Electrifying Echoes: Inside the Vibrant Cruel World Festival

Article Contributed by L. Paul Mann | Published on Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The Cruel World Festival marked its second annual celebration on Saturday, May 20th, nestled within the scenic confines of the Brookside golf course, situated beside the iconic Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. This expansive festival showcased a dynamic array of both seasoned and burgeoning talents from the New Wave, Punk, and Goth genres, presented across three stages for an impressive 10-hour duration. The festival was in full swing, with punk luminary Iggy Pop and supergroups like the 80s' stalwarts Human League in the midst of their evening performances, when an unexpected evacuation was announced due to an impending thunderstorm. This led to the regrettable cancellation of Siouxsie's highly-anticipated first U.S. concert in 15 years, casting a pall over the gathered Goth enthusiasts.

Gary Numan | Cruel World Music Festival

Despite the abrupt ending to the first day, the organizers from Goldenvoice masterfully salvaged the situation by adding a bonus day to the festival. This extension featured more of festival favorites like Gary Numan, an encore by Iggy Pop, and an elongated performance by Siouxsie, extended to all ticket holders from the disrupted day.

Iggy Pop | Cruel World Music Festival

The festival kicked off under nearly perfect weather conditions, with minor technical hitches proving insignificant in the grand scheme of the day's events. The throng of Goth-attired music enthusiasts began gathering at the gates early, punctuating the scene with vibrantly colored parasols. The festival began at noon with a DJ serenading the crowds with retro tunes on the smallest of the three stages, the Lost Boys stage. Shortly after, the Outsiders stage welcomed Aurat, an emerging band from the new wave of Goth musicians.

Cruel World Music Festival | Pasadena, CA

Music aficionados were presented with the challenging task of deciding which acts to catch and which to miss, as the main stages were nearly a mile apart and had overlapping schedules. The seamless transitions between performances further complicated the choices.


Gvllow | Cruel World Music Festival

Those favoring the Outside main stage were treated to performances by young artists such as Gvllow, who blended various genres into a unique Goth-tinged amalgamation of angst. Following that, synth-pop duo Glass Spells from San Diego continued the musical journey.

Animotion | Cruel World Music Festival

Meanwhile, attendees who navigated to the Sad Girls stage were rewarded with a nostalgic set from the Los Angeles-based band, Animotion. Their hit-packed performance was backed by multimedia presentations that added to the vintage appeal. Similarly, bands performing across the other stages incorporated custom multimedia displays.

Urban Heat | Cruel World Music Festival

Twin Tribes | Cruel World Music Festival

The Lost Boys stage saw its first act with Urban Heat, a synth-heavy trio from Austin, while over on the main stage, darkwave duo Twin Tribes drew a substantial crowd for their compact set. Following them, Modern English, one of the early pioneers of New Wave, took to the stage, serving up a dance-inducing collection of their iconic hits.

Modern English | Pasadena, CA

Gang of Four | Cruel World Music Festival

Gang of Four | Cruel World Music Festival

On the Sad Girl's stage, the audience experienced an intense performance by English punk legends, Gang of Four. The group’s set was both a sonic and visual spectacle, showcasing their raw punk energy. Concurrently, on the main stage, newcomers Molchat Doma introduced their brooding Dark Wave sound, singing their visceral lyrics in Russian, thus painting a vast landscape of diverse music at the festival.

Molchat Doma | Cruel World Music Festival

As afternoon shadows lengthened, navigating the swelling crowds between the expansive stages became a challenge. The principal stage commanded the largest throngs for the duration of the festival. Yet, there was a notable migration of people towards the other stages, captivated by performances from remarkable legacy acts such as The Vapors, ABC, Squeeze, and Billy Idol. Meanwhile, the devoted music enthusiasts anchoring the main stage reveled in an impressive succession of performances preceding the scheduled show by headliner Siouxsie.

Gary Numan | Cruel World Music Festival

Among the standout acts was electronic music pioneer Gary Numan, backed by a band of formidable hardcore musicians. Numan's performance resonated as one of the festival's most memorable. His noteworthy contributions to the electronic music revolution of the 1980s have solidified him as a genre trailblazer. Despite boasting a dedicated fan base and more than 10 million record sales, many music aficionados overlook the magnitude of his talent. From wielding an electric guitar at 15 to pioneering early electronic instruments, Numan has crafted a five-decade-long career marked by relentless musical innovation.

Gary Numan | Cruel World Music Festival

Indeed, while many recognize Numan for his 1979 hit “Cars,” his prolific portfolio extends to 23 albums, film scores, and notable influences on musicians spanning a broad range of genres, including Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and French electronic music icon Jean Michel Jarre. At 65, Numan's performance was a masterclass in unrelenting energy and passion, his stage presence reminiscent of a youthful rock rebel. His electrifying performance, characterized by ballet-like dancing, fierce guitar playing, and bouts of keyboard magic, established a profound connection with one of his largest audiences in years.

Steve Harris, Tim Slade & David Brooks

Numan's talented ensemble created an imposing wall of sound, drawing comparisons to a Nine Inch Nails concert. Guitarist Steve Harris and bassist Tim Slade, known for their otherworldly stage presence and uncanny audience interaction, amplified the band's unique charisma. Veteran keyboardist David Brooks and drummer Richard Beasley, long-standing collaborators with Numan, completed the dynamic lineup. The band's compelling performance garnered a deserving encore, which will be revisited later.

Echo and The Bunnymen | Cruel World Music Festival

Next, Liverpool's Echo and The Bunnymen, a highly anticipated act, graced the main stage. Originally scheduled to perform at the first Cruel World festival in 2022, IRS complications led to the cancellation of their U.S. tour. However, original lead singer Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant commanded this year's festival with a thrilling 11-song set featuring iconic 80s hits such as “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” The Killing Moon, and “Lips Like Sugar.”

Love and Rockets | Cruel World Music Festival

As the evening sky was adorned with a dazzling sunset, goth music legends Love and Rockets took the stage, marking their first performance in 15 years and the commencement of their 17-date U.S. reunion tour. Composed of the original Bauhaus members minus lead singer Peter Murphy, Love and Rockets ushered in a new era of goth music in the 80s. Daniel Ash's hypnotic, feedback-laden guitar playing, coupled with their innovative hits, made their performance a memorable one.

Iggy Pop | Cruel World Music Festival

As darkness descended, punk rock icon Iggy Pop, joined by his new supergroup, stole the spotlight on the main stage. However, an unexpected lightning strike during their set led to an immediate evacuation, leaving the audience of the concurrently playing The Human League in a state of disbelief.

Cruel World Music Festival | Pasadena, CA

As the possibility of Siouxsie's first U.S. concert in 15 years becoming a missed opportunity loomed, the Goldenvoice promoters swiftly arranged a free makeup concert the following day. This included an encore set from crowd-favorite Gary Numan, a revised performance by Iggy Pop, and a triumphant extended set by Siouxsie and her band. Siouxsie also dedicated her final song, “Israel," to her longtime friend Joseph Brooks founder of the Los Angeles record store Vinyl Fetish.

Cruel World Music Festival | photos by Paul Mann

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