For the Chord Marauders, 2017 was an important year. The London-based, jazz-infused label is a collective between artists Geode, Congi, B9 & Jafu and a beacon of originality in the dubstep universe. The year saw label head Geode's first full-length release Beluga, as well as Jafu's first LP Second Impressions, making him the last of the four founders to release on the label. All of this solidified their label as a major force on the heels of Groove Booty Four, their most successful compilation release to date, which featured a release with Ago of Innamind/Blacklist, a groovy lounge track from circula (sic), and coverage in Vice's THUMP. The compilation was also their first vinyl release, a trend they have kept up with that's put them on the radar of the crate-diggers and audiophiles which frequent any genre that traces its roots back to Jamaican sound system culture.
2017 was also the first year Congi played in North America outside of Denver, the most hipster place to live in North America if you like bass music. He was booked for Shambhala Music Festival at the Salmo River Ranch in British Columbia, Canada where B9, Geode, and Jafu (a native Canadian himself) played in 2015. Since then, the label has only achieved greater success. As a result, Congi, Geode, and Jafu will hit Shambhala Music Festival on August 10-13 for what appears to be one of the only label showcases in this legendary festival’s history. They’ll play at "The Grove", an intimate stage much favored by dubstep-heads. Vigilant fans of Shambhala's dubstep culture have had the privilege of watching the slow build of Chord Marauders unfold before their very eyes. This year, their showcase will likely be one of the most enchanting and brilliantly original blocks of music all weekend. As each of the label’s members continues to ascend in their career paths, this unique moment will likely become the most monumental achievement yet for the jazzy and melodic sound they champion.
In 2012, when Chord Marauders began to form, the word “dubstep” had gone through major upheaval. What was once a small but solid underground sound that had slowly grown from UK garage, 2-step, and other hardcore fuzzy bass noises in London (particularly the Croydon area), transformed into an aggressive genre of EDM, and become an international sensation in the meantime. Scarcely more than a decade after the creation of Forward>> - a club night that was the incubator for the fledgling new noise - the whole concept of “dubstep” had undergone a shift from the hush-hush darkness and grit of deep bass culture in London to the bass growls and high screeches of what dubstep purists call “brostep”. This new evolution paid more lip service to the neurofunk (an offshoot of techstep, itself a drum n bass concept) era of London bass music, encouraging less atmosphere and more big snares, often with a jumbled arrangement of speedy drums.
The vibe had died and been replaced with more of the soulless junk that had inspired movements towards the dubstep sound in the first place. In this brave new world of dubstep's mainstream acceptance and coopting by EDM culture, the phrase “melodic dubstep” can all too easily signal songs you'd find reposted by Suicide Sheep on Youtube: popular feelings in easily consumable verses, glossy drops for the smiling dancers, and dramatic frequency shifts to drive home the “heavy metal” (read: pop-emo) influence. It means wide-eyed proclamations of “feels”, it means a community more into progressive trance than dub reggae, and it means Chord Marauders faced (and faces) an uphill battle to market their sound. This was the state of affairs when the Marauders began to connect to each other, trading project files and contemplating a go at their own music label to breathe new life into the stagnant dubstep community.
Each of the four projects under the label's banner (Geode, Congi, Jafu, and B9) has a distinctively melodic bent, usually using the synth keys to drive the mood, but there is rarely a time where the mood is uplifting, making it unsuitable for highly commercialized “raves”. Trapped in the “melodic dubstep” box, they would each have a low likelihood of both succeeding as artists and retaining their unique voices without one another's support. With their unity, each have been able to release a full-length LP without losing sight of the goal of pushing the now-antiquated dubstep sound back into a new and challenging territory. They lead this effort alongside the slick badmen of Deep Medi and the cerebral technicians of Innamind/Blacklist. Indeed, their leadership has netted them a release by FLO, an up-and-coming artist from Slovenia, so it is safe to say they are actively changing and challenging bass culture with their association.
Having built such rapport with Shambhala as to be able to promote their label through the festival, Chord Marauders is slated to totally redefine “melodic dubstep” and bring listeners back to the roots of the sound. We've seen Shambhala lift the appeal of acts that refuse to neatly fit a populist mold, with Stylust and Stickybuds as great examples. The Chord Marauders showcase suggests that Shambhala’s attentiveness to dubstep purity will be like steel in the face of the festival’s ever-rising popularity. In other news, Skream still plays house.