Cops masquerade as music lovers online to shut down DIY house shows in Boston

From an incredibly entertaining piece at Slate, Boston police catfishing indie rockers: Cops pose as punks on the Internet:

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.

I’ve written often about the rise of DIY house shows in Savannah in recent years, which has been fueled to a significant degree by increasingly restrictive policies affecting 18-20 year-olds’ ability to see live music in public places.

Music has a way of winning out, no matter what restrictions are placed on it. Inevitably, neighbors’ complaints and some legitimate public safety issues will force officers to scrutinize DIY venues — and some will close, as a prominent Savannah one did last year.

And then other venues will arise.

The best public policy response is obviously to craft ordinances that reduce the need for all-ages house parties and DIY venues.

The entire piece is well worth a read, if only to get a sense for the wasted public safety resources trying to put a lid on the scourge of the DIY indie scene.