HONG KONG-A thundering thrash metal riff reverberated through a Hong Kong bar, but the music was being live-streamed from a studio across town to obey pandemic rules that have outlawed small gigs for more than 650 days.

The coronavirus has battered live performances around the world, especially in the first 18 months of the pandemic, but nowhere has that hardship lasted longer than in Hong Kong. While gigs, festivals and international touring have returned with a vengeance globally, Hong Kong’s musicians have had no such luck. For the vast majority of the pandemic the Chinese city has banned live performances in any place that serves food or drink.  Venues such as The Wanch, one of the city’s oldest live music bars, have had to get creative.

 “We’re just trying to do what we can to stay alive and keep the music going,” John Prymmer, the bar’s co-owner and a fixture of Hong Kong’s live music scene, told AFP. In a sound-proofed recording studio next door, local metal act Ozmium are careening through a mixture of their own tracks as well as covers of Iron Maiden and Metallica. For now, a laptop screen perched in front of the band showing revellers inside The Wanch is the closest they can get to their fans. Frontman Ashish Jerry Justin said he had looked on with desperation as other businesses such as karaoke rooms, cinemas, banquets and hotpot restaurants have been allowed to resume. “And still in a place like a bar or a club, you cannot have live music even if there is a plexiglass separating us from the people who are watching us,” he said. “I think it’s highly unfair.”