Nuclear family

Tim Sanders must be going the wrong way. He's on the Dallas North Tollway, heading toward Frisco. Conventional wisdom tells us that anyone driving a van carrying music equipment, wearing dark sunglasses, and not still living with his mother should be driving south, toward Deep Ellum, Exposition Park, Lower Greenville, or some other haunt reserved for musician types. But Sanders just keeps going north until he passes the second set of toll booths...and then he keeps on driving.

Eventually, the van slows to a crawl near a row of identical suburban townhomes where his wife Jacqueline stands in the driveway in an improbably tight T-shirt, waiting to greet him after a busy day at the office. Their young son Anthony rolls by on a pair of roller blades for just long enough to wave hello. Jacqueline leads the way into the living room; and suddenly, suburbia outside seems a long way away.

Crammed in between the prefab walls and ultra-modern kitchen are all manner of computers, keyboards, equalizers, electric guitars, amps, and four-track recorders; this makeshift studio occupies the space normally reserved for dining-room furniture or a sofa or, barring that, just a soft place to sit. At the top of a carpeted staircase are bookshelves filled to capacity with true-crime stories and novels, mostly dealing with the subject of serial killers and mass murderers.

"If it weren't for music," Tim sighs, "I probably would've ended up being a serial killer."

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"We used to live downtown," Jacqueline explains of the surroundings. "But we wanted Anthony [Jacqueline's son from a previous marriage] to have good schools. I mean, we did the whole thing--struggling with the small spaces, worrying about our equipment getting stolen--but why deal with it? All the yuppies are moving downtown, so we went the other direction. We hardly ever go down there, except to go to work or do an occasional live show. I think a lot of people are getting tired of the downtown scene."

It's a prophesy hailed by writer-director-actor Dan Zucovic, whose too-hot-for-distribution feature The Last Big Thing shook up independent film festivals last year. Zucovic plays a subversive social critic who challenges everything from alternative music to journalism from his suburban headquarters in the L.A. foothills. He muses that the next cultural revolution will be based in track-housing developments and carried out on little more than a personal computer.

Tim and Jacqueline are living his dream: It was in this very room that they recorded their soon-to-be-released CD, under the nom de trip-hop Terror Couple; it was in this room that they fashioned, out of $2,000 worth of equipment and free software downloaded from the Internet, their brand of Portishead/Massive Attack/Sneaker Pimps-style trip-hop, combined it with a dose of Peter Murphy/Ted Bundy Gothic fanaticism, and then sent it out over the World Wide Web for easy mass consumption. They're the June and Ward of the techno set--cutting and pasting old vinyl records from then and making them the sound of now, trying to join in the battle from the middle of North Dallas.

"This is the future," Sanders says of his living-room setup. "I think more and more and more people are going to be doing this. All it takes is an ear for what sounds good--the rest is just cutting and pasting. Jungle [music] is like the early days of HTML [Internet programming language]: You take a basic code, then alter it and make it into your own creation."

Tim and Jacqueline have the tools and know-how to take over the world too: Tim works as a live video specialist at Audionet, the largest broadcast network on the Internet. Though the disc isn't in stores yet, it has already been released all over the world on the Terror Couple's home page. Type in, and you'll be treated to full-length samples of several songs from the still-untitled Terror Couple CD.

The disc, which sounds a whole lot better than its Web-casted counterpart, currently consists of seven songs, most of which tread territory mapped out by Tricky and Portishead, yet they fuse their trip-hop dreaminess with not a little Goth dreariness. (Indeed, such songs as "Dark Beat" and "Crawl Space" are the stuff of which parody is made; they're more amusing than a whole season's worth of "Goth Talk" on Saturday Night Live.) Where the music really shines is on upbeat tracks such as "Wonder Wonder," the William S. Burroughs-laden "Trip Out," and "Folie a Deaux," which gets a helping hand from the tomorrowpeople's Michael "Buzz" Gibson. Unfortunately, the song "Morph Out" may not make it onto the album because it contains a lengthy vocal sample from Trainspotting--but, thanks to the free frontier of the Internet, you can now hear the song with a single click of a mouse.

The Web site also offers video footage taken from an April performance at Trees--though, even with a high-speed connection, the video looks more like a flip-book missing some pages; the sound's also a little muffled, mono and then some. There are also links to other sites where one can find information on similar music styles, such as a link to a European-based site where the entire new Massive Attack CD could be heard, well before it has even been released in the U.S. or England.

"In the future, a lot of music will be distributed this way," Tim says. "It's already becoming more common in Europe. At first, record companies were scared of the Internet, but what they didn't realize was that they could use it to let people hear the music, using some sort of watermark so that it can't be directly recorded, and people will go out and buy the CD. In the video-game industry, it's called 'heroin-ware.' Like [the video game] Doom. The first version was sent out totally free, and everyone got hooked on it. So then when the second version came out, it sold millions."

For most musicians, the promise of free music over the Internet is somewhere between a blessing and a curse, a promise and a threat. It offers unlimited freedom, the ability to make music without label interference...and, most of the time, not a single penny. In an instant, the entire world can hear your music...and then forget about it once the computer is turned off. Sound quality seems to improve every day...but Real Audio and Real Video more often than not turn your $3,000 computer into a $2.99 transistor radio or a busted Watchman. On some days, the future sounds a whole lot like 1974.

But Sanders considers the computer the ultimate weapon in his fight to liberate rock and roll. He and Jacqueline (who plays bass) were founding members of Code 4, a defunct industrial rock band, but Tim is also a bona fide wizard in the studio; and his gig with Audionet, which broadcasts dozens of radio signals from one end of the earth to the other (want to hear a country station in Japan?), provides him with a box seat to the revolution. "Techno is the punk of the '90s," he says, insisting it offers the ultimate in D.I.Y. satisfaction.

"It's punk for people with hope," he says. "I'm constantly having to battle the musician's voice inside my head that says, 'No, you can't do that,' and say to myself, 'If it sounds good, yes, you can do it.'"

In his cinematic adaptation of his novel Trainspotting, Scottish author and unabashed technophile Irvine Welsh forebodes that "music is changing." It's no coincidence that Terror Couple sample those exact words on the track "Morph Out." And just to emphasize the point, Tim adds in his own subversive voice, "Throw all your records out and buy new ones"--which, he probably knows, ain't gonna happen anytime soon. After all, what would he have left to sample?

Jacqueline offers another theory about evolution in music--though this one has nothing to do with technology. She says that after years of testosterone rock, the pendulum is finally swinging back to the feminine side. "Femininity in music is basically about subtlety," she offers, "instead of that in-your-face kind of stuff."

Boosting Terror Couple's sound and image is former Spot and Enablers sideman Davis Bickston, who was born-again to the techno revolution after Tim and Jacqueline took him to see Portishead awhile back. Bickston was amazed to see the DJ acting almost as a percussionist, dropping beats from side to side. Keyboardist Semaj Wilson rounds out the foursome, especially during rare live performances, but in the end, Terror Couple is just that--a duo, a husband-and-wife team who can make their music at home, any time of day or night. Often, on Saturday mornings, they will dig through old vinyl and throw everything against the wall to see what sticks. Tim says there's a power in partners, like Chemical Brothers and Crystal Method, that's hard to beat.

"Jacqueline has the ear," he says. "She's the one who can listen to a stack of music and pick out the one beat that's cool and sexy."

Sexy--they seem to like that word, and they use it often to describe their music, as well as the process of how it's made. "Like when you get into that perfect groove," Tim says. "Because that's what good sex is all about--communication. It's about being able to say, 'Yeah, that's good, do that!' or 'No, that's no good, let's try this.'" Or just maybe, the family that plays together is the family that stays together.

Terror Couple perform May 29 at Trees.

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