ASH WEDNESDAY: Here come the drums – 10 years of the Rogue Traders’ “Voodoo Child”

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ASH WEDNESDAY is a new retrospective series on the site where, each month, Adem will be celebrating the creative and production genius of Aussie-based, British music legend James Ash; master behind Jealous Much?, the artist formerly known as Thunderchild, and King of the Rogue Traders. This profiling series was already scheduled to begin on the site later in the year, but now that we’ve had official word of a Rogue Traders reunion, we figured now was the perfect time to plant some musical fires and expose you all to some absolute classic pop and dance jams you’ve – perhaps – not heard before. But serving as a little reminder to you all before we really get stuck into the series, here’s Round One…

Do you remember the first time you heard “Voodoo Child”?

It is a moment I will never forget.

It was just over 10 years ago, on a relatively early Saturday morning when the now defunct television program Video Hits premiered the new Rogue Traders video in question. I’d already heard the track on the radio that morning (which was also how I found out the video was being premiered that day) and loved it, but had no idea who the vocalist featured was, and it certainly wasn’t a voice I’d recognised from the Rogues last album, 2003’s We Know What You’re Up To. I’d been following James Ash’s production adventures since his days at Melbourne community radio station Hitz FM, and the Rogues (who were a duo at the time; Ash and Steve Davis) recent success with their INXS remodel “One Of My Kind”, as well as releasing total club anthems like “Give Into Me”, “Stay?”, and a debut album full of potential hits, saw the band firmly cement themselves as one of my favourite acts quite early in their story.

Showering the television with all of my concentration, both song and video blared through my loungeroom and I immediately recognised the woman on screen. There she was, stunningly draped in a Morticia-black dress with a matching wig, blowing my mind to smithereens. It was at this point I seriously started to lose my shit. There was James, there was Steve. AND THERE WAS NATALIE BASSINGHTHWAIGHTE, who at the time had become my be-all and end-all of television in her role as Izzy on the Australian soap Neighbours. This was a BIG moment for me; my favourite soap star of all time and my favourite local band UNITING AS ONE. I’d often thought Natalie would make a killer pop star and, evidently, so did both James and Steve. I recorded the Mulligrubs-homaging video onto a VHS and wore the absolute fuck out of it until I got my hands on the CD single.

Whether it’s the Elvis Costello sample that grinds along in your ears, devouring you for hours after you’ve listened to it, James’ impeccable production, the way Natalie – Australia’s greatest living Rock Mole now that the late, great and sorely missed Chrissy Amphlett has passed – rips perfectly shouty vocals out of that tiny body of hers, or the immediate euphoria felt whenever that post-chorus bass-drop kicks in; there was – and still is – a lot to love about this crucial moment in Australian Music History.

Spending a total of 21 weeks on the ARIA chart (back when people still actually bought CD singles), “Voodoo Child” was even re-pressed with a slightly modified cover, suggesting a high-demand for the single across the country, with both song and video playlisted on every major radio and music television network nation-wide. Amazingly, the song never actually made it to Number 1 here, peaking at Number 4 – however, James’ homeland of the UK managed to top our feat by one whole digit, with “Voodoo Child” peaking at Number 3 there almost an entire year after the Aussie release. In the blink of an eye, the Rogue Traders took their gritty blend of fusing dance, electro and pop, threw it all in with the anarchy of rock and roll, and in doing so went from dance niche to pop superstardom in what felt like a matter of seconds.

On the CD single itself, the Original 12” Mix (which you can listen to here – it’s the first track that plays) sticks out as the clear-cut, definitive moment, adding even more brilliance to a song that was already brimming with it. With its builder of an intro, thickened bars of music and an unashamed, anarchy-raising Nat-Bass ending that makes you think of it as being somewhat superior to the original radio edit, the glorious extended mix was nothing new from the Rogues at this point however, with every single before “Voodoo Child” coming with its own, often better-than-the-radio-edit 12” Version. But it was with “Voodoo Child” that the Rogue Traders began to take the artform of the extended version to a whole new level – something I’ll explore as we delve further into this retrospective series.

When the group released “Voodoo Child” they initially avoided promoting who the new vocalist was in an effort to secure CD sales without the weight of celebrity behind it; James and Steve wanted the Australian record buying public to recognise and love the song on the merits that it was actually just a bloody good song, not because Natalie was singing the vocal. Debuting at Number 20 on the ARIA charts, the single eventually climbed and became one of the most successful songs of its year. Radio jumped on board in an even bigger way at this point, and everybody wanted to know whether Natalie was just an honourary member, or a full-time, fully-fledged, official Rogue Trader.

Little did we know what would happen next, or that the best was yet to come.

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