By Idara Akpan
Arms up in the air, hips swaying perfectly to the beat; heads vigorously bop to the switch of the beat tempo. The transition from song to song is absolutely seamless. Here is a community of music lovers and seekers of good times. Everyone – and I mean everyone – is dancing.
“Oooooh, this is my song,” a girl’s eyes widen as she turns to her friends. In unison they point to each other as if the lyrics of Usher’s “U Don’t Have to Call” were right in front of them. She points to the DJ as if he had just known that she had not heard this song since she was in high school. He gives a shy, small smile and nods.
In the left corner, a small group of friends circle around someone who might be Dallas’ best dancer. Some watch intensely, inspired by his moves to Future’s “Where Ya At?” Others pull out their Snapchat and yell “Aye!” at every move. Their friends will wish they didn’t stay in tonight.
The whole bar, the size of a large living room, is on one track. You won’t find any heels or the newest pairs of Jays – just souls attached to the music, the environment and the experience. It’s everyone’s dance floor. It’s only 10:57 p.m. on a Thursday and already, DJ Sober is the life of the party.
He enters Beauty Bar, a nightclub on Henderson Avenue, and methodically sets up his equipment. He opens up his Mac humbly decorated with just two stickers, and tests out his controller. A bright sign right above his head flashes “No requests please” in red, purple, blue and green.
He introduces himself as Will Rhoten.
He doesn’t wear the blackest of shades or the flashiest of jewelry. He doesn’t have young college girls styled in uncomfortable high heels with their arms around his neck or a posse.
Just him, his equipment, and most importantly, the music.
“He’s like a human encyclopedia when it comes to feels,” said PICNICTYME, the coproducer of Booty Fade, a Dallas-based DJ duo. “I learned a lot about music genres that I never was aware of. He does a good job of bringing that whenever we’re in the studio.”
PICNIC met Sober in 2007 at Sober’s set, The Party at Zubar, one of his monthly parties in Dallas. A natural outgrowth of PICNIC and Sober work as producers and DJs for the group Ad.D, they found themselves creating their own beats and flips as a duo, Booty Fade.
“That was on Sober man, that was the genius of him. It’s a play off the haircut, the Booty Fade,” said PICNIC as he chuckled.
“Sober plays a very vital part. He’s like the connector, if you will,” said up-and-coming Dallas rapper Terrence Spectacle. “He’s probably one of the most well-known DJs in the metroplex.”
From a young age, he’s always been about the art. In fifth grade, he listened to mixes on different radio shows and recorded them on tape, just so he could listen to them later and further study the music. His ear started to notice certain songs and certain artists that people liked.
“I was into all types of music. I absorb things from different people, different crowds I hung out with. I’d absorb different knowledge from different people,” Sober said.
At 16, Sober went to a friend’s house party and found himself glued to watching the DJ the entire night. He fell in love and immediately decided he needed turntables. After calling around skating rinks and bowling alleys, hoping to find old or unused turntables, his connection at a club hooked him up with equipment. After he expanded his collection of records and learned the technicality of the craft, his passion was sealed.
“I never even went into it thinking I was gonna do this in front of people. It was just something that was a passion because I love music and wanted to learn music and how to DJ, even if it was for myself. It was never about the spotlight or anything. It was something I really wanted to do for myself,” Sober said.
One of his older friends, fond of the underground DJ scene in Dallas, snuck him into clubs when he was underage. There, he found inspiration for his name.
“I saw a lot of crazy stuff happen. A lot of people doing drugs. A lot of people doing everything in excess. It kinda put a bad taste in my mouth. I felt like a lot of people weren’t there for the reasons I was there – and that’s fine. But, I was so much about the music that kinda bummed me out that people couldn’t have fun without getting messed up. As time went on, I didn’t care more and more to try that stuff,” Sober said.
For the past five years, he has held The Big Bang every Thursday at Beauty Bar as a resident DJ.
“There’s not a lot of preparation. I don’t really plan my set, I just kinda do whatever I feel when I get there. I just kinda depends on who’s here and what I’m feeling. I just show up and feel the vibe,” Sober said.
Although he thinks he’s just going with the flow, Sober is extremely specific with his choices of when and how to drop the next track. “He’s aware. He’s not like other DJs who drink and just up there and not really aware. He’s literally Sober,” PICNIC said.
At the peak of the night, he knows this is what the crowd wants to hear. He smoothly transitions to Migos’ “Bad & Boujee.”
Immediately, every pair of feet in the club is off the floor — bouncing and jumping to the beat of the heavy bass. Still, his eyes are glued to his laptop. One hand placed on his right headphone, he nods in agreement with either the beat of the song or the vibe he’s created. Either way, everything feels right.
“My favorite thing is that it’s truly my crowd. I’ve built this up so that it’s become a Dallas staple. The vibe is very hard to recreate. Everyone comes and they have a good time. It kinda feels like a house party,” Sober said. “Even if someone isn’t familiar with Beauty Bar or even know who Sober is, they know that they’ve been on a Thursday and they know that they had fun.”