Cruel World 2024

Cruel World 2024 celebrated its third birthday at Brookside Park at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.

Photos by @KevinEstradaPhotography

Mother Nature hit last year’s festival as a lightning storm forced the show mid-way though Iggy Pop’s main-stage performance.  This year there were no natural disasters jeopardizing the event – just new wave massiveness and some big “firsts” that many didn’t think would ever happen. The lightning was all on stage – Duran Duran, Blondie, Simple Minds, Adam Ant, and two dozen other acts lit up Pasadena with their timeless musical energy.  With 3 stages and 30 or so bands spread across them, some hard decisions had to be made in order for even the most hardcore new wave fan to see all their faves on stage. 

Attendees are still talking about the “firsts” that they witnessed on the Cruel World stages.  Gary Numan was the initial act to deliver as he treated the fans to a rare performance of his 1979 debut album “The Pleasure Principle.” Numan strategically executed a very different and unique set compared to his Cruel World performance last year.  In typical Gary Numan fashion, he exploded on stage and poured out the energy and brilliance that you come to expect at his shows.

Cure and Siousxie fans clawed their way to the Sad Girls stage to witness a one-of-a-kind performance by Lol Tolhurst x Budgie – former drummers from The Cure and Siouxsie & The Banshees / The Creatures.  The dynamic drumming duo cunningly performed their distinctive and quirky set with pre-recorded vocals and a handful of guest vocalists.  It was a truly standout and innovative production that may never happen again.

Ministry - in what seemed to be the surprise festival highlight - took over the Outsiders stage.  This time, the Chicago wax-trackers did not deliver the expected guitar onslaught; instead the band assaulted fans with synth-pop.  Yes, it really happened! In a daring move, Al Jourgensen, along with a 13 piece band, performed music from the first two Ministry albums, 1983’s With Sympathy and 1986’s Twitch, which Jourgensen had vowed to never perform again in his lifetime. 

Tones On Tail ended the firsts with the only proper and stand alone Tones On Tail show since 1984.  Even with original bass player Glen Campling not taking part for reasons unknown, this was a big deal to fans of Bauhaus and its universe. With Daniel Ash, drummer Kevin Haskins and his daughter Diva Dompe on bass, the trio delivered the dark and gloomy goods - Go, Twist, Performance, Ok This Is The Pops, Lions and There’s Only One.

Goldenvoice has done an incredible job evolving and maturing the Cruel World Festival year after year.  Not only do they know their target audience, but the promoter has figured out how to open this niche up to a new generation of music fans by keeping the spirit alive with a modern touch.  The diverse lineups on the three stages now include a handful of contemporary artists that would please even the most critical Gen Xer. The pride of Nebraska - The Faint, and California Super-Group - Dream Car dazzled attendees at the Outsiders stage while New York Innovators - Interpol headlined the Sad Girls stage later that evening.

In classic Pasadena style, the weather was perfect for an all-day music festival.  The music started early and continued without a glitch – nearly 12 hours of non-stop performances.

The Motels kicked off my day.  Martha Davis took over the stage and proved she still has the voice and the heart that catapulted her to the top of the early 80’s L.A. music scene. The band delivered a powerful set with all the hits you would hope for - Where Do We Go From Here, Suddenly Last Summer, Take The L, andof course Only The Lonely.

Currently on their 50th anniversary tour, The Stranglers, who are down to just one original member, brought the audience to its feet early in the afternoon.  Original bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel is still going strong and continues to offer fans sweet pop songs with an early punk attitude like Golden Brown and Always The Sun. 

Dave Wakeling returned to Cruel World, this time with General Public.  Wakeling’s first visit was with The English Beat at the very first Cruel World Fest in 2022.  These days, it seems that the band names and the songs are interchangeable, but the hits are consistent - Never You Done That, Tenderness, Mirror In The Bathroom, and Save It For Later.

Following the secret Viper Room warm up show as “Blood Brothers UK” that kicked off their recent leg of their 2024 tour, The Mission UK reminded fans of their power to mix the dark moods of early ‘80s goth with colorful melodies, proving they are just as good today as they were 30 years ago.  The post-punk innovators retuned to Southern California and delivered a high-energy set featuring crowd pleasers such Tower of Strength, Severina, Wasteland and Deliverance.

In a rare daylight performance, The Jesus And Mary Chain dazzled the fans with their unique blend of pop hooks and shattering feedback.  Despite equipment problems that brought on some strong sibling stares, the Scottish bothers Reid poured out their hearts and the hits - Happy When It Rains, Head On, Some Candy Talking, In A Hole and Just Like Honey.

Simple Minds took the stage in their first US show in 6 years.  Vocalist Jim Kerr’s performance and energy just got bigger and better as the show went on.  At one point Kerr yelled out, “We don’t want to go home.”  Waterfront, Promised You A Miracle, Sanctify Yourself, and Alive & Kicking were some of the highlights in their set.

Adam Ant, who was originally scheduled to play at last year’s festival but cancelled shortly before the event, was one of the day’s most anticipated performers.  Ant looked ageless and delivered a blistering set that covered his time with both Adam and the Ants and his illustrious solo career - Ant Music, Stand And Deliver, Vive Le Rock, Friend Or Foe, Goody Two Shoes, and Prince Charming.

In a rare West Coast appearance, Soft Cell, consisting of Marc Almond and sadly – due to health reasons - without fellow bandmate and fellow founding member Dave Ball dazzled the Cruel World crowd just as the sun was dropping.  Soft Cell was the first act to take advantage of extravagant stage lighting and strong pre-filmed elements, taking the festival to a new level of visual excitement.  Bringing their dirty and dingy New York ‘80s feel to the stage, the band delivered some of Soft Cell’s most iconic songs, including Memorabilia, Seedy Films, and Sex Dwarf.

Hailing from Manhattan, NY, Interpol closed out the Sad Girls stage.  Some consider the band to be a bit too contemporary for the annual gloom fest, but the band’s set proved the influence and staying power of the ‘80s post-punk era.  The band delivered a flawless set both musically and visually that included Narc, My Desire, Obstacle 1, Evil, PDA and Slow Hands.  Thanks to the genius of Goldenvoice, Interpol finally gained their rightful place in the allegiance of dark and gothic music legends by playing The Cruel World Festival.

Blondie also made their triumphant return to Cruel World.  Debbie Harry looked stunning in her shimmering outfit and classic dark sunglasses, wowing the crowd as only she can do.

Harry exploded on stage with her super solid bandmates and solid gold hits.  Drummer Clem Burke and bass player Glenn Matlock drove the beat through classics like One Way Or Another, Rapture, Heart Of Glass, and Hanging On The Telephone

Pasadena lit up as Duran Duran took to the stage.  Many considered the band to be a bit of a risky headliner for the massive dark wavers in attendance.  But in classic Duran Duran foresight, the Birmingham boys opened their set with The Chaffeur – arguably the band’s darkest and gloomiest of their hits – a genius move.  The band delivered a brilliant set including just about every song a hard core “Duranie” would have on their wish list - Wild Boys, Hungry Like The Wolf, Save A Prayer, Notorious, Careless Memories, A View To A Kill, New Moon On Monday, The Reflex, Girls On Film and Rio.

If anything, the Cruel World Festival proves that new wave and post-punk was not just a fad…the music that was created in the 1980’s has impacted the lives of so many and continues to influence bands of today.  Cruel World 2025?  Absolutely!  Vegas is probably already taking bets.