Interview: Tim Sweeney (Beats in, DFA)

I love everything Optimo is about, the musical knowledge those guys have, and the fact that they're the nicest guys around.<br/>

Feature by Colin Chapman | 14 Aug 2006
Tim Sweeney DJs as part of the DFA, the New York based label that is home to LCD Soundsystem, Juan Maclean and Shit Robot, not to mention producers James Murphy (also a member of LCD Soundsystem) and Tim Goldsworthy. Sweeney also broadcasts a weekly show, mixed live, called Beats in Space, on NY's WNYU 89.1 FM. A good friend of Optimo's Keith and Jonnie, they share a similar open minded, anything goes attitude towards music and DJing. The Skinny posed Tim a few questions in the run-up to Optimo's special event; Dance To The Beat of NYC at Glasgow School of Art, where both he and legendary NY group ESG will be playing.

What inspired you to start DJing? Was there much of a club or DJ scene in your hometown of Baltimore?

"It was my older brother that really inspired me to start DJing. He was
the first one to start bringing home electronic music mix tapes and
start buying records (he's now a PhD student in Robotics!). There was
a pretty big club scene in Baltimore, but I was really too young to get involved in any of it when I first started DJing. The first gigs I had, I think I was 15 or 16, and I had to get a friend to drive me because I didn't have a drivers license yet. But Baltimore had its club music scene
(which has gotten pretty big recently, at least grown a little outside
of just Baltimore) and there was a pretty big rave scene there."

You went to study Music Technology at NYU. Once you started DJing was the plan always to get into production?

"Well, that was another influence of my brother. He took this computer
music class in Baltimore, so I ended up getting interested in that as well. It was at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, which is known for its classical music, but they offered these classes on computer music as well. I think I did maybe two or two and a half years worth of classes there, which is what got me interested in studying computer music at NYU. I was really into this computer music program called Max (which is kind of a visual programming language, but for music) and had read a book by one of the professors at NYU who had done some really interesting things with Max, so that's where I ended up wanting to go. DJing and computer music kind of go hand-in-hand, so it worked out perfectly for me."

How did you originally get involved in the WNYU radio show?

"In high school I had played on a couple college radio shows (including
WNYU), and had a great time because it was just like DJing in my basement at home. So I knew I wanted to do radio wherever I went. As soon as I knew I was going to New York University, I emailed their radio station to sound out the requirements for getting a show. So for my first two years at NYU I was on their AM station (which was really just an early online broadcast) doing a show once a week from 1am to 3am. Then a slot finally opened up on the FM side of the station and I was able to start doing a show on Thursday nights from 10.30pm to 1am (now Tuesday nights).

How did you get an internship with Steinski? You've mentioned in
other interviews that he was one of your musical heroes – what do you
appreciate most about his work?

"I first met Steinski at a Kid Koala record release party. I found out
he was DJing and to get tickets to the party you had to be one of the first people to buy the Kid Koala CD from this record store in New York (Other Music). So I went and got the CD and was one of the people who got a ticket. My plan was to try and meet Steinski and to see if he would come do a guest DJ set on the radio show. Well, when I met him, he was just the friendliest guy and said he would definitely be up for guest DJing on the radio show. We just got to talking from there and I think a couple of days later I came by his studio to talk about the radio show and mentioned something about an internship credit I needed for my major at NYU, and I think I started working for him a couple days after that."

"It was amazing working for him because he's just this quintessential
New York guy. He's done all these really interesting things, has tons and tons of stories to tell, is always up for giving you a history lesson on music and life, and he (along with Double Dee) really started the whole cut and paste style of music production. It's great to be able to sit and talk to someone and learn something every time you talk them, and that's what it was like with Steinski.

"I basically got to go through his whole record collection, with him
interjecting with little anecdotes about different artists and records in his huge collection. It was amazing and opened me up to all these different styles of music that either I hadn't heard, or had never heard it the right way.

"I also got to hear what he did with the radio show he used to do on WFMU in New York. It was called Ralphie's Bop City and was just an intense two hour long weekly show that he would cut and paste all of these samples. You could tell he spent so much time on it each week. He also had membership cards for the show, which is something I've always tried to do with mine (but failed horribly, ha!)."

You now work with the DFA after completing an internship with them at college, and met Tim Goldsworthy and James Murphy while DJing in a bar – how did your relationship develop from there? Apart from DJing under the DFA banner are you now getting more involved in the production side of things?

"Yeah, I met them at Plant Bar and started interning for them after that. I was just in the studio with them learning about as much as I could and assisting in any way I could. It was pretty amazing to get to see the label grow from nothing to what it is today. Yeah, I can't thank them enough for really helping me with my career. They asked me to mix this DFA mix CD for Muzik magazine and then I ended up doing the next two DFA mix CD's with Tim Goldsworthy. They've always been really great with supporting me. I've got a couple things up my sleeve on the production side of things, so hopefully some stuff will happen with that over the next year."

Do you think you'll always DJ or will you move towards production or do you think it's important to combine the two?

"I definitely want to do more with production; I just think it's going to be a slow process for me. I think combining DJing and production is definitely a natural thing, but it can also lead to a lot of shit music getting released, which is something I don't want to add my mark to. I'd like to do a lot more with DJing and touring, but especially work on the radio show. I really want it to keep on growing and see how far I can take it."

You've played Optimo before and both Keith and Jonnie have been over to New York – how did you become friends with the Optimo guys? Do you feel you share a common musical mindset?

"They were both friends with the DFA guys, but I think I first met
Keith when I had him on my radio show. Keith and Jonnie are my heroes! I love everything Optimo is about, the musical knowledge those guys have, and the fact that they're the nicest guys around. Glasgow really has something special with them and the people that go to their parties."

Your August appearance is part of Optimo's Dance To The Beat of NYC – Keith's treating it as a homage to the music of city, particularly as Optimo's been influenced by the art and music of downtown NY in the early 80s. How do you view the musical legacy of this period? Has it influenced you in a similar way? How do you view the city's music scene now?

"The music at the moment in New York? Well, I don't think it's anywhere near as exciting as that early 80s time, but there are things going on. It's just a lot harder now because those groups of artists and musicians who were living together and connecting ideas just isn't as big anymore. It's so expensive living here now, that there's no real community like you had with say the East Village back in the early 80s. I think nowadays things have spread out so that artists and musicians are connecting with people all over the world via the internet. But it does come back to the people who are supporting the music or art in that city. The people living and working in that city who are going go to the clubs and supporting the music really help to define the experience along with the artist/musician/DJ. David Mancuso is still doing his Loft party after 36 years, and to see the mix of people who go to that is really inspiring for me. Every kind of person seems to be there and getting along. And to see the way the people used to dance at the clubs is amazing. There are times when I see parties in other cities and think about how New York has lost touch, but just going to that party gives me so much hope and inspiration
that New York hasn't lost it."

You're sharing the bill with ESG – do you think they've had an influence on the DFA sound as well as on other NY bands?

"ESG have had a huge influence on DFA and the music of New York in
general! They're a sound born out of New York and they deserve more respect and praise than I could ever give them."

August 12 at Glasgow School of Art - Optimo presents Tim Sweeney(DFA/Beats in Space) and a special live show from ESG(SoulJazz), with Art School resident Saturday night hosts Divine in the Vic Bar. Come early to avoid disappointment. 11pm-4am, tickets ava and http://www, and