Dark World: Context is key. This coming weekend, the latest installment of the Cruel World Festival takes place at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena –— the nostalgia-fueled goth, punk and new-wave festival that this year features the likes of Iggy Pop, Siouxsie, Billy Idol, the Human League, Adam Ant, Gang of Four and many more.
Cruel World is sandwiched by two shows at the Hollywood Palladium headlined by dark rockers (don’t call them goth) the Sisters of Mercy. Some might think that the Sisters would be perfect for a Cruel World spot. Frontman Andrew Eldritch is certainly not one of those people.
“The what? Oh… is that the pasty Californian dweeb thing? You may quote me on that,” Eldritch says. “Something did cross my desk that involved pasty-faced Californian dweebs. It crossed my desk very swiftly.”
Eldritch has a reputation for being a massive grump. Scratch the surface and he’s a charmer with a bone-dry sense of humor, who doesn’t seem to care a whole lot about nostalgia or attaching himself to a scene that is rooted in a bygone age.
Honestly, that ship has probably sailed. And it’s likely that a lot of the same “pasty-faced Californian dweebs” that will be at Cruel World also will be at the Palladium. Those that do go will hear an awesome rock ‘n’ roll band performing some new music alongside old classics.
“I feel good about it,” Eldritch says. “It has the melodicism of early Sisters stuff, which is probably due to Ben (Christo, guitar) liking the early stuff more than I do, and he’s largely responsible for the melodicism of those songs. On the other hand, the words are better than they’ve ever been, and, sometimes the power of them overwhelms me. I’m genuinely impressed by what we’ve recently achieved. Lyrically, I’m not going to comment on the authorial voice – that’s the job of journalists. I will say that the narrator is a different person now than he may have seemed to have been when you thought that was who the author was. I could talk for hours about this and dramaturgy. Because dramaturgy is my field of expertise. I never thought I’d be doing it, but I do know a lot about it. That’s my academic frame of reference.”
On the subject of the older stuff, the Sisters’ early Reptile House EP was recently re-released on pretty, smoky vinyl for Record Store Day. The frontman says that he wasn’t involved or even asked.
“It’s remarkable how a major record company can release stuff without consulting the artist involved,” he says. “At all. You’d have thought they would, because it might help shift some units. But, hey, record companies. What are they like? Well, they’re not like record companies.”
There hasn’t been a new Sisters of Mercy album since 1990’s Vision Thing, despite the fact that they continue to write new music. Eldritch must love touring then, right? Not really, although he does enjoy being places.
“Going to places is terrible these days,” he says. “Travel is a nightmare. Being places is nice. I’m very good at landing some place and acting natural and blending in. I dress down and I speak the language. I don’t care what your language is, I speak it. With performing, my terror manifests itself in different ways. Right now, I’m kind of having fun with it. And that was just terror upon terror. These days, I go on with a smile on my face and I go off with a smile on my face. And that is different. Don’t ask me what’s caused it.”
The current Sisters lineup is still fairly fresh, with the main man joined by guitarists Ben Christo (since 2006) and Dylan Smith (since 2019). Ravey Davey, who operates famed electronic beat keeper Doktor Avalanche, completes the troupe.
“On a tech level, we’re not gelled at all,” Eldritch says. “There’s work to be done on that side. Riff-wise, lick-wise, mates-wise, we’re doing good.”
“I think there’s a good onstage synergy,” adds Christo. “Over the years we’ve developed a sort of ‘performer sonar’.”
These dates will be the Sisters’ first Stateside in a decade. The authorities here apparently don’t make it easy for touring bands.
“The logistical side of it is still difficult because America is, frankly, a shambles,” Eldritch says. “But America needs us. And we are capable of dealing with the challenges. And so much of what we do is predicated on American rock ‘n’ roll that you can’t ignore it forever. I don’t remember our 2008 tour other than that Obama was being elected and we celebrated that to the max. So, we had a blast. Because: Obama. But that was before the pandemic and everybody’s life – everybody’s life – has been reset since then. The time before lockdown seems like a different era. And it’s a lump of stuff that happened before lockdown.”
Eldritch refers to the pandemic as The Event, and considers the “lump of stuff” that happened before The Event as from a previous life.
“Possibly similar to the World Wars, inasmuch as we lost people in the event,” he says. “And similarly, a whole generation of people got wiped out, particularly in the First World War. My family was just… wiped out.”
When asked about his Los Angeles memories, the first thing that comes to mind for Eldritch is the notorious Tropicana.
“I remember The Tropicana,” he says. “Bad times at the El Royale. A very famous rock ‘n’ roll
motel. Everything you think happened there really did happen there. Of course, I didn’t do it… but I may have watched it. I think they tore it down. Or the cockroaches ate it. Performance-wise… you’re asking me this question now, when I’m offstage. When I’m on stage, I’m a completely different headspace.”
One band that is playing Cruel World is Love & Rockets. That means Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins and David J will be back at the festival a year after they performed there with their other band, Bauhaus.
“We had no intention of doing this,” says Ash. “The offer came out of the blue. Kevin has contact with promoters in town, because he lives in L.A. He got a phone call a few months ago – did we want to do Cruel World? He thought it through, and the offer was great, so why not? It’s a deja vu situation. We were doing exactly the same thing last year, so it’s almost like a continuation. But that’s how it happened. I know I didn’t think in a million years that we’d be doing Love & Rockets this year after doing Bauhaus last year. With bands, if you do a big gig in town, then you don’t come into the town again for at least 18 months. But this is actually a different band with different songs. But we were pleasantly surprised. We were also pleasantly surprised and excited about the interest from the public. So when this was offered, it snowballed into many other offers coming through. So we embraced it. We’re going to be doing 16 or 17 gigs. Beggars Banquet, the record company, six months ago said that they wanted to re-release all of our back catalog on vinyl, etc. So everything has come together by accident. We’re having some good luck at the moment.”
Bauhaus, Ash says, is done now. He also says that Love & Rockets will be done after the current run of shows. He’s said things like that before, but he seems to mean it this time. At least for now he does.
“I’ve made the mistake in the past of saying something is done, and then something else might come up,” he says. “Having a 13-year break makes it all fresh again. But there are no plans after this. Myself, I see this as one last blast.”
There’s a new CD/digital collection out called My Dark Twin, a sequel of sorts to 1996’s Sweet FA. We might get some of that at Cruel World, but Ash is promising a crowd-pleasing set. And a show!
“The main thing for us is we’re trying out something very new with lights,” he says. “We’ve got what I would call a modern psychedelic show. I can’t go into detail, but it’s something very new for us, the technology that we’re going to be using at this show for the lights. As far as the set goes, we’re in rehearsals right now. We’re planning on playing mostly what people want to hear with a few things like ‘Deep Deep Down” that we haven’t played for a long time. So there’s a few little surprises in the set – a few tracks that we’ve never played live before. But in essence, it’s all the faves.”
He’s not the only one with plans. Roman Komogortsev of Belarusian post-punks Molchat Doma says that he wishes he wasn’t playing so early, mind you.
“We’ll play a regular festival set,” he says. “We were very upset when we found out that we were performing so early in time, which did not allow us to reach our full potential on stage, but we think that everything will be fine. We would love to see the performance of such artists as Gary Numan, The Human League, Animotion, but due to the fact that we are currently on tour, it seems to me that, purely physically, we will not be able to see them, because most likely we will go to rest in a hotel.”
Mick Conroy of Modern English is well aware of what a festival crowd of this type will want to hear.
“We are playing songs from our first two LPs, Mesh & Lace and After the Snow, plus one or two new songs,” he says. “Expect to hear ‘I Melt With You,’ of course. If I can, I will be checking out most of the bands playing. Definitely Gang of Four. I haven’t seen them play live for quite a long time now. Iggy Pop, of course, and the Bunnymen are on the list. But like most people going to Cruel World, I’m looking forward to seeing the return of Siouxsie. Our first ever gig was opening for Adam and the Ants and The Banshees in 1977.”
Similarly, Bill Wadhams of Animotion has a set planned that has been pleasing crowds on the ‘80s gig circuit for years now.
“We’ll be playing songs from our three ‘80s albums, and a few from our 2017 album, Raise,” he says. “Over the years, we’ve shared the stage with many artists on the bill, so we’ll be looking for acts we haven’t seen in a while, like Siouxie, Iggy, and Gary Numan. I’m a fan of Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens. My son, Will, insists I check out Boy Harsher. Will’s currently on tour with his group – Nation – opening for Yves Tumor.”
By the end of May, Cruel World and those Sisters shows at the Palladium will be over. For Ashm that currently means no more Love & Rockers or Bauhaus. But there’s a lot more to come from the Cali-based Brit.
“I started this thing in 2019, a band called Ashes & Diamonds,” Ash says. “It’s Paul Denman from Sade on bass, and Bruce Smith from PiL on drums, and myself. COVID happened, so that stopped for a while. We were trying to write from either ends of the country and even other countries, but there’s nothing like being in a room just with the three of us. So we got back together again and, long story short, we’ve got an album 99% done now. We’ll be shopping for a deal soon and then hopefully doing some live gigs in the autumn to Christmas. Some singles and an album. Maybe an EP or two first. I’ve got to relearn how it’s all done now.”
The final word has to go to Eldritch, and the man is looking forward to touring North and South America outside of the US border.
“I was recently asked, ‘What’s the best thing about coming to America?’ Or, more specifically, the U.S.A. And I said, ‘it’s on the way to México, where they do things properly’,” Eldritch says. “Because, as I’ve previously mentioned, logistically, organizing anything in America is a fucking shambles. We’re going to go to South America; we like being in South America very much. South America likes us being there. Then we’re going to do our usual shtick of European festivals… and I might actually get to go home. I haven’t been home for two years. So, I might get to go to my house and take my one remaining cat back to his house. And then we go on tour again and we’re gonna play Europe for… forever, I think. It’s nice being a troubadour. People say, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to make records?’ Yeah… maybe. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to do this or do that?’ Yeah… maybe. But we’re good at being troubadours. And we’re troubadour-ing until pantomime season when Ben, strangely, needs to disappear and do ‘other work’.”
Eldritch is gonna Eldritch!
For Cruel World info, visit cruelworldfest.com. For everything Sisters, go to the-sisters-of-mercy.com.
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