Last weekend in Los Angeles was hot, but thousands of fans squeezed into the Pasadena Rose Bowl grounds nonetheless to kick off a weekend of music that would make any fan of the ’80s jealous. Headliners Morrissey, Blondie and Bauhaus were just a few of the notable acts that took to Cruel World’s three stages, drawing in an all-ages crowd packed to the brim both days.

The festival, which featured identical lineups on Saturday and Sunday, featured a lineup that drew heavily from the independent music scene of the 1980s. We attended Saturday, the first (and hotter) of the two days, where fans sported parasols and sunglasses and flocked to tiny specks of shade for much of the day. The lineup, carefully curated to bring in acts from all eras that evoked a similar classic sound, was spread over three stages aptly named “Outsiders,” “Sad Girls” and “Lost Boys.”


Contemporary acts like Cold Cave and TR/ST were some of the earlier in the day, going head to head with London After Midnight, The English Beat, and others. Our day started with Blaqk Audio, the electro project of AFI’s Davey Havok. On the Sad Girls stage, a far, far walk from the festivals main entrance, those that were willing to make the mid-day trek were treated to a joyful exhibition of melody and melancholy. The performative frontman gyrated and grooved his way through the stage and crowd and transcended time with his captivating showmanship.

Beer, food and merch were pricey, and lines did pile up towards the middle of the day (and the dinner rush). Our next shows, The Damned followed by The Church, showcased outsider artists who have maintained their cult followings for nearly half a century to date. The festival felt full since the morning, but by this point in the afternoon, shade, vantage points and ground to sit on were slim pickings. For me, the show was less nostalgia and more a glimpse into what a world I am too young to have experienced may have been like. That vibe would continue into the evening, with bands like Devo, where my knowledge comes more from “Best of the 80s” mixes than memory itself.


For a publication called Respect Your Youngers to attend Cruel World is an irony in and of itself, but the elders certainly held up. Debbie Harry, who I’ve seen perform with Blondie before, shimmies like the best of them and packed a show full of hits and singalongs. “Heart of Glass” and “One Way or Another,” and while I am sure many fans who only attended one day appreciated the identical setlists, mixing things up on Saturday and Sunday may have been a nice way to please the diehards.

Echo & the Bunnymen, a personal favorite on the lineup, dropped out earlier in the week, and their removal from the schedule resulted in some shuffling and overlap between Blondie and Bauhaus. I only caught a glimpse of the later act’s set, but social media chatter throughout the weekend suggested it was one of the best.

By the time Morrissey took the stage, at almost 10:00 pm, many attendees had left in an effort to beat the parking rush (or just out of exhaustion). “My God, you’re still here?” he remarked upon taking the stage. His set was nearly 20 songs in length, and perhaps more stoic and serious than some of the earlier grooves. On a windy, overcast day, it would have fit the mood just right.

All Photos Courtesy of Cruel World



Brian Benton

Brian Benton is a writer and photographer based in Los Angeles.