This interview was the first time I spoke to one of my true heroes and really marked a turning point for me. When Ben ‘Safire’ Finocchiaro contacted me to interview DRS in advance of BBA x Plasma Audio’s show at My Aeon with Skeptical on 29 April 2017, I’d shed a skin and stepped into some new dancing shoes. A lot happened that night, which triggered a step change for me as I began to realise that anything was possible.
RIP to the late, great Marcus Intalex who passed away one month after this feature was published.
This feature was originally published on the disbanded pulseradio.net
Manchester’s best pint of Guinness, LTJ Bukem and why you should always record your mashup sesh with MC DRS
Manchester’s finest, MC DRS is on his way to Australia for the first time in six years, ready to raise the bars with his own unique blend of Northern spoken word poetry. Prepare to shift your perception about everything you ever believed about the art as we talk mashup sessions, melody and the best place to get a pint of Guinness in Manchester with Salford’s original truth spitter.
It all began for Delroy ‘DRS’ Pottinger when MCing at Club Extreme in Bournemouth in the mid 90s, where a golden ticket quite literally walked in the door and took his career to another dimension.
‘LTJ Bukem and MC Conrad were there on the Saturday,’ he reminisces.
‘Monday morning I get a call out the blue. I thought they were taking the piss. ‘Hi I’m Bukem’s manager, we heard you at the weekend and we like your stuff. Do you want to join us on tour?’ I was about 18. From there it just snowballed. My first proper gig was MCing for Bukem at Cream. It was broadcast live on Radio 1 for the Essential mix. I only got in because Conrad couldn’t make it. It was trial by fire. Listening back it sounds like shit,’ he laughs. ‘But I was just trying to find my way at the time.’
DRS is one of the lyrical linchpins of Manchester’s soulful drum and bass wave as championed by Soul:R head honcho Marcus Intalex. His rhymes can be found undulating over the waves of Calibre, Jubei and Dub Phyzix to name but a few of his collabs. ‘I’ve known Marcus for over 20 years,’ says DRS. ‘He’s always been someone I’ve looked up to musically. Our working relationship has always been good. We are like brothers. We know which side the bread is buttered. We have our ups and downs, but crucially we always agree on the music.’
‘I think dnb as a whole has had a massive impact on the music scene globally for over 20 years. The Soul:r and Signature labels represent own little corner of the global market, where we take things a bit deeper, on a more soulful tip. It’s usually a certain kind of person anyway who likes our stuff. To be able to have been touring it for so long and watch it grow is the greatest thing ever. And it comes in waves. It’s like watching a flower flourish; it dies off for a bit then blossoms again. We are so proud of what we have managed to achieve globally. And crucially, we believe in it.’
At the very core of everything they do is Manchester, the canvas for their imagination, a living muse of rain soaked melody in rainbows of grey. Painting with grit, sleet and northern banter, it’s the sort of sentiment that can warm the cockles even more than a pie and a pint.
‘Manchester means everything,’ says DRS with obvious affection. ‘It’s the source of what we do. We’ve always said there’s something in the water and honestly, there is. It feels like this city has found a way to celebrate the grit in everything. It doesn’t have to be music. It’s there in the art, the fashion. We project a certain mood, it’s deep and darkish, but somehow still uplifting. I think it’s because we know how to laugh at ourselves. We never take ourselves too seriously. But we do know we are the originators, the foundation layers of this strain of Manchester music. And fuck are we proud of it.’
So where do you go if you want to crack on in Manny on a rainy afternoon?
‘My favourite pub has to be the Eagle Arms in Salford. On the outside it just looks like normal pub. But it’s got a really sick hidden venue inside. Not many people know about it. It’s also got the best pint of Guinness anywhere in Manchester. If I come off tour and I’m gonna go for a beer that’s the first place I go to. In fact in the video for ‘Missing’ I did with Tyler Daley, that’s the old school pub we are sitting in.’
With the city ever present as his backdrop, he’s certainly covered a fair few k’s between Salford and Deansgate in his videos. ‘The walking theme is intentional. It feels like I’m always walking, that I never sit still – same goes for my mind, it’s always wondering off somewhere.’
Perhaps that has something to do with the effortless way his music crosses genre. From spitting acid rain venom on wheely bins with the Broke-N-English crew of Manchester anthem ‘Bun Ya’ to the introspective melodies of tunes like ‘The View’ with Tyler Daley it would seem that all bases are covered. You don’t see such breadth of genre in many.
‘It just comes from the heart,’ he says. ‘There’s usually a positive sentiment underlying. I collaborated with DJ Patife to write ‘I Will.’ We were talking via email about the state of the world and he sent me the tune. He said he wanted to make people smile. The conversation sparked the idea and the lyrics were right on the tip of my tongue. In that state, I write quickly – it’s like a tap. If a beat gives me the right emotion, I can just turn the tap on and the stuff comes out – Calibre is the same with his music.’
‘I’ve been writing words for 30 years. I never question anything. If I felt it at the time I can trust that organic feeling. I feel like I have found my harmony in life, not many people are that lucky. ‘I Will’ is perfect example of that. In what I do, it’s almost unfashionable to talk about love or emotions. It’s all about who you hate and how to be aggressive and defiant. By that means, I’m kinda happy if it makes people feel a bit uncomfortable.’
‘ ‘The View’ was Tyler and myself sitting down having a blaze mulling over tunes to add the verse to. We both picked that one and both knew it could be special. With the ideas, burning to bust out from head to page, it took just an hour to write. Listening back to what we had created on the way home in my Uber, I knew it was going to turn the world over. Do you know when you hear something and you just know?’
‘Sometimes it feels like you are channelling a message from somewhere else. I’m not religious or spiritual, but I believe sometimes that word or music comes from somewhere deeper inside. Some people find it strange. When you try and explain it you sound weird. But it’s true. You can go blank in the studio, then ten minutes later, the words come as if from nowhere. I reckon the more you exercise that muscle in your brain, the better it gets. You just have to trust in that initial feeling.’
Sometimes the feeling can come from the strangest of places. There’s an ad lib at the start of ‘Bun Ya’ that’s barely decipherable, but sounds like the kind of incomprehensible backroom ramblings from the kind of session where you haven’t seen the light of day for three days. That’s because it was.
‘When we used to get twisted and come home from a club to Skittles’ studio for a bit of a disco we’d set the computer on record for the whole session. It’s mental how many ideas are sparked when you’re in that state. The amount of sparks for our tunes that have come from these conversations. Video concepts, mad stunts, Levelz lyrics – there was a time when it felt like everything from Manchester came from those recordings. How many times after having a sesh you think, oh we had so many good ideas last night, but then in the morning, you can’t remember what they are? Crazy moments like that have made their way into folklore. I swear, recording it is gold. Everyone is so honest and open shit comes out. I’m letting some big level secrets out here!’
DRS is very much looking forward to returning to Australia. He feels at home in a big city like Melbourne in ‘a metropolis which hasn’t lost its identity. I like the vibe and I love the graf. I’m shooting a video out there. Might have a skate and link up with some local producers out there.’ He’s then got another four gigs lined up in New Zealand before returning to Europe for the start of another epic summer, with plenty of touring and a new label starting and even the promise of another EP on Soul:R before the year is out.
But it seems that whatever he puts his hand to, every lyric DRS writes has some sort of silver lining, and a pure burning fire from the pit of its belly. What he demonstrates is a respect for the music as a spoken word poet with a deep awareness of subtly, rhythm and melodic space.
‘Some people like to make things about them. I am a producer myself. I know the subtleties. It’s like you don’t put your drums super loud, or bass up too high – every element has to compliment the other. It’s a balanced way of thinking about things; a good way to lead your life. I’m just an awkward, introverted person really. I guess why people identify with my lyrics is because people have the feelings themselves. It’s honest, I’m not superman. A lot of MCs take the mike to brag – I’ve got this, I’ve been here, I’ve spent that – it’s all bollocks. That’s not me. I find the smallest thing in life beautiful. It’s from that perspective that my music emerges from and why I am still in love with what I do.’