Blue Lab Beats Close Out Ebisu Bloomin’ JAZZ GARDEN with an Incredible Live Performance

To commemorate Ebisu Garden Place’s 30th anniversary, the EBISU Bloomin’ JAZZ GARDEN took place over three days, from May 10th to May 12th. The event was executed superbly, featuring music, food, and a curated lineup of notable artists. The following recaps the final day of the event, May 12th, and details Blue Lab Beats’ amazing live show.

Photo by Naoki Okuda

A Well-Organized Event for All

Across Ebisu Garden Place, multiple areas were set up for people to enjoy the music and soak up the atmosphere. Upon approaching the entrance, music could be heard from the area just outside Blue Note Place, dubbed the White Square. Throughout the event, a host of DJs, all active in the Tokyo music and club scene, performed and kept the outdoor dance floor active. Inside Blue Note Place, visitors could reserve seats to catch some of the more intimate performances from established artists and DJs from both Japan and overseas. Down at the center square was the Green Stage, which was also free to access and viewable from all angles. With astroturf and wooden blocks placed around the stage, visitors could kick back in a picnic-like setting and enjoy the smooth sounds of the scheduled musicians and DJs.

RODA DO Marcelo Kimura/Photo by Eiji Miyaji

Bars were set up for those looking for freshly made drinks and draft beer, and people could also bring in their own food or drinks from nearby shops and convenience stores. The event was open to all, with people of all ages, families, couples, and numerous pets enjoying the festivities. One thing that was apparent was just how much planning and effort went into organizing the event. The carefully curated lineup of artists and DJs spanned various genres yet blended seamlessly, and the multiple areas made efficient use of the space available without clashing. It was impressive to see the event attract both Japanese and international visitors, and despite the large numbers, the layout was executed in a way that never felt crowded.

YANCY & May Inoue with Kei Owada/Photo by Naoki Okuda

The Cuban Sandwich Showdown

The event featured a selection of food trucks parked at the entrance pavilion. Lawry’s The Prime Rib served prime rib curry, offering a chance to savor their specialty in a more casual and moderately priced way. The Westin Tokyo also set up a truck serving picnic favorites such as nachos, gelato, sorbet, and a selection of drinks.

Photo by Mahiro Sayama

The highlight, however, was the American Pork Cuban Sandwich Festival, featuring three different Cuban sandwich trucks. Among them, DUCK DIVE stood out, a food truck inspired by the movie CHEF, which traveled all the way from Gifu for the event. In 2023, they clinched 1st place for the World’s Best Non-Traditional Cuban Sandwich at the Annual Ford International Cuban Sandwich Festival in Florida. Watching the team in the truck line up bread rolls and assemble Cuban sandwiches was very similar to scenes from CHEF. With a consistently long line forming in front of DUCK DIVE, it was clearly the crowd favorite out of the three trucks. Their pulled pork and roast pork Cubans were perfectly toasted, overflowing with cheese, and bursting with flavor. It was a delightful treat while lounging at the outdoor tables and enjoying the DJs at the White Square.

Photo by Vince Lee

Additionally, all the establishments at Ebisu Garden Place were open as usual. Cafes like Starbucks and Verve Coffee Roasters, as well as French and Italian restaurants, were also options for those craving more than just a casual bite, catering to everyone’s tastes.

A Clinic in Musicality by Blue Lab Beats

To conclude each day, performances unfolded across the venues, featuring a diverse lineup of headline artists over the three days at the Garden Hall’s ‘Yellow Stage’ and the Garden Room’s ‘Red Stage’. Friday night boasted performances by Takuya Kuroda and Shinchi Osawa, while Saturday’s standout was PBR superstar Marisa Monte. However, one of the standout artists on the lineup was the London Jazztronica duo, Blue Lab Beats. The UK jazz scene is currently experiencing a renaissance, with new generations of talented musicians injecting fresh energy and pushing genre boundaries. The region’s rich musical history, combined with factors like DJs, radio, festivals, journalists, record labels, and collaborative spirit among artists, fosters an environment where artists can thrive and take the genre to new heights. Blue Lab Beats exemplifies this notion with the duo combining jazz, hip-hop, RnB, afropop, and electronic influences to form their innovative sound. On Sunday, May 12th, they graced the Yellow Stage, delivering an impressive performance that showcased their growth since their first visit to Japan in 2022.

1st image : NK-OK・2nd image : Mr DM
Photo by Naoki Okuda

The doors to the Yellow Stage opened at 5:30 PM with MAHBIE kicking off as the opening DJ, spinning old school hip hop and R&B to set a smooth tone. At 6:30 PM, the lights dimmed, and Blue Lab Beats entered the stage to thunderous applause. Producer NK-OK stood at a podium with his Native Instruments Maschine Controller, while multi-instrumentalist MR DM settled behind the Yamaha keyboard and electric guitar. Joining them were guests including Tomoaki Baba on sax and Reiya Terakubo on trumpet, forming the brass section, along with London drummer and producer Mackwood on drums. Keyboardist and producer Kan Sano also joined in on keys for certain songs when MR DM switched to guitar. What followed was a 90-minute show featuring songs from their latest album, ‘Blue Eclipse,’ and tracks from their past catalog, showcasing their range and depth of artistry.

Photo by Naoki Okuda

While Blue Lab Beats’ production heavily incorporates electronic elements, the show was performed with live instrumentation. Mackwood’s drumming set the groove, while NK-OK finger-drummed rapidly on the Maschine Controller to trigger samples and add layers of percussion. The brass section contributed with solo sections for both sax and trumpet, complemented by MR DM’s smooth melodies on keyboard and guitar. Witnessing live renditions of Blue Lab Beats’ instrumentals was truly remarkable. For tracks with vocals, the duo enlisted MC Daichi Yamamoto for the rap sections and singer Kona Rose. Both brought their own stage presence, with Daichi delivering verses in Japanese and English, while Kona Rose added her soulful touch to the performance.

Photo by Naoki Okuda

The setlist encompassed a variety of sounds, from hip-hop to jazz-infused instrumentals, smooth R&B, and experimental blends of multiple genres. Throughout the show, NK-OK engaged with the crowd between songs, sharing stories behind certain tracks like ‘Nights in Tokyo,’ inspired by their 2022 trip to Japan, or how ‘Motherland Journey’ was created with a Fela Kuti sample after receiving a request and the blessing of the Afrobeat pioneer’s family. They paid tribute to J Dilla with a rendition of the legendary producer’s ‘So Far To Go’ and also shared insights into the songs that led to their signing with Blue Note Records. These interactions with the audience created an intimate atmosphere, making fans feel like part of an exclusive jam session or listening party with the artists, learning more about them and their music. Despite the breaks, the show flowed smoothly, with the energy never waning and the crowd always ready to dance or sway to the beat. The performance wrapped up with renditions of their most-streamed track, ‘Pineapple,’ and an encore performance of ‘A Vibe,’ ensuring one last dance for the audience.

Photo by Naoki Okuda

For artists whose music heavily incorporates electronic elements and is primarily instrumental, taking their music on the road and performing live can pose challenges. However, the show was remarkable and demonstrated Blue Lab Beats’ innovative approach to both their music and live performances. Their music defies categorization, blending multiple genres such as hip hop, jazz, afropop, house, and funk, yet they seamlessly incorporate all these elements without losing their essence. The setlist, combined with audience interaction and live instrumentation, created a memorable experience commemorating their return to Japan, a place they say is like their second home. The inclusion of Japanese musicians and artists also added a unique touch, making the performance distinct to Tokyo. The duo expressed gratitude to the crowd and commented on the large turnout, a testament to their popularity in Japan and their evolution as artists.

As the clock neared 8 PM, the show wrapped up, marking the end of the event program. Attendees exited the venues, and the spotlights on the Green Stage gradually dimmed while DJs played their final tunes before people headed back towards Ebisu station. EBISU Bloomin’ JAZZ GARDEN was a well-executed celebration of the complex’s 30th anniversary in true Ebisu fashion. The vibrant yet laid-back atmosphere, combined with the diverse musical offerings, both free and ticketed, made for a weekend well-spent, destined to be a highlight of the year.

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Vince Lee

Vince, originally from Perth, Australia, is currently based in Tokyo, Japan. With a curiosity about life and the world, Vince is fascinated by how our world is shaped by drawing from the past or looking to the future. He enjoys spending time at record bars, art museums, and by the sea or mountains, indulging his interest in culture, music, and the natural world.