Cruel World a Kind Event to Lovers of Goth and Good Music – Photos + Review

Debbie Harry of Blondie revs up the Cruel World Crowd - All photos by Alyson Camus

Photos and review by ALYSON CAMUS

PASADENA – The third edition of Cruel World at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena was denser than ever, with 30 bands on three stages, which made my afternoon and evening an extremely busy affair.

The crowd got dressed up for Cruel World – Photos by Alyson Camus

Choices had to be made and heartbreaks came with these choices, but you never get everything you want at a festival. It was a beautiful sunny day, not as hot as the previous years, but I don’t think any goth complained: Black is a very hard color to wear under the California sun, and, as usual, many people had dressed up for the occasion. There was no risk of heavy makeup melting, especially if you arrived after 5 pm.

The crowd got dressed up for Cruel World - Photos by Alyson Camus
The crowd got dressed up for Cruel World – Photos by Alyson Camus

However, a late arrival would have made you miss some of the fun: The early afternoon was packed with lesser-known bands, and you still could have moved from one stage to the next and got close enough without any problem. Wendy Bevan, Leathers, Body of Light, Patriarchy, Adult, Model/Actriz, Nuovo Testamento were just a few of the bands I was able to catch on the Sad Girls, Lost Boys, and Outsiders stages, which were spaced out enough to make you walk several miles during the day.

Patriarchy – Photos by Alyson Camus

The tone was overwhelmingly sexy electronica and black leather coolness, while the frontman for Model/Actriz did a large part of his set in the middle of the crowd, serenading his cathartic electronic to random people. British goths, The Mission UK, had already gathered a large crowd, just like ‘80s New Wave The Motels, with a Martha Davis in great shape, giving us the hits: “Suddenly Last Summer,” “Danger,” “Take the L,” “Total Control,” “Only the Lonely.” Unlike other early bands, they delivered truly memorable songs and sounded fantastic even though they were performing on the smallest stage of the festival.

Leathers – Photos by Alyson Camus

I missed most of General Public’s set, but I realized they were The English Beat, a band that opened for Adam Ant at the Greek two weeks ago. They played their most catchy songs and covers and everyone was already dancing.

Model Actriz – Photos by Alyson Camus

The Faint rocked the Outsiders stage with their electronica-charged post-punk that was loaded with plenty of eccentricity and humor. Then Gary Numan got one of the largest crowds of the afternoon; at this point, trying to venture from one stage to the next would surely make you lose your good spot. For this nostalgia fest, Numan’s set was all synth as he performed songs from his 1979 album The Pleasure Principle – the one with the hit song “Cars” – and he brought his three daughters on stage to sing the background vocals during the song “Conversation.”

The Faint – Photos by Alyson Camus

On the Sad Girls stage, I caught a few minutes of a band with an intriguing name. There were a lot of drummers on stage as the new trio consisted of Lol Tolhurst (The Cure’s founder member and drummer), Budgie (Siouxsie and Banshee’s drummer), and famous Irish producer Jackknife Lee. I didn’t see any vocalist when I was watching them from afar but Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, Starcrawler’s Arrow De Wilde, and rapper-trumpeter Pan Amsterdam all showed up to perform their songs live.

Lol Tolhurst x Budgie – All photos by Alyson Camus

On the Outsiders stage, Ministry was another highlight of Cruel World especially since the band performed songs from their first two albums, 1983’s “With Sympathy,” and 1986’s “Twitch,“ tracks they hadn’t performed since 1984 (“Work for Love,” “I’m Falling,”  “Effigy (I’m Not An)”) or 1987 (“All Day,” “Over the Shoulder,” “Just Like You”). With guitarists Monte Pittman and Cesar Soto, drummer Roy Mayorga, bassist Paul D’Amour, strings virtuosos Mia Asano, and Tina Guo (on violin and cello), and frontman Al Jourgensen, the sound was heavy and slightly metal-like at times, but their style turned out to be unique, a subtle balance between an industrial sound and synth-pop.

Ministry – All photos by Alyson Camus

Dreamcar was another supergroup to perform at the festival. An offshoot of the band No Doubt – bassist Tony Kanal, guitarist Tom Dumont, and drummer Adrian Young were all there – fronted by singer Davey Havok of AFI, who had put black feathers on his shoulders. They also had their own ‘80s style, a mix of raucous pop and new wave which didn’t sound like No Doubt at all.  Between songs like “We Rats,” and “Kill For Candy,” they injected a cover of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.”

Dreamcar – All photos by Alyson Camus

As a very bright sun was settling down (and prevented us from seeing the details of what was happening on stage) Adam Ant did more or less a shorter repeat of his performance at the Greek Theater, two weeks earlier, while Soft Cell gave us another ‘80s Nostalgia trip with songs like “Nostalgia Machine,” or “Tainted Love” totally modernized by the arrival of horror drag queen Christeene who sang “Nighthawks” and “Sex Dwarf” with Marc Almond.

Adam Ant – All photos by Alyson Camus

Bauhaus was one of Cruel World’s headliners in 2022, and the festival has stayed loyal to these goth gods since Love and Rockets, a side project of Daniel Ash and David J played the fest in 2023. This year, Tones On Tail, Daniel Ash, and drummer Kevin Haskins’s musical side project, was headlining the Sad Girls stage.

Duran Duran – All photos by Alyson Camus

Putting them against Duran Duran was a bit weird, as most people went for the obvious instead of choosing this much more obscure art project, and this explained the sea of people waiting for Blondie and Duran Duran at the Outsiders Stage. I was torn, it was a tough decision, as Tones On Tail followed Simple Minds and Interpol, two interesting picks, but I was stuck in front of an enormous crowd. So, I stayed for Duran Duran megahits instead of picking the obscure show on the opposite side of the festival.

Duran Duran – All photos by Alyson Camus

Blondie was amazing as usual. At 78, Debbie Harry still commands the stage like no other while Clem Burke seems to destroy his drums at each song. With Glen Matlock on bass, they delivered some of their big hits, “One Way or Another,“ “Hanging On The Telephone,” “Call Me,” and of course “Heart of Glass” which made Debbie wear a light-reflecting cape. The set was relatively short but filled with old-school punk rock and blazing guitar solos.

Duran Duran – All photos by Alyson Camus

I had never realized how many Duran Duran songs I knew without having followed their career too closely. From “The Wild Boys” to “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “A View to a Kill,” “Notorious,” “INVISIBLE,” “Ordinary World,” “Come Undone,” “The Reflex,” “Girls on Film,” “Save a Prayer,” “Rio”… it was a festival of MTV hits led by singer Simon LeBon and his colorful outfits.

Duran Duran – All photos by Alyson Camus

The crowd was singing along, and the band didn’t go for obscure cuts but instead went straight to the audience’s expectations. “We’ve just been thinking about Cruel World and how we’re going to make it the best thing possible,” LeBon told us. “And now we’re here and it’s happening!”

Duran Duran – All photos by Alyson Camus

Surrounded by keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor, and drummer Roger Taylor, LeBon seemed to have as much fun as the audience. With the James Bond theme and a mashup of “Girls on Film” with the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” their 90-minute set flew like an ‘80s dream.

Blondie – All photos by Alyson Camus

LeBon dedicated the song “Ordinary World” to the people of Palestine, Israel, and Ukraine, and he asked us to light up the Brookside field like the Milky Way during “Save a Prayer” and thousands of cell phones lighted up. Duran Duran closed the night way past the 11 pm curfew with “Rio,” looking like authentic headliners of a Cruel World festival whose concept owns so much to British post-punk.

Clem Burke of Blondie – All photos by Alyson Camus

After Bauhaus, Morrissey, Siouxsie, and now Duran Duran which band could be the headliner next year? The Cure? (they sort of inaugurated a pre-pandemic Cruel World when it was called the Daydream Festival) Depeche Mode? Or the highly improbable Talking Heads? It was reported they turned down $80 million for a reunion, but we can dream.