‘Every Day is Halloween’: Cruel World brings the new wave sound to the Rose Bowl

Fans flocked to Brookside at the Rose Bowl for Blondie, Duran Duran and Ministry.

Cruel World featured numerous alternative groups throughout the day on May 11. Artists like Duran Duran, Interpol, Blondie and Simple Minds added to the event’s cool, dark atmosphere. (Gianna Canto / Daily Trojan)

Despite nearly cloudless skies, a black shadow draped the grounds of Brookside at the Rose Bowl on May 11 as a sea of eager concertgoers gathered for this year’s Cruel World Festival. Goths, baby goths and new wave fans from all walks of life arrived prepped for the day’s festivities, adorned in dark layers, leather harnesses, fishnet tights and spike-studded bracelets. The harmony of synthesizers and electronic drums could be heard from a mile away.

Cruel World’s 2024 lineup hosted an impressive combination of ’80s veterans, modern favorites, and rock royalty. Bands such as Blondie, Duran Duran, Interpol and Placebo were on everybody’s must-see list. Performing on the aptly named “Lost Boys Stage,” “Sad Girls Stage” and “Outsiders Stage,” bands like Nuovo Testamento, The Motels and Gary Numan welcomed attendees with their magnetic sound. Ornately decorated parasols bobbed through the crowd — they’ve become yearly festival favorites, lined in lace and black tassels that swayed with every lull in the melody.

As the day progressed, the horde of fans swelled, running across the grounds and in between stages to catch acts like Adam Ant, The Jesus and The Mary Chain, Ministry, TR/ST and DREAMCAR.

“All of the performances have been amazing because there’s so much space to spread out and really get close to the stage,” said Nic Levesque, a graduate student studying cinema and media studies at USC. “They feel like these intimate performances even though there are these massive stars who I, for sure, have been wanting to see for years and years and [have] been obsessing over.”

The stacked setlist drew in fans young and old, from festival first-timers to seasoned professionals. Whether you were in it for the long haul or just a fan of the headliners, with three stages, a DJ tent and an on-site record store, Cruel World had something for everyone.

“Everyone’s so sweet. I’ve been here so many times and never experienced any negativity,” said Cruel World regular Tina Estrella. “Everyone’s always like, ‘Yes girl slay!’ Everyone’s very supportive of each other and everyone’s just vibing on their own so it’s this very cool community just bringing together so many different generations of music fans.”

Simple Minds and Soft Cell closed the afternoon with nostalgia galore as they performed crowd-pleasing favorites “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and “Tainted Love.” The night’s crescent moon assumed its place among the stars as Blondie took to the stage in a post-punk explosion.

At 78 years old, Debbie Harry ruled the stage with as much effortless cool as she did in 1974. Opening with “One Way or Another,” the band kept the crowd moving with hit after hit.

The band covered nearly every track off its “Greatest Hits” compilation — from “Call Me” to “The Tide is High” — met by the roaring praise and loving adoration of all in attendance. Harry rounded out the night with energized performances of “Heart of Glass” and “Dreaming,” waving the crowd goodbye as she dished out one last signature smize.

Silence fell as the stage lights dimmed. Onscreen, four familiar men emerged from the cabin of a spacecraft as electronic tones hummed through the air. Duran Duran had arrived. The band delivered an exciting set filled with decade-defining sounds, thrilling the mob of devotees with “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Girls on Film.”

Flashlights lit up the stage after the favorites-filled performance as the choir of thousands sang along to “Save a Prayer” during the encore. Posters of these MTV regulars plastered the walls of many in attendance, an influence that was felt in the sheer amount of energy that teemed through the crowd as they danced to “Rio,” the perfect festival send-off.

For many, the festival is as much about the music as it is a celebration of community. Even if it only lasts a day, this shared experience builds a common ground for listeners bound by timeless tunes.

“It’s a lifestyle,” said Nancy Dawn, a lifelong fan of new wave. “I live this every day. My genre of music is my life. Like Ministry says, ‘Every Day Is Halloween.’ It’s not just one day a year. So when I come to festivals like this, I’m blessed that I’m able to support this culture.”

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