For the last 10 years, Tim Sweeney has spent his Tuesday nights in the basement of New York University's freshman dormitories, despite the fact that he graduated from the school more than six years ago. Once there, he takes over the studios of radio station WNYU from 10:30 p.m. until 1 a.m., broadcasting his revered program, Beats in Space.
The show, which is also streamed online, is a crucial listen for DJs, producers, and electronic music fans. It has served as a platform for folks as diverse as '80s downtown No Waver Sal Principato of Liquid Liquid; Kompkat's glammy Superpitcher and Michael Mayer; legendary '70s disco party host and spinner Nicky Siano; and the master of all things rare and Balearic, DJ Harvey. Todd Burns, editor of Resident Advisor, one the most influential international electronic music Web sites, tunes an ear to what Sweeney plays. "Beats in Space is a constant listen," he says. "I love the warmth that Tim brings to the music."
Sweeney is also a DJ of worldwide renown, regularly jetting off to play parties and festivals in Australia, Southeast Asia, and Spain. Recently, he has racked up even more frequent-flyer miles, kicking off a monthly "Beats in Space" party in San Francisco.
"After 10 years, it seems like it's about time to step up and do some parties in the U.S.," he explains from the station's cramped control booth, brushing his straight brown hair off his glasses. He sighs that he can't seem to find an ideal spot for a club night in Gotham: "It's so sad to say that about New York!" He chose to set up shop in the Bay Area because he's had fun DJing in San Francisco in the past — and it can't hurt that he now has an excuse to duck into his favorite dining spots, La Taqueria and Turtle Tower.
A few months ago, Sweeney inaugurated the club night at the Triple Crown with fellow New York DJ/producer Brennan Green and Gun Club party promoter Maly Ly. The second night happened while Sweeney was touring Australia, so he brought in Scotland's Optimo and San Francisco's own 40 Thieves to make sure the party went off without a hitch. For the third "Beats in Space," Sweeney is teaming up with local DJ Conor to usher in the new decade.
Before his success, Sweeney was just a soft-spoken Baltimore transplant to New York City, studying music technology and enthusing about trip-hop and the Warp label's Artificial Intelligence compilations. As a freshman, he somehow cut through WNYU's student-run bureaucracy to land a show during his first semester. His first guest was DJ Food from Ninja Tune, and Sweeney's invitation was fairly straight-ahead: "I said, 'Hey, I do a radio show on a New York station. Do you want to come in?'" He hasn't changed his strategy much since then, no matter the guest.
The night of this interview, Sweeney is taping his 499th show with one of Detroit techno's "holy triad" of producers, Juan Atkins, on the decks. The host can't contain his excitement at hosting one of his idols. Shortly after, he will pack up to head to Indonesia, where he'll headline a few dates before arriving in San Francisco. "I wish I could find somewhere in New York, too," he laments, "but I just don't know where to do it right now." Thankfully, San Francisco can serve as his home in outer space.