Party Starter: DJ Sober On Dallas Nightlife, Returning To Beauty Bar, and Actually Being Sober

Will Rhoten, aka DJ Sober, brings all of Dallas together on the dance floor.

Will Rhoten, aka DJ Sober. Photography by Elizabeth Lavin.
Will Rhoten, aka DJ Sober. Photography by Elizabeth Lavin.

For the past 10 years, Will Rhoten—who works under the name DJ Sober—has provided the soundtrack to Dallas nightlife. But that’s an oversimplification. Rhoten has also been the go-to DJ for a handful of the area’s most prominent sports teams, including the Cowboys, Mavericks, and FC Dallas. But beyond the large-scale entertainment events and elite ceremonies (such as Dirk Nowitzki’s wedding), Rhoten has acted as a unifier among the city’s disparate neighborhoods. When his weekly Thursday-night Big Bang! residency was housed in the Basement at The Travis, it was not uncommon to see sports and music celebrities in the same room as the party crowd, which includes everyone from SMU kids to the active hip-hop communities of South Dallas and Oak Cliff. With Rhoten’s return to Beauty Bar on Henderson Avenue, where his popular event began, last November, the scene has seen the artist come full circle. Big Bang! happens tonight (and every Thursday night), 10 pm-2 am. 

You’re back at Beauty Bar. What did you miss most about the space? I missed the weirdos. It’s a bar, but it’s where a lot of people came together and intermingled. I think that people are just a little more open-minded at Beauty Bar. I think people go there on other nights who aren’t necessarily into nu-disco or house or whatever, and they like it because they like the feel of the room. It feels like someone’s living room or a house party. When they come to my night, they’re going to hear a lot of hip-hop, but I feel like they’re open to those other things. Whereas the Basement, I feel like it turned into 90 percent of a rap party. I felt like people weren’t into listening to anything else.

Could you see the room shift if you diverted from rap? Yeah. I feel like it got away from what Big Bang! was in the beginning. It’s not that I don’t like playing new stuff or new rap. I just don’t want to feel like I have to play all the new hits in said genre. I want to be able to mix it up and play stuff that people have never heard before and, in turn, turn them on to those things. I think that’s key to being a DJ. You always want to be a tastemaker in some ways—or I do. I don’t just want to be another guy—

Playing the hits. Yeah. Exactly.

One thing I do miss about The Travis is that I felt like you could hide there. I feel like you can’t really hide at Beauty Bar. You’re way out in the open. That was a plus at The Travis. I feel like there were a lot of people that came through there and hung out that wouldn’t necessarily hang out at Beauty Bar, and I mean that on more of a superstar standpoint. Erykah Badu came out multiple times and hung out and brought people like Dead Prez. Jay Electronica popped out one night and just hung out. You had Bushwick Bill and a bunch of other people. And then, of course, you had the pool room and all of the Dallas Cowboys hanging out over there. We’d kind of rope them off. I think they felt like it was cool because it was something more underground, not like a flashy bottle-service scene.

People still fondly remember The Party, the collective you formed in 2006 with DJs Select and Nature. For a few years, The Party’s Friday-night residency at Zubar on Lower Greenville was the place to go. Select knew a lot of people on his own. Nature knew a lot of people from growing up in Denton. I knew a lot of people. So when you brought all that together, you had such a mixed crowd. You had skaters. You had sneakerheads. You had dance people. You had rock kids from Denton coming out. When you have a collective, it’s like Wu-Tang or a comic book. People have their favorites, and they all have a draw. I think that Dallas hadn’t seen anything like that in a nightclub sense.

Your DJ name is truth in advertising. How many times do you think you have had to explain that? A lot. It happens, probably weekly. Even when I left the Basement, they were like, “Hey, let’s do a shot. You’re leaving.” I was like, “No, my name’s literal.” They didn’t know that. It doesn’t really bother me. It’s just something that I guess is always going to have to be explained. I do feel like I’ve done this so long that DJing is second nature, so if I’m there, I love feeding off the energy of the crowd. I love being in that pilot seat. Sometimes when I go out to a DJ event, I get a little anxiety, because there’s so much going on. I’m like, “Whoa, this is what people deal with when they come out?”

So you have sympathy for your patrons then? Oh, for sure. [laughs] People are stepping on your feet, spilling drinks on you, bumping into you, being rude. I feel a little beat down when I go to a DJ night or a really packed thing if I’m not working. I feel a little out of my element. I think it’s due to being in the seat of the controller for so many years. Behind there I have my own little space. I have the table between me, and then I’m focused on doing something. It can be a little weird sometimes.

This Q&A originally appeared in the February issue of D Magazine. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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