There aren’t many artists that reside in the drum and bass sphere who encapsulate an unadulterated love, respect, and devotion to the music more than DRS.
As a result, the legendary MC, who hails from his beloved home of Manchester, has garnered the highest level of respect from peers and ravers alike, resonating with people across the underground music scene through his unrivalled amalgamation of both light and dark lyricism.
However, decades into a remarkable career that has spanned seven albums and countless pieces of honest, inward, and elegantly narrated music, it’s only now that DRS is sharing music with the world that is the purest reflection of himself.
Aptly named ‘Dek-Rok-Ski’, DRS’ seventh studio album is the first extended body of work that the MC has written sober. As a result, this latest album is the purest reflection of DRS to date.
DRS recently opened up on his sobriety at the ‘What’s On Your Mind’ seminar, explaining that now at two years sober, his music has become more therapeutic as he’s learning to deal with life’s ups and downs.
This ethos can most definitely be heard throughout ‘Dek-Rok-Ski’, DRS’ first album on Shogun Audio. Following a life-changing period, his latest offering investigates previously unexplored territories, with link-ups with longtime collaborators such as LSB, Calibre, Dogger, and Tyler Daley intertwined with features from the likes of Monrroe, Document One, T95, and more.
I spoke to Del back in March and he revealed to me then that he felt like “the music has never been me”. Following on from this chat, UKF sat down with DRS once again to delve deep into the story behind ‘Del-Rok-Ski’. Read on to learn all about the personal triumphs and tribulations that have led the legendary DRS to this very moment…
The Man Who Fell To Earth Tour looked incredible earlier this year. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind the name?
The name of the tour comes from the David Bowie film as I remember seeing it as a kid. It really inspired me. My label Space Cadet and my general ethos is based on science fiction so it was all sort of a play on that too. I just wanted to draw on some real personal experiences and incorporate that into the tour.
Was bringing that live show concept something that you’ve always wanted to bring more into your artistry?
Yeah, definitely. I tried to do it five or six years ago but it wasn’t what it is today as I needed to grow more as an artist. It’s the same group of musicians now, but after all that time of them playing nearly every night, they’re world-class. It’s all fallen together now.
Was there anything in particular that sparked it into life again?
It was after the lockdown. People had a chance to think about what it is they really wanted to do and what makes them happy so I just thought it was time to progress this thing. People were listening to my music and singing along in the clubs, so a live show felt like a progression of that.
There’s this concept with the show too where every so often between the live band, Dogger will play something like an Enei or T95 beat that the band can’t replicate. I’m very conscious about keeping it drum and bass because I want to keep the heavy aspect of it. A lot of people that come to the shows are ravers, so I want to keep that balance.
What were some of the standouts for you? Jazz Cafe in London must’ve been incredible.
Yeah, it was amazing. The whole thing was eye-opening because it changed my way of thinking. It gave me the belief and I know this concept can be bigger now, whereas before the lockdown I wasn’t listening to myself enough. It took the world pausing for me to realise that.
Lockdown really gave everyone, some for the first time, the time to think about what it was they wanted to do. What did it give you a chance to re-evaluate?
It gave me a chance to re-evaluate everything – the fundamentals of myself as a human, what I do like and don’t like. I started skating every day when before lockdown I hadn’t skated for fifteen years. It was always as big a part of my life as music, but I’d let music suppress that part of me. Not just that, but walking, cycling, and connecting with nature.
It can be the simplest things that make you happy…
Of course. The time that I spent doing these things would have been the time that I was recovering from being waved. All that time and enjoyment was sucked away. If it wasn’t for the shows, I wouldn’t have been drinking because I realised during lockdown that it all stemmed from stage fright.
When I originally started getting on the mic, I was so terrified that I would get through it with dutch courage. Times that by 20 years and it goes from that one drink to having a bottle on set.
From Club Xtreme in the 90s to now, I guess that the habit just formed and never really went away?
Literally. I wouldn’t drink at all throughout the week. Then it would get to Friday and I would drink until Sunday. But then I wouldn’t drink again through the week – it was literally all about stage fright. That aspect of my life got taken away for two years and there was no need to drink. People ask if I went to therapy and I say no, there was just no stage fright for two years.
How do you deal with it now?
I believe I was born to make music but never to be up on stage. I’m still the same but I’ve realised I don’t need that to help it. The more I look at being on stage, the more I see it as meditation. You’re trying to hold it, the outside world is trying to break in, but once you start enjoying it you forget about the anxiousness. I’m not running away from it anymore, I’m trying to hit it head-on.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it. No one stops drinking or taking drugs because they hate it, they stop because they love it. And to be honest, I’ll never say that I wouldn’t drink again but it just doesn’t work in that club scenario.
The problem was using drink to mask something else
Exactly. When you break down anyone with an addiction it’s always down to that. No one just drinks because they love to drink, they’re doing it because they’re trying to suppress something else. As you get older, you process things more and it just doesn’t work for me anymore.
I think the fact that you reflected and did it off your own back is really powerful.
To be honest with you, I might not be here right now if I was still drinking and suppressing my feelings in the way that I was. I’d gone past rock bottom but I was able to mask it because everyone was getting waved in the club. That was the problem, it’s cool to do it there. But now, it’s just good to be free and out in the sunshine.
It’s interesting that you say that about clubs. It’s normal to drink there, but if you were drinking at 11 am the problem is there for the world to see. In your situation, the drinking was normalised.
I’m also from Manchester which is Rock n’ Roll – everyone’s Liam Gallagher and everyone’s got that swag about them. I’ve said it before but I became a character and everyone wanted me to be that character, they were feeding the monster.
You’ve said that you’ve never been so clear-headed making music, how rewarding is it for you to be able to put out a body of work in this headspace and mindset?
It’s a new territory for me and a totally different experience. I’ve approached it in the same way but it’s come from a much different perspective. I’m not a different person but I’m in a much different space.
Were there any aspects that made it more challenging creatively writing it from this space?
I think that is an excuse that you make to yourself. I was born to make music because I’m rubbish at everything else, so after 30 years I trust myself to do it. The process is the same, but I just feel more clear-headed and sharper writing it.
Is ‘Del-Rok-Ski’ the reflection of where you are now?
Definitely. If it was a colour, it would go from dark purple to tiffany blue. It’s still murky, but it’s getting lighter and lighter. That’s not just the album, but myself in general.
In true DRS fashion, the album is packed with collaborations as well. I’d love to know why you’ve always put such an emphasis on collaborations.
I think that life is a collaboration. This whole thing is to be shared, music is for us all, and the best things happen when two people come together. As an artist, I’ve thrived off of collaboration. I think it’s everything.
You’ve got a mix of old and new collaborators on the album. What is it about the long-time collaborators, such as Tyler Daley, that makes you want to carry on making music with them?
It just becomes telepathic. I’ve known Tyler for twenty years so our friendship has just got tighter and stronger over the years. That translate to the studio where we can just 100% be ourselves and that’s a rarity in the studio. It’s just natural.
100%. How did the two of you meet?
Someone gave me a CD from a hip-hop group called Body Rock and Tyler was in it. They were amazing and I can remember hearing his angelic singing voice and I thought woah, who is this guy. Over the years, we’ve always checked in with each other and the friendship has grown.
You can hear the chemistry on all of the songs you’ve made together, it’s almost like the voices were meant to be together.
It’s mad as well because we went to the same school but I’m about ten years older than him. We grew up in the same area and we know the same people, but just a decade apart. We’ve walked the same path but at different times. That’s probably where a lot of the chemistry comes from.
Another part of the album I wanted to touch upon was the artwork. What’s the story behind that?
Yeah, it was made by Oscar Grasby. The album cover was originally from a photo that I took in Ibiza on my birthday. I put the selfie online and about a month later he painted it as a photo and tagged me in the post. I knew that I needed to make a project for that cover and at the same time this album project was going on. Shogun were onboard with it and since then he’s drawn the hands for inside the vinyl and has painted the artwork for all the singles too.
He’s done all of this whilst at university studying a Master’s in Fine Art. He’s young and really into the music so this must be like dream shit. It’s now on vinyl, an album cover, and a t-shirt.
The power of the internet…
100%. He even came to my house to drop the paintings off and I was showing him the t-shirts. As the person I am, I thought what can I do to give this back to the world. A lot of my artwork has come from things like this.
It’s all about giving back to the community.
It’s the same ethos as collaboration. You should share and pass it on.
To round things off, what do you want people to take away from this album?
Just be honest. Life will be a lot easier if you’re honest with other people and honest with yourself. Just keep your ego in check and be honest with yourself. The more I do it, the easier things are. That’s it, Del-Rok-Ski is the sound of honesty. I’m an MC, I’m 47 years old this year, and this album is where I’m at. This is the sound of me now.