As anyone who's watched a single crime story on TV or film knows, undercover detective work is dangerous business. There inevitably comes a moment when the crime boss gets suspicious. Scary, sure, but at least police officers have a working knowledge of the rules of the crime game. They’ve trained their whole lives to pull off this deception.
Passing yourself off as a credible music scenester, on the other hand, is an order of magnitude more difficult. Never mind drug lords—no one can identify a poseur more quickly than a hipster; sniffing out fakes is essentially the entire job description. That's what Boston police are finding out as their bungling efforts to infiltrate the underground rock scene online are being exposed.
A recently passed nuisance control ordinance has spurred a citywide crackdown on house shows—concerts played in private homes, rather than in clubs. The police, it appears, are taking a particularly modern approach to address the issue: They're posing as music fans online to ferret out intel on where these DIY shows are going to take place. While police departments have been using social media to investigate for years, its use in such seemingly trivial crimes would be rather chilling, if these efforts didn’t seem so laughably inept. It's a law enforcement technique seemingly cribbed from MTV’s Catfish—but instead of creating a fake persona to ensnare the marks in a romantic internet scam, it's music fandom that's being feigned.
Almost everyone in the DIY scene has had an experience with phony police emails, direct messages on Twitter, and interactions on social media. For some it's become just another part of the promotion business—a game of spot-the-narc in which the loser gets his show shut down. According to one local musician who asked not to be named, the day before a show this past weekend, police showed up at a house in the Allston neighborhood, home of many of these house shows, claiming that they already knew the bands scheduled to play. The cops told the residents of the house that they found out about the show through email, and they bragged about their phony Facebook accounts.
This week the St. Louis band Spelling Bee posted a screencap of emails from an account that they believe was used by the police in a sting before their recent Boston show. It reads like an amazing parody of what you might imagine a cop trying to pose as a young punk would look like.
“Boston Punk Zombie,” reads the crudely-scrawled avatar of a green-mohawked punk with the address email@example.com. That name is apparently a generic-brand knockoff of an infamous Boston hardcore gang. Cred achieved. “What's the point” reads the tagline under the profile pic.
“Too bad you were not here this weekend,” “Joe Sly” wrote. “Patty's day is a mad house I am still pissing green beer. The cops do break balls something wicked here. What's the address for Saturday Night, love DIY concerts.” He might as well have written “Just got an 8 ball of beer and I’m ready to party.”
Is it possible that Joe Sly is a real Boston punk? Sure, though if so he’s the first Boston punk in history to brag about drinking lame St. Patrick’s Day green beer. As one of the many amused music fans who scoffed at the screencap as it was shared around on Tumblr pointed out, “he/she said concerts ... concerts.” Anyone who's ever been to a concert like this knows that it's not called a concert. It’s a show.
The Massachusetts band Do No Harm also tweeted about receiving an email from Joe this month. “whats the 411 for the show saturday?” he asked, apparently using some sort of slang-filter translator from the turn of the century.
Then there’s the case of Donna Giordano, a hip youth who’s recently been reaching out to local show promoters from her Facebook account. “Is the show still going on Friday in JP? If so where. Thnxs,” she wrote in a Facebook message to another local promoter, who also asked to remain anonymous. When he asked her to make him feel comfortable that she wasn't a cop, she replied, “that's a new one. How? Flash a boob Ha Ha Ha how do I know your not some sketchy creep who lures girls to your basement for some Hostel like horror show on the guise of a music show”
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