Subterfuge were formed in Melbourne, Australia in the early 1990’s by Clifford Ennis, along with Rick Mullen and Brendan Toull, and despite being far from prolific they certainly left a lasting impression on the 1990’s goth scene. The Darkland Awakening CD EP, released in 1994, has been described as “one of the most fantastic releases of the genre of that era”. The time was perfect for an album to capitalize on the success of the EP, sadly though, a follow up CD did not eventuate. Nevertheless they still made an impact on the scene, so much so that they have since been described as being “Australia’s goth superstars of the 90’s”.
Previous biographies of Subterfuge have always stated that they formed in 1993; this was the year that their self-titled demo tape was released, the year of their first live performance and after a few name changes down the years it was in 1993 that they decided on the name Subterfuge, but if one delves a little deeper their roots can be tenuously traced to as far back as 1987.
THE EARLY YEARS (pre-Subterfuge)
It was at the beginning of 1987 when Clifford and Brendan first met at school and by the end of the year the two 17 years olds had started working together musically. They went from having punk leanings in 1987/88 (going by the dubious name of Dirt and the Mouldy Teeth) to having a slightly darker sound by 1989/90, taking their influences from the likes of Joy Division, The Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus and an array of other bands predominantly from the post punk era. During this period Brendan was developing a slight obsession with Depeche Mode and subsequently purchased a synthesizer; he took his obsession one step further by insisting on a French sounding name for the band and they were briefly called Faux Pas Extempore which they later shortened to simply Faux Pas. At this stage the band were still developing their sound while steadily gaining confidence in their song writing ability.
By 1991, Clifford was now asserting himself as the driving force behind the band and their musical direction became much clearer as they took on a more distinct goth sound. By 1992 they had also recruited a 3rd member, Rick Mullen, on guitar. Rick was an old school friend of Brendans and had been a ‘part-time’ member between 1990-91, occasionally providing guitar parts and writing the odd song. In 1991 he was involved with a band called Edie Sedgwicks Overdose but he left them to join up with Clifford and Brendan on a permanent basis, thus freeing up Clifford to concentrate on playing bass. With this move towards more of a goth sound than previously, yet another name change was to be had and they were now calling themselves Rose of Fate.
THE BIRTH OF SUBTERFUGE
In 1992 Clifford and Brendan were sharing the vocals but a decision was made to try to find a vocalist and 4th member. In 1993 they had planned on releasing a demo tape which was all written and recorded except for the vocals but finding a singer was proving to be more difficult than expected. A few were tried and subsequently discarded until in mid 1993 they had found what they thought would be a permanent solution in Jonathan Mee. A fifth and final name change took place just prior to the demo tape being manufactured and the name SUBTERFUGE was agreed upon. The demo tape was finally ready to be completed and it was released in September that year.
In December 1993 Subterfuge played their first live show which was at a private party for a newly opened record shop in Melbourne called Heartland Records. On the strength of that live show and the demo tape, Subterfuge were approached by Heartland Records to release a CD, but not before the line up was changed once more. This time saw the departure of singer Jonathan, with his unreliability being stated as the reason for him being sacked. Instead of wasting more time in trying to find another singer, Clifford put aside the bass guitar to take on the role of vocalist and the recording of their debut CD “Darkland Awakening" took place in March 1994.
Prior to the recording session there were rising tensions between Brendan and Rick, which resulted in Brendan refusing to go to the studio and the task of recording the CD was left to Clifford and Rick. There was a gig already booked so Brendan stuck it out and on March 18th 1994, Subterfuge played their first gig as a 3 piece band at The Town Hall Hotel in Richmond. This was also their last gig as a 3 piece with Brendan swiftly leaving afterwards. Clifford and Rick decided to continue on as a duo from here on.
The CD, “Darkland Awakening”was recorded at by Adam Calaitzis at Toyland Recording Studio and was mixed at Toyland and by Lindsay Gravina at another studio called Birdland. The CD was released in April 1994 to very favourable reviews around the world. For the remainder of 1994 to promote the release of the CD Subterfuge played live in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane.
After such an impressive release, attention inevitably turned towards a follow up album, it was anticipated by some, expected by many, one reviewer even going so far as to predict that “given time Subterfuge could reach the mantle of greatness”. However, despite being promised by the band the follow up album never eventuated. Between 1995 and 1997 Subterfuge sporadically played live around Melbourne as well as Sydney and Adelaide while along the way releasing the odd song on various compilation CDs, enticing people into thinking that perhaps the album was imminent but history tells us this was not the case.
DETOUR (side projects)
Subterfuge had made their mark but became less active as the years passed; however Clifford has stayed involved in the scene with other projects including Jerusalem Syndrome (which was a side project with Chris McCarter from IKON in 1996/97). Clifford also has had two stints as a member of Ikon, playing guitar for them (and doing occasional vocals) between 2004-2005 and again between 2010-2017 this involved 4 overseas tours. He has also had a foray into the electronic side of things with another side project called RAZORFADE this time with Mark Tansley from UK goth band Suspiria.
In May, 2013 a Subterfuge CD album entitled "Reflect<<Rewind" was released on European label, STROBELIGHT RECORDS, this was a comprehensive collection of material. The CD contained 16 tracks including previously unreleased songs and mixes plus some demos.
As Clifford has continually remained involved in music there was perhaps a sense of inevitability that some new material would one day surface, after all, Subterfuge have never actually “officially” ended...
And so it was, in 2016 Clifford found himself back in the studio recording brand new material and in March 2017 a brand new album entitled "Blind to Reason" was released on CD and Vinyl. And while the new album sees Clifford doing a majority of the heavy lifting, one third of "Blind to Reason" is co -written with Rick Mullen thus essentially keeping the 90's duo alive and the album would've included more Ennis/Mullen songs had the elusive Rick not gone to ground (again) .
The album was recorded at Toyland Recording Studio in Melbourne and released on the label HEARTLAND RECORDS and received much positive press:
"A flawless goth rock album" SONIC SEDUCER MAGAZINE, Germany.
"We are facing one of the most beautiful and interesting albums of 2017" DARKITALIA MAGAZINE, Italy.
"A thoroughly satisfying journey into anguish and ire" VINYL CONNECTION, Australia.
"Where gothic takes a new dimension. Classy, catchy and addictive" DARK ENTRIES MAGAZINE, Belgium.
The next couple of years were quiet but 2019 saw a return to the studio and a new CD ep called "Heat" was released on 2nd April 2020. This unfortunately coincided with the height of the Covid-19/Coronavirus pandemic which hindered the ability to focus on promotion as deliveries were affected badly around the world.
The "Heat" ep contained 6 tracks.
2. The Empty Embrace
4. As Strong As Your Weakness
5. Heat (blood and sand mix)
6. Body Electric (live 1997).
The title track "Heat" is a cover version of the 1983 SOFT CELL song.
As to what the next chapter entails only time will tell but it is hoped that another album will surface one day (probably 2 or 3 years away) but I will make sure not to release it right in the middle of a global pandemic.
To be continued.....