Reading has undergone some drastic evolutions over the years. In the early 80s, it was a festival dominated by hard rock and NWOBHM bands (it was, famously, at Reading ’81 that Rod Smallwood approached Bruce Dickinson – who appeared with Samson at that year’s event – to audition for Iron Maiden). As the 90s dawned, the festival became a smorgasbord of alternative music, seeing everyone from Nirvana to Public Enemy to The Chemical Brothers play prestigious slots on its main stage during that time.
In 1999, the festival would add a twin site in Leeds, and over twenty years later, it stands as one of the most diverse lineups the UK has to offer; this year’s edition is packing a six-headliner bonanza of Rage Against The Machine, Halsey, The Arctic Monkeys, Dave, Megan Thee Stallion and Bring Me The Horizon.
Metal, punk, grunge, hip hop, dance, grime and indie have all found space at Reading across its lifespan. Never, however, in all its years on this planet, has Reading seemed like an obvious home for sickly-sweet, high-energy teenie pop. Which made it all the more mystifying when turn-of-the-millennium bubblegum pop duo Daphne and Celeste were added to the poster for Reading and Leeds 2000, plonked into the middle of a bill featuring Rage Against The Machine and Slipknot.
The New Jersey poplets had attained some moderate success in the UK with three top 20 singles, including a cover of Alice Cooper’s School’s Out (yes, really). Evidently, that was enough for them to be booked on the main stage of the UK’s biggest alternative festival.
“Our biggest fear at the time was that we would get on the stage and no one would come,” Celeste (surname Cruz) told The Guardian in 2015. “We thought everyone would protest and go off and see bands they actually liked.”
In hindsight, the twosome may have wished everyone had just pissed off. At Reading, a massive crowd was gathered that afternoon eagerly waiting for Blink-182 to arrive, only to be greeted by the sight of two cheery-faced young women walking onto the stage.
“Hi everybody!” shouted Celeste jovially as a chorus of boos immediately rained down upon them. “Oh my god, I love this song!” added Daphne.
Shit. Meet fan. What followed was one of the most infamous moments in Reading history as tens of thousands of people began lobbing bottles, piss-filled cups, litter and whatever else they could lay their hands on. The stage was covered in seconds.
Phased but determined, Daphne and Celeste launched into 1999 hit Ooh Stick You – and the volume and size of objects coming their way only grew. Flares, camping chairs, a bag of meat and even a wheelchair were just some of the things recorded as having gone airborne during their (mercifully) short set.
“You’re such a good crowd!” goaded Celeste as the hullabaloo in front of them got even louder. “I’m loving the signs!” enthused Daphne, reading one out in particular that caught her attention. “‘Die’? Yes, I will!”
Amazingly, and to their credit, they persevered, next playing U.G.L.Y. as things began to reach fever pitch. What initially looked like an experiment-turned-disaster was, in its own way, becoming one of the most punk rock performances in Reading history.
“You guys are wasting so much food!” teased Celeste before the two finally took their leave of the stage, one song early. After the set, the singer would gamely state: “I had a smile on my face the whole time, it was so good!” It may have been brief, and Christ it was messy, but Daphne and Celeste had just written their names into Reading Festival lore forever.
“Backstage, Slipknot and Rage Against the Machine were coming up to us and telling us how hardcore we were,” Daphne – real name Karen DiConcetto – told The Guardian. “How they wouldn’t have stayed out there. It was definitely the best thing we did, our crowning achievement.”
Corey Taylor confirmed DiConcetto’s claim a few years later, revealing in 2020 that he’d actually consoled the duo backstage after their set.
“I was like, ‘Hey, you did something that a lot of people wouldn’t have done… you stayed in there, so hold your head high’,” he told the Off Menu podcast. “I don’t know if they fucking cared what I said, but they did it.”
Reading and Leeds might be packing a mightily varied lineup these days, but whatever happens at this year’s festival, we doubt we’ll ever see the likes of Daphne and Celeste at Reading again.
Watch the legendary performance below.