SF Weekly Interview with Tim Sweeney:
interview by Christina Li
Tim Sweeney started his DJ and production career in his Baltimore basement at the young age of 15. Soon after moving to New York to attend NYU, he began broadcasting his radio show Beats in Space, now in its 12th year, which brought him notoriety across the airwaves. Listeners from all over the world can tune in and hear guests like DJ Harvey, Kid Koala, and Simian Mobile Disco play their favorite records on WNYU 89.1 FM every Tuesday from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Below, Tim discusses with us how he got started, joining James Murphy's DFA Records, and where he likes to get his favorite Vietnamese coffee in S.F. He plays this Friday with Lee Foss, Le Loup and more at Public Works.
You say your radio/DJ career is much attributed to your older brother. How so?
I stole all his ideas! Now I refuse to copy him anymore because he's busy running double marathons and running the Death Race. I like a nice run around the park, but I'd rather not kill myself.
What piqued your interest in radio shows?
It was my brother who was bringing back some cassette tapes of pirate radio shows from London that got me interested in radio. Then I played on a few college radio shows when I was in high school and got hooked on the radio bug. Now, [I'm] 12 years on with my own show and I can't stop!
One of your first jobs in N.Y. was with [hip-hop producer] Steinski.What was the highlight of the internship?
Yeah, Steinski was the first person I worked for when I got to New York. I learned so much from him! He's a true New York character. I think the highlight for me was the job of going through his thousands of records, listen to them, tap out the BPM of the tracks, and then write it down on a sticker on the sleeve of the record. What an education that was listening to his records! It really opened me up to so much hip-hop, soul, funk, blues, and spoken word records.
How did you become a part of DFA records?
That happened because I was working regularly at this bar called Plant on Third Street and Avenue B in the East Village. I used to open up for a lot of parties that happened there. You know, play the slot from 7 to 10 p.m. before anyone was actually there. Luke, the singer for the Rapture, was the bartender there, and I guess he kind of liked what I played because he said I should meet these guys who were producing their new record Out of the Races and onto the Tracks. I was playing a lot of old Mo' Wax Records stuff at the start of the nights, and he said one of the guys producing the record was "Trip Hop Tim." I said, "Who?" And then Luke told me how Tim Goldsworthy was producing their record with another guy named James Murphy. I knew Goldsworthy's work from the UNKLE and Major Force West records he produced, so I told Luke he had to introduce me the next time those guys were in the bar! Well, one night they showed up, probably high on Ecstasy as they usually were in those days, and I went up to them and said hello. I made a little small talk and then asked if they needed any help in the studio. They said "Sure, come on by," and then they couldn't get rid of me!
What inspired the name of your radio show, Beats in Space?
Being 18 in New York and not knowing what I was getting myself into.
Tell us about one of your most memorable shows.
The shows aren't memorable anymore, it's the listeners! Have you heard the messages from Victor [of Washington Heights]? He wants to kill me! He gets really upset if I don't play dance music. He hated the DJ Harvey show because the interview went on for way too long, so Victor said I would get my teeth kicked in by a bunch of girls so I couldn't
interview anymore. It's pretty memorable!
What do you attribute the success of Beats in Space to?
I still don't understand it!
Since you've been doing radio shows for a while, what do you think is missing in radio today? Why do you think some stations have gone under (like our own KUSF)?
Well, there are about three corporations who own almost all the radio stations in the country and they've watered everything down to the lowest common denominator in true American fashion. You don't actually have any personalities choosing the music on most stations anymore, it's just computer-generated playlists of "stuff that works" aka "bland shit." I think that has helped to add to the slow death of radio and made young people a lot less interested in it. So then the universities see that the students don't care about radio anymore and they sell their stations for some extra cash. The whole thing is sad.
Since you frequent S.F., what are some of your favorite spots?
I like getting a nice cold Vietnamese ice coffee in the Tenderloin, then walking around until I get harassed on the street while enjoying the nice smells that remind me of New York.