Blondie’s Clem Burke Talks Cruel World & How Festivals Are A ‘Muse’ For The Band

Blondie performs at the Cruel World festival at Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 14, 2022. The band is set to return to the 2024 event.
Photo by Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

With an eclectic sound that continues to influence artists from punk to pop and an impressive catalog that boasts hit songs including “Heart Of Glass,” “Call Me” and “One Way Or Another,” it’s no wonder that Goldenvoice’s Cruel World festival asked Blondie to return for its 2024 edition.

The band, which formed in New York in 1974 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, played the inaugural Cruel World in 2022. The third annual event will return to Brookside At The Rose Bowl on May 11 in Pasadena, California, featuring a lineup concentrated on New Wave, alternative rock, post-punk and goth rock. Duran Duran tops the bill, which includes Interpol, Simple Minds, Placebo, Soft Cell, Adam Ant, Ministry, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Gary Numan and more.

Blondie drummer Clem Burke recently caught up with
Pollstar to talk festivals ahead of Cruel World. The band is gearing up for a run of shows in Australia, Europe and the U.S., with the follow-up album to 2017’s Pollinator expected to be released in early 2025.

Pollstar: What was your experience like playing the inaugural Cruel World?

Clem Burke: It was a long time coming because of the pandemic … so there was a lot of built up anticipation of us performing at Cruel World. And luckily for us, we had just come off of a UK arena tour so we were really primed for that festival. It came at the perfect time for us and we felt really good about our performance. A bunch of the guys from Goldenvoice were very complimentary … and I think because of our performance we were able to finally play Coachella last summer, which was great.

Any acts you’re looking forward to seeing at the 2024 festival?

Before we took our hiatus back in the early ’80s, we had Duran Duran as our opening band. There was a club in New York City called Hurrah that I went to along with our bass player at the time, Nigel Harrison, to see Duran Duran play and we wound up meeting the guys. We had just been planning a U.S. tour and so we asked them [about] the possibility of them coming on that tour, which they did, so they have to thank me for their success basically in the United States. (laughs)

I really like Interpol a lot … I just did a little tour in the UK celebrating Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life album. The keyboard player that was on the tour was this woman called Flo Sabeva who is actually the keyboard player in Heaven 17. So I’m really looking forward to seeing Flo again. … The Stranglers are old friends of ours. … It’s a pretty user-friendly festival. So if you are able to show up early you can spend some time getting around seeing a bunch of the other bands as well. The Jesus and Mary Chain, I like a lot. The Alarm is playing …

How will Blondie approach playing the festival?
When you do a festival you only have a certain amount of time allotted, and so we usually try to stick with the more well-known Blondie songs. When we’re doing our own show we like to go a bit deeper and we also have a new album that’s due to come out probably the beginning of next year, but I don’t think we’re going to be doing any of the new material yet. People just want to have a good time and they want to hear songs that they know. …
We always like playing the greater L.A. metro area. Back in the day, L.A. was integral to the early success of Blondie. We came out in February of ’77 – God, it’s so long ago now — and we played two shows a night for six nights at the Whisky with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers opening. And then we did another week right afterward with us opening for The Ramones. So L.A. has a lot of fond memories for us in general.

Have there been any other festivals that have really stood out to you?
We just did Glastonbury in the UK for the third time. … We played right before Elton John on the main stage. It’s televised across the UK and the residual effect of playing Glastonbury … the whole country becomes aware of the band again, it kind of re-ups everything and so Glastonbury is a memorable festival, for sure.
Coachella was fun to play last year. Nile Rodgers from Chic sat in with us. We did a couple of songs.

Anything you want to add?
We’re just excited to be able to be there [at Cruel World] and play. … Festivals are really, really fun. … There’s that built-up anticipation which I kinda think we thrive on in some ways. So it makes it a little more interesting, as opposed to when you’re doing your own gig you’re methodically going through the sound check and there’s time to relax before the show — festivals are not necessarily like that. It’s more get-up-there-and-go-for-it so that energy is kind of a muse for us in a lot of ways.