(Editor's note: This story originally appeared HERE on SDGLN media partner Gay San Diego).
She didn’t get her first DJ gig until a decade ago – working at the now defunct Six Degrees – but after spinning to that mostly empty front bar for a year, dj dirtyKURTY has since become one of the most sought-after DJs in San Diego, and beyond.
After speaking with her, it is apparent her life has been one long, ever-evolving journey, and she is still openly and acceptingly walking the path to wherever it may lead her.
“Kurty” – a derivative of her real last name, Kurtyka – grew up in the coastal town of Tom’s River, N.J. and graduated from North Carolina State University in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. And though her original goal was to be a sportscaster, 20 years later she is communicating to the masses in a much different way – through music.
That it took this long is part of the process.
Upon ending her commitment with college, and despite a job offer she’d accepted in New York City, Kurty said she wanted to travel, so she went to visit her brother in San Francisco and ended up staying eight years. It was her constant clubbing and the friendships she developed during those years that helped determine her calling.
“I thought, ‘What am I gonna do that I’m passionate about? I don’t want to sit behind a desk or a computer all day, it’s just not my personality.’ So I bought some turntables and a mixer and started playing for myself,” she said.
In 2003, her journey continued in San Diego, the city she credits with the development of a career that seemed to call her name. She identifies DJ Tova and DJ Antonio Aguilera as her mentors, and honors Rich’s San Diego owner Nick Moede and General Manager Ryan Bedrosian for giving her what she considers her breakthrough opportunity.
Bedrosian offered her a fill-in gig on a Wednesday night several years ago and the response eventually led to a permanent Friday night slot at the Hillcrest venue. While it is unusual for female DJs to perform regular gigs at gay clubs, that is where Kurty feels most at home.
“It is amazing – the greatest thing in the world,” she said. “A thousand times different [than spinning for lesbian-only audiences]. I always say ‘I am an inner gay man’ because house music is my passion. Boys love house music and they want to hear it. I love it so much that I think it comes out in my music.”
This is not to say she doesn’t appreciate her lesbian fans or want to play for them, as she said she’s found a combination that works for all audiences.
“You can’t play a full night of house for the girls,” she said, laughing. “You can play a 30-minute set here or a 30-minute set there, but they want hip hop, it’s what they love.”
Aside from open venues like her gig at CityFest earlier this month or the Pride of Hillcrest Block Party and Gay Days at the County Fair in July, lady fans can still occasionally find her at Repent, a Thursday women’s night at Rich’s, and she recently nabbed a resident position with Girl Bar at The Abbey in West Hollywood one Wednesday per month. She has also been a regular at The Dinah Palm Springs and hopes to join Girl Bar for Dinah Las Vegas next spring.
Kurty said one of her biggest career achievements to date is being named the corporate DJ for Facebook, where she performs at their Christmas and various corporate parties, and for the last two years has been the DJ on their float during San Francisco Pride. She has also gotten in with Microsoft, displaying her spinning skills in front of 4,000 people at a recent Xbox party in Seattle.
As her confidence has increased in recent years, corporate gigs are something she said she’d like to see more of, along with some really big events, like the Coachella Festival or even the White Party in Miami.
Earlier this year, and fresh out of the commitment of her last relationship, Kurty was again ready to travel when suddenly another life-changing opportunity opened up for her. She was asked to join her best friend and five others on the “Camino de Santiago,” also known as “The Way of St. James,” an annual pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela that travels along the Northern Coast of Spain.
It was a 300-mike trek by foot that took her 30 days to complete and may take a lifetime to process.
“I got a lot of things from it … but I think the thing that stands out for me is just letting go,” she said.
Along with a photo of her ex, she said a picture of her late uncle took on the greatest significance during the trip, as he had always taken a special interest in her travels before she lost him to cancer a couple years prior.
After an emotional ceremony at the end of the Camino in Galicia, Spain, Kurty traveled three more hours by bus to Finisterre, a coastal town along the Atlantic – on the opposite side of the same ocean she grew up near – to pay homage to him.
“I walked out on a pier, meditated, took my uncle’s photo, said a prayer and threw it into the ocean,” she said. “And then let it go – thanks for being there.”
Ironically, Kurty didn’t listen to music while she was on the Camino. “It was more about unplugging for me,” she said. “Being quiet, and hearing the sounds of nature and the birds and the trees.”
Meeting so many people from various places around the world who were all walking the Camino and all in such different places within their own lives impacted her greatly, she said, and made her realize even more that everyone is on their own personal journey, and doing so at their own pace.
“I’ve had a lot of success in my life, but I think that was just on a different level,” she said. “Physically it’s not hard for me, but mentally it just was really awesome to be with people and turn off and not worry.”
Kurty said she hopes to return to Spain – her dream is to DJ in Ibiza – and maybe even do the full 600-mile Camino next year. For now, however, her journey is leading her to Burning Man next week, and then she’s looking forward to reestablishing and continuing to expand her roots here in San Diego.
That’s a path her fans could jump on.
Keep up with dj dirtyKURTY’s journey by following her Facebook fan page at facebook.com/djdirtykurty1/.
Morgan M. Hurley is a Contributing Editor of SDGLN, Editor of San Diego Downtown News and Assistant Editor of Gay San Diego and San Diego Uptown News.