The ability to inhibit a prepotent response is a crucial prerequisite of goal-directed behavior. So far, research on response inhibition has mainly examined these processes when there is little to no cognitive control during the decision to respond. We manipulated the “context” in which response inhibition has to be exerted (i.e., a controlled or an automated context) by combining a Simon task with a go/no-go task and focused on theta band activity. To investigate the role of “context” in response inhibition, we also examined how far theta band activity in the pretrial period modulates context-dependent variations of theta band activity during response inhibition. This was done in an EEG study applying beamforming methods. Here, we examined n = 43 individuals. We show that an automated context, as opposed to a controlled context, compromises response inhibition performance and increases the need for cognitive control. This was also related to context-dependent modulations of theta band activity in superior frontal and middle frontal regions. Of note, results showed that theta band activity in the pretrial period, associated with the right inferior frontal cortex, was substantially correlated with context-dependent modulations of theta band activity during response inhibition. The direction of the obtained correlation provides insights into the functional relevance of a pretrial theta band activity. The data suggest that pretrial theta band activity reflects some form of attentional sampling to inform possible upcoming processes signaling the need for cognitive control.