Tim Sweeney and Beats in Space. The story of the man is synonymous with that of the radio show. Over the course of a decade, Sweeney has built Beats in Space into an iconic brand. In return, BIS has launched Sweeney’s career as one of New York’s most sought-after DJs.
It’s hard to believe that, ten years ago, Sweeney was an 18-year-old student at New York University, helming a little-known radio show on WNYU’s AM dial. The show started small, airing on an obscure frequency during the wee hours of the night. However, Sweeney understood the huge potential for a dance-music radio show broadcast from the heart of New York City. He envisioned a genre-breaking format, showcasing the best dance music— whether disco, new wave, Chicago house, minimal techno, Krautrock, funk and soul, or post-punk—found anywhere in the world, anytime in history. He took cues from groundbreaking disc jockeys like Detroit’s Electrifying Mojo, who thought nothing of following up Prince with a Kraftwerk or Depeche Mode record. Armed with this vision, Sweeney began pulling in heavy-hitting guest DJs on BIS, prompting WNYU’s producers to move him to the FM dial with increasingly prime timeslots. Sweeney quickly attracted a strong international following for the diverse range of artists and styles on his playlists. Guest artists who’ve appeared alongside him on the show range from avant-techno stylists Carl Craig and Superpitcher, to Australian turntablists the Avalanches, to Nordic disco producers Lindstrom and Prins Thomas.
Says Sweeney, “Since I need to do something different for each show, I’m forced to go out and discover new music every week. It can be recently released or unreleased records, or older songs that people haven’t heard before. I try to find the best music from all different genres, and then make them fit together in ways that appeal to people who might not have liked, say, disco or techno, before now. For me it’s always fun finding tracks that people don’t know about, but that sound amazing.”
Since launching BIS, Sweeney has dug deep into New York music circles. In the early days of BIS, he worked in the studio of hip-hop legend Steinski (of Double Dee & Steinski’s Lessons fame), absorbing as much as possible from the producer’s vast record collection. Later, Sweeney came aboard DFA Records, touring with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and pairing up with Tim Goldsworthy as the DJ duo T&T. His work with DFA led him to play the saxophone on the DFA remix of Radio 4’s “Dance to the Underground,” and to mix a DFA set for a 2003 Muzik magazine promo CD. He has released DFA Records’ Compilation # 2 (2004), the DFA Holiday Mix 2005, and A DFA Compilation for the Chanel Mobile Art New York Party (2008). Sweeney also collaborates with the Philadelphia-based RVNG label, recording the CD mix Purple Pills for Sleepless Nights in 2008. Until 2006, Sweeney worked as a soundtrack supervisor for Rockstar Games, scoring music for such mega-hit games as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
In recent years, Sweeney has become an accomplished producer in his own right. He self-released the 7-inch “Sing a Little Song” in 2001, which was co- produced with Alex Epton, aka XXXChange (best known for his work with Spank Rock). He co-wrote and scratched on two tracks for the Rammellzee album, Bi-Conicals of the Rammellzee, on Gomma Records (2004), and scratched on the Hercules & Love Affair b-side “I’m Telling You” (2008). Most recently, Sweeney worked under the moniker the Flying Squad to release “Trip 1” (a re-edit of Munich Machine’s “Get on the Funk Train”) and “Trip 2” (a re-edit of Boney M’s “Nightflight to Venus”) on RVNG.
In conjunction with the show’s 10th anniversary, Sweeney is taking Beats in Space into new territories. During fall 2009, BIS will showcase anniversary events in Los Angeles, New York, Glasgow, London, Sydney, Melbourne and San Francisco, with the latter kicking off a new monthly residency on the West Coast. Most exciting of all: 2009 marks the launch of a brand-new label, Beats in Space Records. Like the radio show, BIS Records represents an opportunity for Sweeney to showcase artists who’re pushing the boundaries of dance music. The label’s first release is a 12-inch by an artist whose work has blown up past BIS playlists, the much-hyped German house producer Tensnake.
Today, tens of thousands of listeners tune in to the Beats in Space broadcast in the Tri-State area, with thousands more all over the world listening in via live online streams, every Tuesday from 10:30pm to 1am. Fans download 175,000 archived shows from the BIS website (Beatsinspace.net) every month. Beats in Space remains the only dance-music radio show of its kind in New York, and one of the most instantly recognized in the world. And though Sweeney finds himself on an international flight nearly every weekend, he hasn’t lost sight of his initial passion. “Week in and week out, I’m still back in New York on Tuesday to record the show,” says Sweeney. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”