In August 2018, London-based dubstep producer Geode was unable to perform at the Chord Marauders showcase at Shambhala Music Festival due to the severe illness of Ola, his partner. Her illness has persisted, and so Chord Marauders, the innovative label Geode co-founded around 2013, releases Polar Bear, a charity LP compilation to support Ola. All proceeds will go towards Ola's medical bills, particularly towards a costly new medication not yet covered by British healthcare. The compilation features each of the Marauders’ label artists - B9, Congi, FLO, Geode, and Jafu - and a number of their associates. Ola, we hope you're comfortable, because our ears are certainly feeling plush on your behalf.
Polar Bear is a striking assertion of the label's usual ideals, with opener “Jazzy” by legend Sub Basics properly setting the mood through a smooth and dusky lounge aesthetic. There’s a strong attraction to the warm fuzz of a soulful ‘80s synth, with this and other conventional instrumental samples giving the arrangement a completely organic sound. Contrast this with the closing track, “Feeling This Way About You” by Marauders co-founder Congi, a bare-bones lo-fi dub, which is cold, emotional and isolating with its plucked guitar tears. The space between is the realm of melodic intrigue the Marauders have carved out for themselves in the speculative territory of “third wave dubstep”.
Fellow co-founder Jafu turns in “Eyes Down”, a by-the-numbers Jafu track that manages to be one of the best on the compilation, bouncing and popping on a skanky two-step. Geode encourages healthy breathing with “Peppermint”, a layered pep-up track with classy Casio sounds and a low-key hand-drummed finish. Co-founder B9 teams up with Circula to bring us “Stage”, which balances a delicate off-kilter synth melody with a noire-dipped horn while jungle breaks drive the mood. Geode returns towards the end of the compilation in a more experimental and emotional mood to deliver “Cluster” (feat. Alicia Kiah), an ode to cluster chords with moving violin and vocals.
Polar Bear is highlighted by a six-and-a-half-minute epic from Phaeleh, a well-known supporter of the Chord Marauders. The veteran producer is in full form here. His fast yet calming contribution “Roller” goes through progressive shifts in tone and rhythm, grounded by wooden flute, bird calls, and the wind in the trees. Yet it’s up-and-comer Kercha who puts in our favorite track on the compilation, “Ninja”. It's a sly, low-profile dub with impressive sound design moments and moody synth key work, but in the context of the compilation it’s “the banger”. By contrast, a straightforward dub with steel drum roots like “Far Out” by Somah & Surreal feels almost ambient. Also notable is Gerwin's contribution “Reach Out”, which fits most firmly in the Chord Marauder aesthetic of all the contributions from non-label artists. The slow-n-low boom bap shuffle induces a trip-hop mindset before the arrival of a glittering pulse of synth chords and steel chimes.
The Chord Marauders never fail to suspend the audience within their particular sonic spaces. With a deep and talented network of supporters, labelmates, and associates, the label continues to integrate their sound into the greater musical consciousness with this forceful, beautiful compilation. George (Geode) brings the full strength of that network to bear in loving support of his partner. Listeners can show their support, too, by purchasing the compilation or a track or two. We wish the best for Ola - more life, more music!