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DJ Feminasty spreads the good news of good tunes

November 4, 2018
This Sunday Feb. 21, 2016 photo shows Jess Hurst also known as "DJ Feminasty" mixes music during the second Huntington Culture Storm at Black Sheep Burrito and Brews in Huntington, W.Va. Hurst said the name Feminasty is a dig at one of Rush Limbaugh's rants about feminists, when he calls them "feminazis." (Anthony Davis/The Herald-Dispatch via AP)

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Jess Hurst’s alter-ego DJ Feminasty was born in 2012 when DJ Diabeetus decided he was tired of watching everyone have fun while he was stuck behind the DJ booth at the now defunct DIY venue and community house Funkytowne. He suggested Hurst learn how to DJ so he didn’t have to do it anymore.

It was then that Hurst, a 28-year-old Boyd County, Kentucky, native and nine-year Huntington transplant, started down the path to figure out what kind of DJ she wanted to be. She said 90 percent of this journey has been deciding what she does or does not like and whether she would be a single-genre DJ.

“I’m still sort of a kitchen sink DJ,” Hurst said. “I like lots of different stuff. I’ll play rap, R&B, soul - basically anything that I think fits the mood and that I feel proud presenting to other people.”

Hurst said the name Feminasty is a dig at one of Rush Limbaugh’s rants about feminists, when he calls them “feminazis.”

She explained to be creative in a day and age where the technology can be a photographer, podcaster and a DJ is cheaper and more widely available. Having all these mediums isn’t as bad as some in the arts communities say it is.

“I think democratizing access to art and creative outlets is a wonderful thing,” Hurst said. “At the end of the day, what’s going to set you apart still is your taste level. And that, no one can teach you. You have to teach yourself, you have to develop it on your own. No one can hand it to you.”

In addition to her taste, what sets DJ Feminasty apart in Huntington currently is the fact that she may very well be the only woman DJ in the area, and she hopes that because the technology is more widely available, more women will get into it.

“I don’t usually think about it until I talk to a local bar owner and I’m like, ‘hey what if I did a night here?’ and their response is ‘A girl DJ, huh? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a girl DJ before.’ That is a real response. I will not reveal the bar, but that was a real thing that was said to me. If it’s still that big of a deal then it’s definitely something I would like to see younger women doing.”

Some of her biggest influences are people who aren’t necessarily professional DJs, but they use DJ-ing to share their perspectives.

One example she named is Giorgio Morodor, who did his first DJ set of his life as a 72-year-old after being a powerhouse producer in the music industry, with his name on some of Donna Summer’s and Daft Punk’s works, to name a couple. Hurst also named local DJ and good friend Charlie Brown Superstar, who helped kick off her DJ career.

“We’ve actually been a really good influence on each other,” Hurst said. “He’s helped me with a lot of the stuff that I had missed and I think it’s fair to say that I definitely sort of lit a fire under him because he felt like he wanted to keep up with me a little bit. We’ve never been competitive or anything but we do inspire each other to do things a little bit differently and out of the box.”

Hurst describes DJ-ing as a creative outlet centered on controlling the mood or vibe of a place.

She often adds visual elements to her sets to help create the mood, beyond song selection. Though she has branched out from her roots as a DIY house-show DJ, the same thought goes into creating the vibe at a club or established venue.

“I like to think, ‘OK, what can I do to transform this completely normal living room into somewhere else, into something else, where you feel like you’re not here and you feel transported,’” she said.

A lot of Hurst’s interest in dance music comes from her mother, who would sing the hooks from various songs she would hear while out dancing in clubs in the early 1990s.

The early ’90s were a much different time for dance music and culture, and Hurst said she hopes to resurrect some of that energy when she’s in charge of the dance floor.

However, she and other local dance enthusiasts have been met with a challenge when it comes to attempting to build the audience for such a culture.

“Trouble is, in a small town, you have a lot of trouble getting a large number of people out for anything, except for eating out at a new restaurant,” Hurst said.

“That’s the main challenge. If people do show up, they like it. It’s just getting people to show up and leave their house. People in our age group are comfortable at home: they want to watch Netflix or Hulu and order food in and they don’t want to go out. And I can’t blame them; the whole life of the night and the culture of going out is something we don’t really have here. Around here, we just want to drink, and that’s a different thing than nightlife.”

Hurst said she wants to create a culture in Huntington where people can rediscover the music of the past and learn to love the classics while delving into new music and developing their taste.

More specifically, she wants Huntington to become a go-to place for people to come if they want to hear good music, and facilitate the distribution of the good tunes.

Part of this, Hurst said, is developing a relationship with listeners.

“Having an audience that’s engaged with you and trusts you and will follow you feels so good,” Hurst said.

“It feels better than anything else. So when I’m able to get that people trust me and they’re digging what I’m putting down, that’s what I need. Hopefully the future has more of that.”

What Hurst hopes to accomplish ultimately, and what she says dance culture in general is all about, is just an escape from whatever is bringing a person down in the world.

“Speaking frankly, I’m in the dark night of the soul right now,” she said.

“I know it sounds very traumatic, but I say most days I feel kind of lost and I don’t know exactly what I want to do. Music is kind of the one constant for me, and no matter how depressed or anxious or hopeless I feel, I always still love music and I hope that’s what I’ve been able to communicate to other people, is that no matter what point you’re at in your life, maybe I can do something for you for a few hours if we’re sharing this music together.”

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Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com

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