The best part about "Rooted," Locked Groove's (a.k.a. Tim Van de Meutter) breakthrough track from his debut EP of the same name, was how it flipped the script on the traditional producer bait-and-switch. Where most producers snag you with a hook before introducing trickier elements, "Rooted" opened with several minutes of gunmetal-gray techno before running headlong into a clearing of dreamy synths. It was less a trick than a revelation of Van de Meutter's balanced diet: plenty of protein and vegetables, then a small dessert. This month, he's continuing to flesh out this formula on two separate EPs.
Locked Groove specializes in a gut-punch brand of tech-house whose appeal lies in its no-bullshit attitude. There are no wheels being invented here, no identities obscured, and no larger points about technology or culture, just thwump-thwump-thwump-thwumpthwump and the check, please. This makes him a DJ's producer, and it will be shocking if the tracks here don’t make Locked Groove a podcast all-star for the remainder of the year.
At their best, Locked Groove tracks are like those dried pieces of coral reef you purchase at science stores: rock-hard and abrasive to the touch but also light and holey, possessing innumerable hollow passages. Tacking Van de Meutter onto the end of Belgium's techno lineage would be a mistake; though he shares a fondness for harsh sounds relative to his peers, those early-'90s productions were wide eyed and sampledelic by comparison. Van de Meutter's buttoned-up compositions are like the child who rebels against his hippie parents by taking up accounting.
The EPs are distinct. Different Paths, which dropped earlier this month on Tiga's re-energized Turbo Recordings, is a starched, toolsy affair. The eponymous opening track sounds like a drum circle in the middle of a construction yard. "Backto91" is as po-faced and calculating as nostalgia gets; "Structure" massages quick hi-hats and industrial hiss with moaning organs. His second release for Hotflush, Keep It Simple, is comparatively light. Falling on the house side of the tech-house spectrum, "Keep Running" again plays with expectations, humming along niftily on sparse handclaps and synth jabs for four minutes until a rainbow-colored trance groove breaks out—an expertly timed reveal.
Ultimately, there's more long-term potential in a track like "Even," the closing number on the vinyl version of Keep it Simple, whose hoary samples and spiky drums shudder and convulse in ways Van de Meutter may not have predicted. For now, though, he's perfectly content to throw jab after jab. Look at the language he's employed through three EPs: "Keep It Simple," "Rooted," "Structure," Locked Groove. This is a producer going toe-to-toe with convention and leaning in for a kiss. It's refreshing to listen to a young artist come out of the gates with this brand of big-room, peak-time techno without any preconceptions about how each production is its own special snowflake. Locked Groove demands eight minutes of your time and a lot of volume, and he will bury you in rhythm.
Different Paths EP: 8/10
Keep it Simple EP: 7/10