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DRS: the MC who fell to earth

With a career spanning 30 years, more than 400 tracks to his name and a history hosting the biggest stages, DRS recently embarked on a new, ground-breaking chapter with his headline live show tour: The Man Who Fell To Earth. Jake Hirst hears the story behind a project representing something much greater than music for DRS

A Thursday night drum & bass gig in Bristol is standard these days, considering its reputation as a home for d&b. But this event is different. It’s the arrival of DRS’ The Man Who Fell To Earth tour — the MC’s debut headline live show, touring through eight UK cities between March and April 2022. We’re chatting backstage at Lost Horizon — one of the city’s newest event spaces — and this is the Manchester-born artist’s sixth show in two weeks. Is his body feeling the repercussions? You bet.

“I’m an old man now,” he laughs, sitting back in his chair donning a pair of purple Ray-Bans, hiding his tired eyes. “I should be putting my slippers on!” There’s no time for that though. DRS is playing to his biggest streaming listenership in Bristol tonight, and it’s got him in a reflective mood. “Bringing the band here and selling out the venue is a blessing,” he says. “I’ve come here for many years as an MC in the small print supporting DJs, but we’ve turned the tables. That’s how the whole tour feels.”

At the age of 46, DRS has earned his name as a stalwart of the music scene, from his pioneering hip-hop work with Broke ‘n’ English, to achieving heights in d&b with critically-acclaimed albums such as ‘Mid Mic Crisis’ and lyrics on legendary productions including ‘The View’ with LSB and Tyler Daley. But the idea of DRS being the name at the top of a flyer was a possibility that eluded him — until he took on a new agent. “I’ve spent my life trying to get to this moment of headlining a tour and selling out shows,” DRS reveals. “My agent saw my monthly streaming numbers weren’t correlating with bookings, so he felt it was time to change my direction, and that’s the purpose of this tour.”

It began with live show experimentations at Manchester’s Gorton Monastery and London’s Jazz Café, with support from friends including Untold Orchestra, 8 Gold Rings, Evabee and Dogger, but after selling out both shows, DRS saw the opportunity for a headline tour. Whereas the artist was previously “seen as an add-on to other people’s shows”, he was ready to be the show. This has been an issue plaguing d&b for years — MCs being cast as extras instead of leading roles. But with newfound self-belief, DRS was ready to rip up the script. “I realised I’ve had rules dictated to me for years: ‘This is what you earn. This is where you are on the flyer.’ These rules have been around forever, but I began questioning them, and things started happening.”

As we chat, it becomes clear this isn’t just a tour showcasing DRS’ music. It’s a calling to MCs who didn’t think it was possible to have a headline live show. This is arguably the reason why there is a feeling of celebration in the air all evening. From people interrupting our chat to salute DRS, to Evabee on the mic before DRS’ set saying she has been inspired by him since she was 15 years old, to familiar faces including Ray Keith, Keeno, Charli Brix and MC Carasel in attendance — the theme of the event is showing gratitude towards an MC who does so much, yet asks for so little. It’s a buzz DRS highlights has been present throughout the tour, as each show “creates an energy that lifts the room”. “After the Manchester gig, Dub Phizix told me he cried twice,” DRS says. “It’s mad, because people have been saying the show is one of the best things they’ve seen.”

You could put it down to the “real life occurrences” behind DRS’ lyrics — like ‘Missing You’, ‘The View’ and ‘Constant Reminder’ being written around the time DRS’ good friends Marcus Intalex and Salford John died — or the fact we’re seeing DRS present his music in an emotionally-charged live environment. Either way, there’s something special about embedding d&b into a live setting. For this show, DRS is on stage with 8 Gold Rings (a band), Untold Orchestra’s horn section, and Dogger on the decks. Journeying through d&b, hip-hop, jazz and soul, it is DRS like few have seen him before — vibing on stage like it’s a jamming session with his Manchester mates.

“My tracks are usually spread out in mixes, so when you hear them together in the show, it creates this crazy energy with people connecting to my music in a new way,” DRS mentions. “People think they know me, but after the show, they’re like, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’ It’s always been here. I’ve just never had the chance to do it before.”

DRS performing live on tour

“For 30 years, I’ve been privileged with people listening to my music and buying tickets to see me. I appreciate everything and everyone making this happen. When I enter the venue, I’ll even hug the bouncers”

Despite the connection his lyrics have with listeners, it becomes apparent connecting with the audience is something DRS has struggled with — revealing he used to have “crazy anxiety about getting on stage”

Looking fans in the eyes was a no-go (which is probably why you’ll always see him wearing sunglasses at shows). DRS spent 15 years masking his anxiety with booze and hard drugs, which led to an unhealthy addiction, but during lockdown and inspired by the birth of his son, he embraced sobriety. “I’ve been sober two years now,” he says with a big smile. “Truth is, I wouldn’t have been able to do this tour if I was in the same place. I’d be rolling up fucked for the gig or a no-show.”

The tour has been an opportunity for DRS to experience his music in a new light. “Being drunk and high for 15 years, you subdue many things. Now I’m sober, it’s like having a realisation.” He reveals this is where the tour concept originates from. “The Man Who Fell To Earth is a play on the way I’ve come down, become sober, and hit the earth with a crash.”

For the first time in his career, the artist feels “present” in the room. This is clear throughout the event too, from DRS bouncing off the band, to him staying long after his performance, chatting with fans and helping run the merch stand. But despite his anxieties improving, “I still don’t look at the crowd much,” he chuckles. Being a 350-capacity venue, it’s hard to avoid people at Lost Horizon — and DRS embraces it, showing love to the packed crowd all evening. Taking the show to intimate, unorthodox venues has been a focus throughout the tour — allowing fans to get closer than ever to DRS. Maybe it’s the newfound confidence of a man embracing sobriety, or maybe it’s just the attitude of an artist who has always remained grounded, despite what his tour title says.

“It’s important to give back to the people with the production,” DRS says. “For 30 years, I’ve been privileged with people listening to my music and buying tickets to see me. I appreciate everything and everyone making this happen. When I enter the venue, I’ll even hug the bouncers.”

It’s a refreshing sense of humility from an artist of DRS’ stature, but it’s not a surprise. We’re talking about the artist who withdrew himself from the DrumandBassArena Awards Best MC category to give others the limelight. But DRS is in the spotlight with this tour, and it’s a moment he’s not taking for granted. “I’ve had the spotlight on me before, but because of the cloud I was under, it passed. I’ve done all kinds of crazy shit as an MC propping other people up, but this is the most meaningful thing I’ve done. These things don’t happen often in a lifetime, so it’s important to not let them pass you by. Like they say, every dog has its day, and I feel like I’m having mine right now.”

Jake Hirst is a freelance writer. You can find him on Instagram

Photos: Sarah Ginn