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Editor’s note: Charlotte Pinkerson is a Los Angeles teenager with a better band shirt collection than most adults.
By CHARLOTTE PINKERSON
The Cruel World Festival, held this past weekend at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, featured some of the best goth and new wave bands from the past and present spread across three stages, each nostalgically named (Lost Boys, Sad Girls and Outsiders). The festival, originally scheduled for 2021 but delayed because of the pandemic, was long-awaited and highly anticipated. And like many such events, it was accompanied by highs and lows, from the temperatures to the sound. The festival was certainly a melting pot of people of all ages, subcultures and locations around the globe.
Being able to listen to so many bands surrounded by such a diverse crowd — T-shirt attire ranged from Iron Maiden to Britney Spears to all the bands on the bill — was a reassuring testament to the hopeful destruction of rigid elitism and music snobbery so commonly displayed in alternative music spaces. Concert-goers of all ages were out in force, and regardless of how they felt after the long, hot weekend, there is no denying it was unforgettable. It’s going to be a cool thing to say you went to the first Cruel World one day. Here’s a rundown of some of the festival’s high and low points:
Discovering New Music
Despite being centered around bands from Gen Xers’ youth, the lineup featured appearances from a number of newer dark-themed bands, which allowed for lots of discovery. Drab Majesty were a perfect example — they presented a thoroughly enjoyable performance even if you weren’t familiar with their songs or stage show before. Even in the sweltering midday heat, their instrumental production was on point and their makeup was flawless. The pale-faced duo really nailed that addictive ’80s synth-pop/ominous bassline sound and feel, similar to bands like IDKHOW and Lebanon Hanover. They could easily pass as a group from decades prior, so they fit in perfectly with the legends who played later.
Upon arrival, it was hard not to be impressed with those who sacrificed comfort for fashion, done up in looks like platform boots, DIY patch jackets, heavy makeup, hair dye and more — all usually more appropriate for a club environment. Many outfits appeared to be a hindrance to the efficiency of festival-going and traveling often from stage to stage. But for those who enjoy looking different in the name of expression, that didn’t matter. The unorthodox fashion choices created an environment that made us feel part of a creative community and it was fun to see this alternative world on display.
There may not have been many women performing but the ones that did made an impression. Featuring Blondie, Automatic, Berlin, Missing Persons and 45 Grave, what the lineup lacked in quantity it made up for in quality. Blondie headlined the Sad Girls stage, and thankfully played their biggest hits, which were well-received. Debby Harry at 76 still killed it, accompanied by Glen Matlock (previously of the Sex Pistols) and a powerful Clem Burke on drums. They delivered slightly different yet still enjoyable renditions of the songs we all know and love. “Hanging On The Telephone”, “One Way or Another” and “Rapture” got the crowd dancing and singing along (especially during “Rapture’s” rap section).
After suffering through a long hot day, ending the night with Bauhaus felt like a reward. The lighting and projected visuals really helped enhance the experience of ambient songs such as “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and “She’s In Parties.” From the moment you hear the opening distorted guitar strum of “Dark Entries” as it reverberates outward, you know you’re about to be sucked into the immersive darkness of Peter Murphy’s vocals. Bauhaus definitely delivered hands down one of the best performances of the festival, proving once and for all that the band that made goth an established genre still has it.
Your Favorite Artists Are Getting Old
Cruel World’s most anticipated headliners happened to be the oldest, in contrast to last month’s Coachella, which prioritized young musicians and even younger fans. While Bauhaus sounded as gloomy and great as ever, their age was a bit apparent at times. During the performance, and especially during their cover of “Ziggy Stardust,” when Murphy had a slight fall but quickly got back up, we thought about longevity … and the hopes we’d get to see more Bauhaus (tickets for their 2022 tour are currently on sale, so we will!). Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs was another example of an artist who gave a good performance despite seeming a little slowed down, with some voice cracks and tempo shifts. John Lydon of PiL no longer has the spark he once did in his punk days, but he is still angry as ever. The anarchy schtick felt hollow in light of what we know about his political views, though.
It was certainly ironic that this festival coincided with one of the hottest weekends of the spring. The merch line itself looked sweaty and scary long, but the fact that hundreds of people waited in it for hours in that heat just for a T-shirt was other-level. The second day, thankfully, was significantly more bearable since the temperature was 10 degrees cooler. For those who went both days, the layout became more familiar and easier to navigate, and it was easier to find shade. We were also better-acquainted with the necessary things to pack, which made for a better experience. But it was still too hot.
In a performance that shocked no one, Morrissey delivered a predictably boring and pretentious set complete with a wanna-be Frank Sinatra opening and cringey vegan memes. And that’s all we’re gonna say about that.
Echo and the Bunnymen Canceling
Everyone was disappointed to hear only a few days pre-festival that Liverpool’s Echo & the Bunnymen pulled out, especially because they were the band so many were most excited to see. Lead singer Ian McCulloch would have added a different level of swagger to the event. Luckily they are set to headline Cruel World 2023 (plus, they just announced an L.A. date Aug. 26 at the Theatre at Ace Hotel) alongside a soon-to-be-decided set of other nostalgia-inducing new wave bands. The absence of the Bunnymen from the festival, and the announcement that they will be playing next year’s event got us thinking about who else we’d like to see on the bill next time, such as acts like New Order and Pet Shop Boys. We’re even hoping that Siouxsie Sioux might come out of retirement if the price is right. Regardless, here’s to hoping Cruel World stays dark and doesn’t sell out or water down the lineups with lighter genres in the coming years.
Read more of Charlotte Pinkerson’s writing in the new magazine, The Violet — “for the youth, by the youth. New issue is out this week and available at Skylight Books and Y-Que in Los Feliz and Stories in Echo Park.