Possibly not one of Theo’s best known or most celebrated cuts, but certainly one which hasn’t left my box since it came out in 1997, Lost Keys is on the B-side of his first EP for the brilliant Music Is… label. I remember picking this up for a couple of quid at the fortnightly record fair at the University of Surrey student union (an improbable source of much cut-price musical dynamite, including tons of early Goya-distributed broken beat promos and the odd super-rare vintage techno EP) but not being massively impressed until I heard Russ Gabriel drop it at The End in London a few weeks later, when it suddenly made perfect sense. Around the 2.50 mark it features a brilliantly subtle ‘up a gear’ moment, when a super-deep sub-bass kicks in and the hi-hat is embellished with little triplet rolls – something which really needs a big rig to appreciate.
In a lot of ways, this hypnotic, piano-fuelled jam is a bit of an anomaly for Theo, especially compared to something like Took Me All The Way Back, which came out the same year, or even next to Smile on the other side of the same record. For starters, it sounds to my ears like it’s entirely played and programmed, rather than sample/loop-based, and it’s free of his usual signature distortion and roughness – it’s actually verging on well-produced. I guess this variety and breadth of skill is ultimately what makes his body of work so interesting. But the main point is it’s still an unbeatably dope warm-up record which blows most other midtempo house out of the water on a system.