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Twilight of the Goth Fathers: Post Pondering the Cruel World Fest

The much-heralded Cruel World has come and gone. The two-day event found the gloomy masses in the 90-degree sun of the Rose Bowl golf course. An odd way to celebrate new wave and post punk. At 179 dollars for general admission, the Saturday date sold out and a Sunday drew a pretty decent crowd. The demographics leaned most heavily between 35 to 45. Making 76-year-old Debbie Harry old enough to be half the crowd’s grandmother. Which makes me ponder the twilight years of the scene. Rather than give you the play-by-play review of the afternoon, I want to give an equal glance into the future at where this festival could head in years to come after the announced it will return next year, along with Echo and the Bunnymen who canceled due to Visa issues.

The fest featured 17 legacy acts and 9 younger acts. Some of these, like Drab Majesty and TR/ST, have already been embraced by this crowd. Then there were bands like Automatic and Soft Kill, which the crowd was introduced to. Yeah, I know a band like Soft Kill is old news to us on this site, but to a 45-year-old accountant who keeps his dark streak alive by going to 80s night on Thursdays or listening to his Cure station on Pandora, they might not be in his periphery yet. Unlike the bulk of the legacy acts that took the stage and graced mainstream radio in the 80s and 90s.

While everyone has seen the big chain store brand Joy Division shirts cropping up in lines of grocery stores everywhere, the 80s goth/punk scene has gotten a great deal of fashion-forward lip service thanks to social media platforms like Instagram where black lipstick earns a #goth. The sanctity of the music has been pretty well preserved as Cruel World’s initial outing was for people who love the music, rather than becoming a Coachella right off the bat and being the hip place for influencers to check in. Instead, bringing fans from the east coast to sweat to the oldies in line at the Tears For Beers bar.

How did the legends in their golden years hold up? Some did better than others. Just as some girls’ mothers are bigger than other girls’ mothers. At 66, Johnny Lydon might have been the worst offender of the weekend. Never a huge Public Image Limited fan, but was unable to take more than a minute or two of his voice in its current state. Age is not really an excuse, as Peter Murphy who has done as much hard living as Lydon had the most impressive voice there and is only 2 years younger. While Bauhaus brought it the hardest, to Moz’s credit, he silenced naysayers and was the only legacy artist who worked in songs so new they have yet to be released, as the rest worked off either greatest hits, or in Bauhaus’ case, their most sonically powerful work. The Violent Femmes, the Psychedelic Furs, and the Damned all deserve honorable mention for still having passion for what they do rather than just punching the clock.

My hope for this festival would be that rather than drag the same artists out every year for their obligatory annual performance, they would keep it fresh and rotate them out along with introducing new faces who are making a solid effort to carry the torch. If I was going to make my wish list for booking next year’s fest, it would be for the Legacy acts to include the likes of The Cure, Killing Joke, Danny Elfman with or without Oingo Boingo, Gary Numan, Peter Hook & the Light, Joe Jackson, Tears for Fears, Love & Rockets, Rasputina, Billy Idol, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, The Faint, Interpol, Jesus and the Mary Chain, and TSOL.

So, a little less heavy-handed on the pop new wave side and more artists who are still putting out new music. Then, for the “newer” acts … Zola Jesus, Boy Harsher, Lust for Youth, Night Sins, She Past Away, Nothing, and Rome.

After all, these acts are the most likely to carry the genre forward when the elders decide to bow out with some grace rather than tarnish their legends with lackluster showings. This balance of the old and new would be worth 200 dollars with ticketing fees for sure. Until then, keep releasing the bats…