Josey Rose Duncan

The Write Site

Local house DJ, steeped in the power of music, finds her own path


By day, Mercedes Modesta Herrada is a surgical pathology assistant. Working methodically in the lab, she cuts up body parts harvested from patients during surgery. By night, known simply as Mercedes, she works methodically behind two turntables to make dance-ready masses move. She enjoys the lab, she explains, because she enjoys helping people get better, but without the emotionally taxing work of dealing with patients. It’s in the club, Mercedes explains, where her emotional life takes place. It is also where she continues to help people.

Mainly she helps the crowd shake their booties with the smooth, funky, chuggy, stompy Chicago-bump she’s been dancing to since the sound found her. She tends to keep her set mellow, because she wants the crowd to dance and not get tired too quick, but she still plays hard. The bass lines are deep and strange and pulsing, with abstract sounds thrown in to keep the sound unique, but it never strays too far from the original house sound. If she wants her other house-obsessed friends and fans to get crazy at Ohm, where she usually hold court, she might drop some tracks she picked up at Platinum Records, or something she found digging at Everyday Music. “A lot of people tell me I look pissed off when I’m playing,” Mercedes says, “but I’m just super-serious about it.”

All the kids in the North Portland neighborhood where Mercedes grew up in the ‘80s had their radios tuned to 1480 KBMS, the hip-hop and R&B station that inspired them to choreograph their own moves and have dance-offs in the schoolyard. But Mercedes was surrounded by music even before that; first there was her father’s family, who embraced the traditions of their native Cuba, a culture steeped in music. Then there was Mom, with her feverish love of Motown, and Dad, a guitarist and huge Jimi Hendrix fan.

At 14, Mercedes started going out. “I used to go to this place called the City Nightclub. It was a queer nightclub, all ages. There was this guy Alex who used to play, and that was my first experience with DJing.” This, Mercedes told me between sips of beer, was where she first danced to house music. But is wasn’t until she heard Mark Farina (whom she will be opening for Friday at Ohm) and DJ Heather and Derrick Carter—with their funky R&B sound and weird, fuzzy acid elements dropped in—that she fell in love.

“Certain fusions of sound make me feel like crying—but not out of a sad place,” Mercedes says. “It’s something I could equate to love and heartbreak.”

Published October 2006.

View clipping here