By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
When pressed, DJ Sober guesses that he owns somewhere in the vicinity of 3000 records on vinyl—maybe a few more, maybe a few less.
But he knows quite well what's contained within that collection. He starts listing some of his more obscure titles, almost as if he's quizzing himself, before backing off and simply listing the genre classifications instead.
"It's a lot of '90s hip-hop," he says, smiling a somewhat sheepish smile. "But there's everything from indie rock to reggae to punk rock to metal."
He speaks of his collection proudly—both in terms of its sheer volume and its variety—but he's also quick to point out that, well, maybe neither of those facts is all that surprising. After all, he's been building that collection since he was a fledgling 16-year-old DJ, back when most people referred to him by his birth name of Will Rhoten.
These days, though, he's known to most simply as Sober. Makes sense, of course—at 33 years old, he's now been a DJ for more than half of his life.
"Wow," he offers, marveling at the simple mathematical deduction. "I didn't realize that until just now."
He lets the knowledge sink in for a moment before brushing it off completely.
"In the beginning, it was different," he says, "I never walked around saying, 'Hey, I'm a DJ!' I just loved music. It was a different time, really. Back then, I didn't even call myself a DJ."
After spending eight years honing his skills in the house party circuit, though—mostly at parties hosted by friends—he'd gained enough confidence to move onto clubs around town. His first stops, "some eight or so years ago," he says, were at weekly gigs he hosted at dance clubs Minc and the Slip Inn.
"That's the first time I really took any of this stuff seriously," he says.
These days, this "stuff" is his lifeline. For four years now, Rhoten's been able to make a living off his DJ skill set. He holds court at three different monthly events located either in Dallas or Houston. He spins at corporate events throughout the region and beyond. And, just a few months back, he was the celebrity guest DJ on a cruise ship that took him around the Caribbean.
He clearly enjoys the lifestyle. When Rhoten speaks of his work, he does so with an endearing pride, with both a smile on his face and a serious demeanor in his eyes. Musically, he's a fountain of information, rattling off the names of obscure, short-lived, one-time superstars in sub-subgenre movements, just dropping their names in conversation—not boastfully, but with the naiveté, perhaps, of the cat that thinks it's a dog—and expecting everyone around him to keep up.
(Spoiler alert: They can't.)
That knowledge proves a valuable resource when it comes to his work persona. Be it at a corporate event, a private house party, a concert gig or a relatively standard club date, Sober manages to impress his audiences with relative ease—because, given his music IQ, he's developed a talent for being able to read crowds and give them what they want to hear. And, well, with 3000 records on top of countless CDs and mp3s, he's got pretty much everything.
Now, though, he's trying to introduce a new monthly event in Dallas geared around what he wants to hear and how he wants to hear it. On Saturday, June 12, upstairs at The Cavern, Sober will introduce a new monthly event called Dope on Plastic. Its premise is pretty simple: He and any guest DJs brought in to join him will spin only vinyl records—no CDs, no mp3s, no Serato software.
It's a throwback of an idea in some ways, sure. But, in others, it's a forward-thinking one that fits with the times. At brick-and-mortar record stores throughout the country, vinyl has served as the saving grace of late, bolstering store revenues. A prime example: Good Records on Lower Greenville, which boasts that half of its sales are vinyl.
Rhoten's well aware of this. He's seen the vinyl sections he's shopped in around town for years become more and more crowded lately. Now he's hoping to capitalize on that.
At this weekend's premiere event, Dope on Plastic (which will run every second Saturday of the month) Sober will be joined by guest DJs Tyrone Smiley and Tony Schwa. Through connections he's made over the years as a DJ, Sober will be able to add in some other perks beyond the all-vinyl sets. At Dope on Plastic's debut, he'll be giving away vinyl records sent his way from the ever-buzzing Fool's Gold Records. He'll also have vinyl from Austin's Crowd Control Records, 45s from some friends in Houston and even some Good Records gift cards.
The idea? To celebrate vinyl. And, OK, to have a good time too.
"I want it to be a party vibe, even though it's vinyl," Rhoten says. "I don't just want it to be a nerd convention."
That much is unlikely. When Rhoten and fellow DJs Select and Nature banded together to form The Party in 2006, they, in many ways, crafted the rather intensive DJ-night formula used by so many Dallas today, setting high standards for quality performance and even high standards for impressive promotion. For three years, The Party reigned atop the local DJ scene, eventually expanding beyond its home base at Lower Greenville dance club Zubar to include regular gigs in Houston and Austin—and even, toward the end of its run, a regular all-ages event called Hands Up! at The Loft.
The Party broke up in early 2009, and before long his former partners moved away—DJ Select resides in New York City; DJ Nature lives in Puerto Rico. Sober, however, has remained. And, in doing so, his reputation has only improved. For that reason, he's able to throw events like Dope on Plastic—which, although maybe not completely necessary, certainly serves an exciting—if, yes, somewhat nerdy—purpose.
"It's just something to utilize the resources I have and just to have that option to have something that's out of the norm," Rhoten says. "It's like having that Sunday cruiser in your garage. It might not get the best mileage, but it sure is fun to drive."