Cruel World 2024

text by digital-media

14 June, 2024

Production Coordinator Will and Publications Coordinator Galilea took on Huntington Beach’s Cruel World Festival this past month, ready to report back to KCSB’s audience with all the scintillating details. Check it out. 

words by: Will Bacaj and Galilea Trujillo
photos by: Will Bacaj
Mark Almond of Soft Cell

Duran Duran, Blondie, Interpol, and Tones on a Tail headlined a lineup full of nostalgic favorites, but perhaps in a sign of future editions to come, this year’s roster featured more acts who represent the next wave of dark and punk-inspired music that appeals to everybody from the boomers to the zoomers.

The 2023 edition of Cruel World had a stacked lineup, topped by Siouxsie’s first performance in the United States since 2008. Thanks to a few freak cracks of lightning during Iggy Pop and the Human League’s sets, what was intended to be a one-day festival unexpectedly became a two-day festival. As an attendee, the circumstances were a bit disorienting on the ground, but on the bright side, at least we got to see Gary Numan and Iggy Pop twice in two days

Taking the 2023 weather setback into consideration, along with the emergence of Darker Waves, a new competitor festival aimed at Southern California’s many assorted goths and new wavers which took place in Huntington Beach this past November, one could be forgiven for wondering how Cruel World would respond in its third year of existence.

Luckily, the 2024 edition of Cruel World went off without a hitch on May 11, 2024. Here were some of KCSB’s favorite sets of the day:

The Faint

Coming off of a great performance at last year’s edition of Goldenvoice’s 2000s-themed nostalgia festival, Just Like Heaven, the Faint seamlessly integrated themselves into the Cruel World milieu. As the sun bore harsh on many a frequent indoors dweller, the Faint whipped up the crowd into a fervor with the first explicitly dance-oriented set of the day that called to mind the musical lineage of Depeche Mode and New Order while remaining true to their own original sound. 

You know an act is hitting the mark live when they can get a festival crowd dancing in the full midday heat, pacing yourself be damned. The Faint’s set spanned their career from 1999’s Blank Wave Arcade to 2019’s Ego Werk, but every song blended together into a swirl of jittery drums and synths. Though their prime 2000’s output suggested a band who might be better suited to Just Like Heaven, The Faint’s music felt right at home at Cruel World, and the crowd seemed to enthusiastically agree.  -WB

Gary Numan performing “The Pleasure Principle”

Gary Newman enjoyed every second of being on stage. The crowd got a fast of that lively energy that he showcased in his early performances, though a bit less robotic and a little more animated. He thrilled the crowd with his rendition of “The Pleasure Principle” in its entirety. Towards the conclusion of his set, Newman brought his three daughters on stage to provide backup vocals for “Conversation.” Clad in black attire and eyeliner, sisters Raven, Persia, and Echo maintained a stoic expression as they murmured lyrics in unison. Be it due to nerves or an all around teenage aloofness, their stone faced aura contrasted with their father’s dynamite spirit. Nonetheless, it was a charming touch to Newman’s already exhilarating performance, reflecting his enduring passion for music throughout years of live shows. He gave the gift of a fitting lead-in to the performances by his new wave counterparts, Duran Duran and Blondie, who closed out the evening with a bang. -GT

Heaven 17

Had Heaven 17 only played the opening song of their set, that would have been enough to go home happy. It was hard to choose any act above seeing Ministry perform their early synth-laden material, but most acts don’t have songs as eternally relevant as Heaven 17’s “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.” From to the titular refrain to the drum machines mimicking the marching of military boots, every line still rings true in its calls for solidarity in opposing racist and fascist states, a call that has become only more relevant with the ongoing genocide being committed in Gaza. The BBC refused to play the song due to the line “Reagan’s president elect / Fascist god in motion” being dubbed potentially libelous.  BBC’s loss!

As the anarchist socialist Emma Goldman famously wrote, “If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution” — and Heaven 17 easily surpassed that bar during their set. Songs like “Fascist Groove Thang” fit readily in a setlist featuring other classics like “Crushed by the Wheels of Industry,” “Penthouse and Pavement,” and a cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” which were all delivered replete with fantastic backing vocals. As soon as their set ended, I wanted to rewind to the start and do it all over again.  -WB


The Ministry delivered an outstanding performance at 2024’s annual Cruel World. From teenagers in black eyeliner and platform boots, to fans who might have seen a live Ministry show in their heyday, the range of audience members all shared one thing: a reverence for the band and their thrilling stage presence. Joining the ensemble were guest artists Tina Guo on electric cello and Mia Asan on electric violin, contributing to a fuller sound to the set.

The Ministry delivered an armful of crowd-pleasers from their earliest studio album, With Sympathy, while peppering songs from their sophomore release Twitch. The heavy industrial sound of the latter bled into the danceable synth nature of the former, revamping old classics for their loyal fans.

All in all, the Ministry does not disappoint in translating their invigorating studio recordings into an extra invigorating performance, delivering an unforgettable show for their loyal audience. -GT

The Jesus and Mary Chain 

Some bands don’t need to jump up and down to make their presence known to a crowd. They know their discography is full of heavy hitters. All they have to do is exude the cool confidence born of writing killer songs for four decades and let it rip. Beginning with their newest single “jamcod” from their 2024 record Glasgow Eyes, brothers Jim and William Reid of the Jesus and Mary Chain ran through a career-spanning set that ran the gamut from iconic 80s records like Automatic, Darklands and Psychocandy to brilliant latter day records like 2017’s Damage and Joy (a personal favorite). 

The Jesus and Mary Chain took a victory lap late in their set by inviting Zanias onstage to help with their live renditions of “Sometimes Always” and “Just Like Honey,” the latter enshrined as a millennial classic for its use in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. While no one could really quite call the Jesus and Mary Chain’s stage presence warm, the songs go down like honey all the same. – WB

Soft Cell

With David Ball now an on-and-off member of Soft Cell for live shows these days, Marc Almond now acts as the singer and frontman for the legendary synth-pop duo. 

Casual dabblers in their discography might best know Soft Cell for their synth-laden cover of Gloria Jones’s “Tainted Love,” which was a hit on both sides of the pond, but Soft Cell were much more than a one-off affair, as proven in their 2024 Cruel World set. Almond gave the crowd many reasons to dance with abandon during a set that demonstrated how essential Soft Cell were to the evolution of bands like New Order and the entire acid house scene that would unfurl in the aftermath. 

Beginning with the song “Memorabilia,” a song Vice dubbed the “First Ever Ecstasy Song,” Marc Almond and his backing band showed everyone in the crowd how to get down, no matter how dower their inherent disposition may be. Every song was a banger during that fifty minute run of fun.

A sea of black-clad festival goers chanting the refrain of “misery/complaints/self pity/injustice” on the synth and saxophone freakout of “Chips on My Shoulder” as the sun dipped below the California hills provided the most beautifully cathartic moment of the day.

“Tainted Love” made its expected appearance as the penultimate song of their set, but Soft Cell ended with an especially raucous rendition of “Sex Dwarf” with drag artist Christeene guesting on vocals, an aptly queer and freaky cap to my favorite set of the weekend. Marc Almond and company brought the party to Pasadena. If you missed Soft Cell’s set, you missed out.  -WB


When in doubt, see the legends. 

No matter your particular musical interests, everyone found something to love in Blondie’s Cruel World set. Though festival-length setlists make it hard to play every single chart-topper and deep cut to please the most hardcore fans, all of Blondie’s many modes were well-represented in their 2024 Cruel World set. 

Do you like punk rock? Well, guess what, so does Blondie. Debbie Harry’s sneering vocals gave the proper punky verve to one-two punch of “One Way or Another” and their cover of the Nerves classic “Hanging on the Telephone” that opened their set, earning Blondie their patch on many a Cruel World attendee’s jean jacket.

Do you dig new wave music? If so, you were in good company. “Call Me,” the product of Blondie’s collaboration with Giorgio Moroder for the 1980 Paul Schrader movie American Gigolo was right there in the third song of the set, luxurious swirling synths and all, serving as the connection point between the Moroder-inflected disco of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” and all of the ascendent new wavers to come.

As an attendee, perhaps you rued the lack of hip-hop at Cruel World? Cue “Rapture,” the first single to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart featuring a rap verse — replete with references to hip hop pioneers Grandmaster Flash and Freddie and the Fab Five.

Ok, so maybe what you really needed to tap into your final energy reserves of the festival was a proper disco song featuring a classic four-on-the-floor beat? Brother, Blondie had you more than covered with a bouncy rendition of “Heart of Glass.” 

No matter what you came to hear, Blondie ripped off songs one by one with cool efficiency. Every song ended with touring guitarist Tommy Kessler whipping his guitar picks into the crowd with a degree of speed and dexterity that would have put Ricky Jay to shame, as singer Debbie Harry hopped back on the mic to announce the next song with yet another devilishly droll understatement. The Cruel World crowd didn’t need a dissertation from Debbie, though. Decades later, Blondie’s songs still more than speak for themselves. -WB

Duran Duran

As they stepped on stage, Duran Duran leapt right into an upbeat performance full of crowd favorites, old and new. Vibrant visuals draped behind Simon Le Bon as he danced across the stage, soaking in the adoration from all angles of the audience. Not a moment lulled as Duran Duran delivered hit after hit, from a electrifying deliverance of “Notorious” to the impassioned rendition of “Come Undone” with guest artist Ana Ross, finally landing on the golden crowd-pleaser “Rio”. Anthemic sing-along or soul-stirring ballad, each song was curated to take listeners on a journey of sensations. Duran Duran gifted fans with a performance that will be etched in my memory for years to come. -GT

Tones on a Tail

With any festival featuring multiple stages, there will always be hard decisions. Do you stay with a band that’s giving you a guaranteed good time or do you steal away to another stage to try and catch another act you love? With Duran Duran charming every attendee in sight, it was hard to tear oneself away. But with each passing minute, the dancey post-punk siren song of Tones on a Tails’ first live set in 40 years beckoned. 

A side project of Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins of the gothic mainstays Bauhaus, Tones on a Tail delivered on decades  of anticipation. Dressed in black and covered with metal studs and chains, Daniel Ash provided brilliant counterprogramming to the buoyancy of Duran Duran’s set while manning the guitar, vocals and saxophone for Tones on a Tail. 

While the past few hours of Soft Cell, Blondie and Duran Duran had provided deliriously danceable fun, the ecstatic despondence of a tight three-piece creating dark, tense textures the likes of which H.R Geiger could only dream helped deliver on the promise of a festival called Cruel World. 

Following the performance of their final song of the night “There’s Only One,” Ash said to the assembled crowd of dark wavers and goths “We should do a couple more of these, don’t you think?”

Indeed we should, Daniel. Don’t let another 40 years go by before the next show.

Darker Waves may have offered an interesting alternative last fall, but when it comes to SoCal festivals oriented around these disparate waves, there’s only one. We should always aspire to find this much fun in a Cruel World. -WB

Posted in Blog, Show reviews, Music