In Conversation: Tim Sweeney

Plus, check out the new single from the Beats In Space lynchpin...

First rising to prominence through the LCD Soundsystem affiliated DFA Records, Tim Sweeney is now cemented as one of the finest radio hosts in electronic music through his work with Beats in Space; the show he founded nearly twenty-one years ago.

Whether it’s breaking a new-New York City selector, bigging up his favourites or reaching out across the Americas, Europe and beyond in the quest for new and exciting listening experiences, Tim has kept the show remarkably varied throughout its life, reflecting the eclectic tastes that reside within himself.

He isn’t just a host, either. Today Clash premieres the NYC native’s first solo production – a synth heavy cut of ethereal, distinctly New York goodness arriving on San Francisco label Public Release as part of a various artists compilation showcasing the past, present and future of the imprint.

It’s 2pm in the UK and 9am in New York. Clash sit down with Tim to chat about Beats in Space, the current city soundscape and the invincibility of radio.

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Since the pandemic hit, how have you been keeping busy?

So, the radio station shut down. The station is part of New York University, and they sent everyone home, but we’re still broadcasting online. I connect to the programme director’s computer, that’s connected to the radio stations mixer, to broadcast on Tuesday nights.

There’s no more in person mixes. No more polaroids. At the start it I basically asked the people that I already had booked to prerecord a mix, then afterwards I found it as an opportunity to ask some people I’ve been wanting to get on that have never played the show before as I know they won’t be in New York at any point soon, so I may as well ask them now.

I switched my thinking on the radio. DJ gig wise there’s been nothing. At the start I did some online streams, but that’s really died out. I think people have got pretty tired of it, I guess.

Is the pandemic almost a testament to the invincibility of radio?

For sure! I can’t ever see myself stopping radio. I don’t know how I’d stop. On September 11th we were still doing radio right after. You find a way. There’s definitely issues that come about, but you deal with it and keep going. I think people appreciate that it’s still happening.

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How do you maintain the passion for radio and music? After nearly 21 years of running it is bound to run low at points, what ignites it again?

With the radio show, I try and keep the music pretty varied. That keeps it interesting for me. This week was Kate NV from Russia, last week Sonic-Boom and Nosedrip. Those were different things than normal. Then the week before we had Josh Caffe and Zillas on Acid – clubbier stuff.

I do try and mix it up to keep myself engaged. After twenty-one years, I have a harder time looking on social media and looking at big name DJs and all their posts and not letting out a sigh. I see through more of the bullshit now.

I just want to keep it interesting. Right now, I know there are things I can improve on. I haven’t really been interviewing people that much because I’ve been trying to get the video element ready, but I haven’t perfected it yet. I want to add more interviews into the mixes now that they’re not in the studio with me.

An interview over the phone or zoom is different to when you’re with someone face to face. I’ve always had them there in the studio with me. You can sense what people are open to talking about and where to take it. That’s not to say you can’t do that over the phone, but it’s just about finding the way.

What are your thoughts on the current NYC scene? Most of the music I’ve been buying recently has been coming from people like DJ Swisha, Kush Jones and the Haus of Altr compilations, which features some of the most exciting electronic music I’ve heard in some time.

Those guys are all doing great stuff. MoMA Ready is on the radio show this Tuesday, I’m super excited for that. I’ve had AceMo on before too; there’s definitely a lot happening in New York. It’s fun to see, especially with this different sound happening.

I’m always looking at things here in New York, and I want to promote stuff from here for sure, I’m always trying to find the next New York artist to bring on. People are making music all the time, it’s a big city.

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What is the situation like in NYC for the arts and venues right now?

I think venues are having a really tough time right now. I think there’s something happening, like the landlord can’t kick them out just yet if they can’t pay the rent, but I think that will end at some point. There really isn’t much help.

I know [Chuck] Schumer, the senator from New York, he’s big on the music scene. He gave a press conference with James Murphy somewhere, I think in Brooklyn, and tried to save and make money for some venues, but I haven’t seen anything come of that yet. There hasn’t been any legislation passed to save places.

It’s going to be a hard time for clubs. There’s a few that have a little bit of outdoor space, so they’re serving drinks outside, like Nowadays. Even when it opens back up, I don’t see people wanting to get really crowded. It’s difficult.

For sure, I keep imagining this beautiful reunion when everything opens up again, but it might not be like that.

Some of my friends are big germophobes already, I don’t know if I can see them going out again (laughs). It’s going to be tough. In New York, they’re allowing restaurants to open to twenty five percent capacity inside from this weekend, but the bars have struggled. I can’t say what’s going to happen, but the scene is hurting.

You have your first solo track coming out on San Francisco’s Public Release at the beginning of the month. Can you chat to me a little about the track and how you are affiliated with the label?

I’ve known Eugene, who runs the label, for a long time. He’s been on the radio show twice. I did a disco edit twelve-inch for him back in 2009, I think that was the first release on the label. I’ve always kept in touch with him.

I’ve been working with Lauer on a bunch of stuff as T&P, so this music kind of came from one of those sessions. I took it back home and turned it into a New York thing. The song is titled after where the radio station was originally based, on 8th and Broadway. I have a lot of stuff sitting on my hard drive that hasn’t come out yet, I’m waiting for the right time, or when I feel right about the music.

Working with Eug is like working with a friend. I know he’s going to present it right. This compilation features loads of people I like, it’s fun. There’s a remix coming from another friend, too.

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It’s nice when it’s got that friendly vibe. The press release talk about featuring artists that symbolise the past, present and future of the label. It’s cool when releases have that.

For sure, I think Euge’s whole thing is working with people he has some sort of connection to. He isn’t cold calling people, it’s a friend of a friend. He knows a lot of people. There’s some story to everything there, and that’s why it feels so nice.

Eugene is doing it because he loves the music, it’s fun to work with him. I didn’t want to put it out on my own label because it’s hard to promote your own music.

What else have you got in the pipeline in regards to the radio show and the Beats in Space label?

So next week we have MoMA Ready and Logic1000 on the radio show. I’ve been loving everything Logic has been doing. The week after I’ve got D.Dee from Vancouver, he runs Pacific Rhythm. He has a bunch of unreleased label stuff, so I’m psyched for that, and then I have Hoshina Anniversary from Tokyo. He sent me some music and it was awesome, so I really wanted him to do a mix for the show.

The label business is tough right now. We’re still pushing ahead with it, but it’s not easy with so many record stores still being closed. The Dukes of Chutney record just came out, it’s a good one for the summer, very chilled and relaxed.

The next record that’s coming out is the Lord Of The Isles twelve-inch. It’s a four tracker, with one side being more dancey and the other being a little more spaced-out. That’s due out in November.

Besides that, there’s one other LP coming in January, but I can’t say anything about that just yet. It’s been hard; even Lord Of The Isles got pushed back because of issues with the pressing plant. It’s been frustrating, some places closed down because of Covid and then when they got back up and running they were all backed up, and then people tried to do stuff during the summer and when it’s really hot in a pressing plant it can mess it up. We had one of those issues, so we’re waiting on another plate being made.

The record business is still going, but it’s tough right now. For me, I’m accepting people sending me music, but I’m making sure people are aware that it probably won’t happen for a while. I’m still working on music at home, too. That might come out soon, who knows.

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Words: Andrew Moore
Photo Credit: James Hartley

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