TVD Live: Cruel World Festival 2022, 5/15

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | Cruel World Festival, which was initially set to make its debut in 2020, will go down in history in 2022 as a pivotal festival for some of the most era-defining bands in modern history who’ve retained their monolithic status.

Powerhouse, genre-originating bands—Devo, Blondie, Bauhaus, Public Image Ltd., and Morrissey—juxtaposed with the descendants of their music, was unlike anything I’ve experienced. Opting to cover Sunday and not Saturday’s show based on the 10 degree temperature difference somehow didn’t make the day any less hot. As we were all prepared to burn in black under the cloudless SoCal sky, this daylit underground party was filled with a joyous, chinoiserie parasol dotted, drama-free crowd. Music was everyone’s priority.

I made the long journey through the gates of the Pasadena Rose Bowl around 12:30 PM just in time catch Soft Kill’s deep bass and lofty lyrics. “We all got lost along the way,” lead singer Tobias Sinclair screamed into the mic during “Whirl.” “Yeah!” I thought, relishing the idea that all of us at this festival have at some point in our lives felt this way and that among this festival was our tribe.

Catching LA-based trio Automatic next, I thought their performance was more suited for this crowd than when I last saw them open for IDLES. I caught up for a brief interview with UK cold wave duo KVB to talk about their proper British castle wedding they recently had “to make the pandemic less shit” and their upcoming tour supporting their latest release, Unity, recorded with legendary My Bloody Valentine producer Andy Savours.

Heading over next to catch Sextile’s high-energy set, they played a brand new song that carried early The Crystal Method and Gang of Four vibes. As the early afternoon rolled on, I stopped at the “Sad Girls” stage to catch the English Beat and revelled in “Mirror in the Bathroom”—a perfect ‘80s ska-pop tune in the middle of the day.

Making the trek back to the “Outsiders” stage, I caught the tail end of Cold Cave’s enigmatic set and made a gametime decision to park it in the grass and wait for TR/ST, missing London After Midnight and 45 Grave who I heard put on amazing shows. TR/ST’s delicate balance of techno and off-kilter vocals were provoking. There was a lot of anticipation for Blaqk Audio, AFI’s Davey Havok and Jade Puget’s electronic outfit, and they were sultry and fun.

For me, neo-goth duo Drab Majesty with their crushing synths, chalk-white aesthetic, and atmospheric performance was a major highlight. My only real gripe was the anguish over having to decide which bands took precedence. I cringed after booking it from Drab Majesty’s set with my sights set on The Church and while in enroute passing and missing The Damned’s performance. I wasn’t missing “Under the Milky Way” for anything, and that was best personal choice I could make for myself in that moment. The Church opened with “Reptile” and I was content with my decision.

Devo’s unmatched ingenuity put them at the top Cruel World’s performances. From numerous on stage costume changes to curated formation dances, every song in their set from “Mongoloid” to “Uncontrollable Urge” was a true punk, art-pop experience that only they can execute. What I took away from Devo is that age is now utterly irrelevant when it comes to being the most innovative band in the room. Side note: dusk with The Furs is not to be forgotten.

As a “Cruel World 2022 Attendees” Facebook group with over 10,0000 members has shot up, there has been a critical debate as to whether Devo or Bauhaus claimed the night. When Bauhaus’s Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash appeared in crystal laden black outfits to a rising, full blood moon lunar eclipse, it was clear that their status as “the founding fathers of goth rock” can never be touched. I don’t think anything I have, or will, ever see again can compare to Bauhaus’s performance.

My last real stop of the night was a surreal moment—being in the same vicinity as Debbie Harry. Without Chris Stein, Blondie and their original drummer Clem Burke—rightfully wearing a CBGB shirt—put on a stellar performance with all the hits including “Rapture” and “Heart of Glass.” A quick stay for “How Soon is Now,” and I left behind the sea of people swaying to headliner Morrissey. Dead with exhaustion, I just couldn’t take anymore of seeing the greatest bands on earth.

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