moses Boyd and saxophonist Nubya Garcia as well as soul and electronic acts like Laura Mvula and Dua Lipa.

Tunes can begin with a simple electronic beat, tapped out on a synthesizer by NK-OK. Then Mr DM might play a few chords on the keyboard or guitar. The two bounce ideas back and forth just as songwriters and musicians have done for centuries, but their sound is undeniably modern.

If you've ever seen electronic music performed live, you may have been disappointed by an artist who simply pushes "enter" on his laptop. That's it. While their sound owes a debt to hip hop, Blue Lab Beats perform more as a jazz combo would, with electronic drums, keys and occasional guitar played live. Pre-recorded elements include some spoken word samples and maybe a repeating guitar/bass/keys riffs from Mr DM, but Blue Lab Beats are committed to the blend of live electronic and analog sound.

Special guests include some of England's finest modern jazz musicians like Boyd and Garcia, as well as singer James Vickery and rapper OthaSoul. On this week's  New Cool, KaidaAkinnibi's saxophone punctuates BLB's "Oooo Lala". It's a groovy, laid-back example of the group's ultra-hip style. Speaking of style, Blue Lab Beats explore fashion, dance and cinema in their many beautiful videos.

After gaining the attention of their British contemporaries with the Blue Skies and Freedom EPs, Blue Lab Beats' debut Xover is poised to do just that around the globe.

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5pm, hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.