Reading Festival has a history of memorable, surprising and downright crazy moments: Corey Taylor inciting the first ever “jumpdafuckup”; L7’s Donita Sparks instructing the crowd to “eat my used tampon, fuckers” and a camping chair nearly taking 50 Cent’s head off. But one of the most infamous of all is the moment when Greg Puciato, the frontman of the then-relatively unknown The Dillinger Escape Plan, gave a whole new meaning to the idea of laying waste to a festival during their mainstage performance in 2002.
Firstly, it’s worth noting exactly where Dillinger were in their career at this point; when they set foot onstage at Reading they only had one full-length album to their name, 1999’s genre-defining Calculating Infinity, and were, essentially, a completely underground band. Original vocalist Dimitri Minakakis had left and TDEP had all but split before he was replaced by Puciato in 2001. A few hardcore fans of weird, underground music were aware of Dillinger, and they had begun to establish something of a cult following, but, really, they were far from a big deal.
Out of the blue, in 2002, they were contacted by System Of A Down’s Daron Malakian and asked to open for his band on their upcoming European tour - a fantastic opportunity for such a tiny outfit, but one that was massively challenging. Dillinger were mercilessly booed every night by SOAD’s fans, with Greg recently telling Metal Hammer: “We were getting booed so badly we couldn’t even hear our monitors.” It was a war of attrition, and so when TDEP were asked to open the mainstage at Reading and Leeds later that year off the back of that tour, they had preempted the backlash.
Dillinger featured on a bill that included The Prodigy, Slipknot, Hundred Reasons and NOFX: musically all a world away from TDEP, but hardly offensive bedfellows. Perhaps it was the inclusion of watered-down post-grunge like Puddle of Mudd, the cuddly pop-punk of The Offspring or the hippie nu metal of Incubus that really put Dillinger’s back up. “That was the first time we ever played with bands we don't like,” Greg told Kerrang! In 2016. “Up until then it was like - you go on tour with bands you feel a kinship with and we had never been exposed to some mass thing where you're playing with a band like Puddle of Mudd or whoever it was at the time who made me feel like, 'Oh I got to make some kind of a statement.'”
And they certainly did. Dillinger walked onstage at midday on Sunday August 25, with a few thousand curious folk diluting a couple of hundred hardened TDEP fans who knew exactly what to expect...or so they thought. As the band opened with a chaotic Sugar Coated Sour, it didn’t take long for things to turn, and bottles started to rain down on the band from those whose ears were not used to taking this kind of sonic battering. For the first few songs it all followed the same format as those SOAD shows: Dillinger playing to a majority of boos and middle fingers. Then, history was made.
In the middle of Dillinger's set, Puciato began to prepare some toilet roll, pulled down his trousers and, with his arse facing the crowd, started to squeeze a log out and into his now paper-protected hand, before placing it into a plastic bag. At first no one knew if what we were seeing was real; the distain turned into disbelief at what was playing out. Was this really, really, happening?
At the song's, climax Puciato addressed the crowd. Holding the bag aloft he told everyone in no uncertain terms: "This is a piece of shit...you're going to see plenty more of it on this stage today, so you’d better get used to it." Then, to the shock of everyone, he proceeded to hurtle the bag of faeces into the crowd. Dillinger started up their next song, and had that have been the end of the entire affair it would have been shocking enough. Somehow, though, the bag ended up being thrown back onstage at Dillinger - at which point Puciato upped the stakes even further.
Pulling the bag open and retrieving his feculence from within, Greg smeared the stool from his cheek all the way down his chest and over his pristine white t-shirt.
It’s at this point that the true magnitude of the situation was brought to light, with members of the crowd screaming and running as if they were extras in a disaster epic watching the world crumble around them. Greg jumped down into the photo pit, up onto the barrier, removed his shirt and began to swirl the scat-splattered garment dangerously close to a horrified audience.
As Dillinger completed their set with a savage 43% Burnt, Puciato clearly struggling not to gag on what must have been an overpowering stench of dung in his nostrils, his shirt somehow ended back up onstage, Greg even retrieving it as he exited the stage. There was something of a stunned silence around the main stage area in the aftermath; it wasn’t even one in the afternoon yet, and the definitive moment of the day - hell, the entire weekend - had already happened. Spare a thought for British bruisers Raging Speedhorn, who were on a hiding to nothing: they now had to follow that!
As the years passed, The Dillinger Escape Plan established themselves as part of rock and metal’s rich tapestry. What they initially believed was their one shot at a mainstream festival actually became quite commonplace: they played twice more at Reading and Leeds before their split, as well as plenty more major festivals around the world. But the 'poo incident' was so infamous that it would occasionally rear its head throughout their career, all the way until they called it quits in 2017. So much so, in fact, that Puciato remains utterly bored with being reminded of it. “It never gets brought up anywhere except the UK,” he recently told us. “I’d just say the same thing I have already said.”.
For most clued-up music fans, there is far, far more of a legacy to The Dillinger Escape Plan than just one singular bowel movement. But in terms of notoriety, there surely isn’t a more fabled dirty protest than this one.