Introducing Tim Sweeney and Beats In Space
By Nick Sylvester
We’re at the point where any music you want can come out of any THING you want, at any time of the day, at any price you’re willing to entertain. It’s beyond overwhelming — which is to say off the bat: There’s something just nice about a good old-fashioned FM radio show like Beats In Space.
Every Tuesday night at 10:30pm, anybody within radius of WNYU’s transmitter can tune into 89.1 FM for this dance music show hosted by the DJ Tim Sweeney. Tim has had the show since he was a college student—so 15 years now. And while he’d bristle at the idea of himself being a “renowned DJ” (he is) or even an “in-demand DJ” (ditto), I’ll say that if you love dance music, few things are better than Tim’s show. You can also listen online afterwards. But especially when I listen live, it feels a lot like eavesdropping. Special guests drop in to play records (Prosumer, Seth Troxler), regulars swing by and heckle (Juan Maclean, Doug Lee), and at least one recurring caller, a temperamental man named Victor from Washington Heights, weighs in with praise and less-than-praise. This is as close as you can get to a clubhouse — the sound and soundtrack of friends playing new songs for each other, talking about music, razzing each other for things you can’t quite understand.
It’s easy, for me at least, to see why Tim became the center of all this. I and other music people are drawn to his quiet enthusiasm, his devotion to craft, his sense of New York history. He’s had good mentors too. Tim interned with the legendary Steve Stein — Steinski — who legendarily would take a whole week to prep a single two-hour radio mix. Tim also interned at DFA Records under James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy, right when things were getting good. (Trivia: You can hear Tim play sax on the DFA remix of Radio 4’s "Dance To The Underground.”) From there he became a mainstay at the legendary DFA parties in the early and mid 00s, and developed a reputation as a DJ not for his skill or taste but for his empathy—having a sixth sense to him about when he could take a party to another plane. Like the time he played the first Holy Ghost! 12” at Studio B… I was there!
Then there’s Beats In Space Records. I don’t know how Tim finds the time to run this impeccable label of his—now into double digits. But it doesn’t surprise me that, between Tim traveling the world and the world traveling to Tim, he finds great tunes that would otherwise slip by the rest of us. After A Laughing Light of Plenty’s beardo-disco stomp “The Rose”, Tim approached the group’s Eddie Ruscha with a simple question: Is there anything else? That’s how Secret Circuit came to be— killer psych techno disco pop, which is a neat enough summation of Tim’s tastes too. Since then BIS has released gritty schaffel (Gonno’s “Are You Asleep”), spartan house (Jee Day’s “Sum Of Love”), and soft-focus noir-pop (Paradis’s “Hemisphere”).
All those are monsters, but the story I keep coming back to is Lauer. Before Philip Lauer released music on Tim’s label, he was a fan of Tim’s show. And I like to think I can hear the Beats In Space influence in Lauer’s “Macsat Ring Down” — the clean, glitchy rhythms that fit together puzzle-like, the call and response bass and lead lines, the slow drip of overdrive. It seems custom built for Tim. Total hogwash maybe, and Tim would blush at the suggestion. As a radio host, DJ, label honcho — in any of these humble roles, let alone all of them, Tim’s aim is humble too: Make people excited about the music that excites him. But here he is: releasing records on Beats In Space that he would play on Beats In Space radio, by artists influenced by records Tim previously played on Beats In Space…
I mean, wow, right? Snake got your tongue, Tim? If he won’t gloat, I will.