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Cruel World Festival, Sunday March 15th 2022

Cruel World

Choices, choices, choices… this is always the problem when you go to a busy music festival, you have to make choices because it’s simply impossible to see everything. Cruel World Festival was one of these: 26 bands on three stages, one very crowded afternoon/evening, and many choices. I ended up seeing 16 bands, which is not too bad despite the fact that, of course, I only saw partial sets for several bands. However, I had to make a few sacrifices.

The music of the ’80s was the theme of the two days, a giant revival of the decade headlined by Devo, Bauhaus, the Psychedelic Furs, Berlin, Blondie, and Morrissey, a dream lineup for anyone who was an avid music listener in 1982. Announced about a year ago, the festival was soon a victim of its success, and had, very early on, to add a second date. Saturday and Sunday were a repeat, with the exact same lineup, and it would not have been a bad idea to buy a ticket for both days to see more acts. My day was Sunday, I just wanted to hear Morrissey perform “Every day is like Sunday” and he did.

When you mention “Morrissey” anywhere, you get exposed to plenty of outrage as many words are thrown in the conversation in a condemning tone: xenophobic, racist… In 2022, Morrissey is a controversial artist, but Goldenvoice’s people knew what they were doing when booking him as the headliner of the night. It was a full, very full house. I will only say one thing: I never see people crying at concerts, except at Morrissey’s concerts. This was the second time it happened: A woman next to me, who had waited the entire afternoon to be front-row, could not stop crying. And she was really crying with tears, not Amber Heard crying, she just couldn’t believe she will be this close to Morrissey.

But Morrissey was probably not the most controversial character performing at Cruel World, Johnny Rotten was playing with his band Public Image Ltd. And we know what kind of coverage his apparent pro-Trump comments got. I am certainly not here to defend anyone who goes full Maga, but I don’t know where Johnny Rotten stands these days. In any case, the entire day was only about music and performance, and I would also add that Goldenvoice knew what generation they were dealing with: cancel-culture was not a thing in 1980…

I started my day walking from one stage to the next, trying to catch as many acts as possible, but as the crowds around the different stages became denser and denser, I decided to stay at the “Outsiders” stage because I couldn’t decide myself to leave my first-row spot. I had to painfully give up seeing Blondie for a front-row experience of a Devo-Bauhaus-Morrissey lineup.

If the headliners were iconic bands of the ‘80s – and I could also add Violent Femmes, English Beat, and the Damned to the previous list – the rest of the day was rather eclectic with a mix of young bands (Automatic, Sextile, Soft Kill…), less young bands (London after Midnight, Cold Cave…), and downright old bands (most of the headliners). Meanwhile, the music was oscillating between goth (Drab Majesty, Christian Death), punk (The Meteors, 45 Grave), electronics (TR/ST, Blaqk Audio, Black Marble), and everything in the middle. Unfortunately for all these goths, the temperatures were in the mid-’90s on Saturday and upper ‘80s on Sunday, so definitively too hot for black outfits, but nobody seemed to care and the color du jour of most people’s eccentric fashion was black, whether goth or punk.

There were many possible Cruel World but mine started with the dark new wave/post-punk with pounding drums of Soft Kill. The heavily tattooed singer had this tough and aggressive attitude and looked like an old punk. I was already familiar with the female power trio Automatic, and that’s probably why I rushed to the main stage and saw most of their set of cold and sexy synth mixed with slow danceable beats. Their krautrock-y electronic sent some sexy grooves over the crowd, and drummer Lola Dompé was probably very proud to play on the same stage as her father Kevin Haskins (Bauhaus’ drummer).

Psychobilly band The Meteors brought some English rockabilly fused with tattooed punk rock: they were simply a lot of fun. Black Marble made their electronic soundscapes sound very goth because of the singer’s echoing and somber vocals. I hadn’t seen Sextile for years, the band had even called it quit after the death of one of its members, but they were back with a vengeance, displaying an aggressive swagger inside their blend of electronic post-punk/industrial/noise. They seemed to have included more danceable electronica than I remember, and they went full EBM at some point. A bit later, TR/ST had almost a similar approach. Alone on a very clean and empty stage, he was restlessly dancing like a sexy bounce goth at a House party. Black Audio (formed by current AFI members) was also using electronic music for their goth drama, while English Beat almost sounded incongruous with their mix of ska, reggae, and upbeat punk rock stuck in the middle of this darkness. Their set was one of the most crowded of the mid-afternoon showing that people were ready for a total ‘80s revival. The Damned rocked the “Sad Girls” stage with the unexpected (to me) help of Queens of The Stone Age’s Troy Van Leeuwen, who has been replacing Captain Sensible this year. They were also quite upbeat and gave us a very explosive set with a brilliant cover of Love’s “Alone Again Or,” suddenly bringing back the ‘60s more than the ‘80s.

But if you wanted real goth, with the theatrics and the Halloween costumes under the hot sun, you could have opted for 45 Grave, fronted by a blue-purple hair woman who was screaming her lyrics with some colorful punk-goth attitude in the middle of the afternoon. A bit later, London after Midnight had an androgynous allure with a goth look and some intense cinematic soundscapes, mixing mystery and danger.

Public Image Ltd.’s John Lydon screamed through his entire set, rolling his Rs with tremendous theatrical effects despite the obscenities he was yelling. The 66-year-old was gesticulating with a gnarled face, and I was not sure what to think. Was it supposed to be fun or painful?

During The Church’s set, I got a good spot in front of the main stage and moved even closer to the stage little by little. I had to stay despite Debbi Harry calling me on the other stage… I didn’t know much about the music of the Australian band and this stayed quite vague and blurry in my mind for most of the set until they played their 1988 hit, “Under the Milky Way” … anyone knows that song. For once, there was nothing goth about them, but they certainly were from the eighties, a bit Stranglers, a bit breezy dreamy alt-rock, a bit new wave, very guitar-driven, while their last song ended in a powerful jam

With the current political climate, Devo was received like the prophets they have always been, reminding us we have been experiencing real “Devo-lution” lately… “from the Supreme Court to Putin…” We cannot say the state of the world is going very well but Devo has warned us for years against the grotesque carnival of human stupidity, the regressive state of the culture, and the idiotic theater of politics and culture… They played several songs from their album “Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!,” like “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Mongoloid,” “Jocko Homo,” including the Stones’ cover “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” and, as usual, they stayed very entertaining: they threw away a few of their iconic hats and even did a costume change, showed up in matching yellow jumpsuits that frontman Mark Mothersbaugh soon started to rip apart.

But the true goths were undoubtedly Bauhaus with a mesmerizing set of dark shadows, bright white light and so much fog that it was impossible to see Peter Murphy for a while. He finally emerged from the fog shining like a human diamond, or rather a thousand of them, wearing a jacket encrusted with shiny stones. When I think Bauhaus I think macabre and grandiose and classic theater, like Shakespeare or something in German. From Murphy’s self-crowning to the rain of red rose petals mimicking blood to the pseudo crucifixion/Jesus-on-the-cross pause, theatrics effectively reigned supreme during their set. Without forgetting the classics (“She’s in Parties,” or “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”), they also covered John Cale and David Bowie (“Ziggy Stardust”) while the rest of the set was gloomy Bauhaus material and rattling guitars.

Morrissey was the ultimate headliner, and don’t believe articles that are saying that plenty of people had left the festival before his set because of his politics. The place was very crowded, and the front rows had obviously endured a full day of heat and exhaustion to be there. Appropriately, Morrissey sang a lot of Smiths’ songs, “How Soon Is Now?” “Half a Person,” “I Know It’s Over,” “Never Had No One Ever,” and “Sweet and Tender Hooligan,” alternating with his personal tunes, while moving with abandon in front of his usual video projections of photos of actors and musicians from the 1950s-70s. Interestingly, I checked the setlist for Saturday, and it was an almost completely different one! Loyal to his eccentric crooner image, he whipped the stage with his mic cord, removed his tie, threw it to the crowd, and teased us with his jacket that he finally put back on due to the chilly temperatures of the night. This would not have been a Morrissey concert without an agitated guy rushing to the stage and immediately stopped by security. Morrissey kneeled to reach his hand and continued without a pause. Guitarist Alain Whyte, who was Morrissey’s main songwriting partner in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, was back in the band after a long absence, turning the night into a real vintage Morrissey evening for the delight of his fans.

With Cruel World, Goldenvoice had booked quite a lineup, a time-capsule type of roster that didn’t care about politics or didn’t mind offending people. After posting photos of Morrissey and John Lydon on social media, I received critics from several people…

For a day, we were living in a world where Devo and John Lydon’s fans can peacefully cohabit, where English Beat can take a jab at the headliner (Morrissey, even though they never said his name) and make people laugh without any consequence: “Never forget folks, Hitler was a vegetarian” … yes, they really said that during their set. Cruel World may have played on ‘80s music nostalgia, but it also made us step into a world that doesn’t exist anymore, and it was so good.

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