The Hong Kong government had banned live performance for more than 2 months due to the third wave of COVID-19. On September 23, the government announced that live performances may resume in some places starting from October 1. During these two months, how did livehouse support themselves and what are their plans on resuming live performance?
Lau Bak Freespace Livehouse
Lau Bak Freespace Livehouse is a relatively new livehouse located in West Kowloon Cultural District. Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the one-year-old livehouse ran performances each Friday, Saturday and Sunday, mainly featuring jazz, rock, and pop music. Until October 13, no live performances were arranged.
Mr. Mak, manager of the livehouse, said the banning of live performance had hit them hard and they do not have the plan to resume live performances yet.
Without the shows, the restaurant heavily relies on the local’s districts’ consumption, which is extremely difficult without the proximity to residential and commercial buildings. The restaurant launched a 30% off takeaway discount but it barely helps. Although restaurants can apply for anti-epidemic funds, it clearly does not cover the loss. To cut the budget, Mr. Mak said full time employees have to have no-paid leave from time to time.
Mr. Mak is bewildered about the definition and guidelines of the government. He pointed out that there is an unclear line drawn to define live performances. He also does not think live performances should be banned for such a long time.
“People are allowed to take off their mask while eating in the restaurant. I don’t see a performing group on stage is bringing much extra risk on top of that.”
Loosening the social gathering ban does not mean an instant resumption of live performances. Mr. Mak said that there are logistics when arranging performance.
“Even musicians need time to practise and pick up before they can shine on stage again.”
The livehouse signed a 3-year contract from June 2019 with West Kowloon District. Despite the challenges faced not long after the livehouse is opened, Mr. Mak said he will continue to run the business in the best way he can.
Peel Fresco Music Lounge
Peel Fresco Music Lounge is a bar in Central where you can enjoy live jazz and blues music. Before COVID-19, the lounge organised live music events every day, starting from 6pm till late night.
Mr. Estrella, manager of the Lounge, mentioned that it is more difficult to run live music businesses in recent years and they are resuming live performances since October 1.
Peel Fresco Music Lounge is a 14-year-old live music venue. Located in the famous nightlife hub, the flow of people is always a guarantee. The lounge had been successful acting as a platform for local artists to showcase and express their talent.
However, an excellent location comes with costly prices. The rent is increasing year by year.
“I see many live music bars are closing down in recent years because of the crazily high rent,” Mr. Estrella said.
Apart from the high rent, the social unrest and the pandemic also greatly affected the running of the lounge. In the past year, Hong Kong had ongoing protests about the anti-extradition bill law. Whenever there is protest nearby, the access to the lounge is affected. With a ban of live music since the COVID-19, Mr. Estrella said he is struggling to attract customers.
“People come here to watch the show. Without it, who is gonna come?”
The loosening of social gathering ban is definitely good news. Since October 1, Peel Fresco Music Lounge has gradually resumed the live music performances.
The Wanch is a bar in Wan Chai where people hang around to enjoy live band music. As Hong Kong’s longest running live music venue which was opened in 1987, it offers live music every night from 6pm before the forced ban of live music during COVID-19.
The Wanch is one of the bars that suspended the entire operation since the banning of live performances. It has been closed since mid July and the management team announced on their Facebook page that they are not one of the venues that can resume live music again on October 1. Until October 13, they are still closing the doors.
However, the temporary closure does not stop The Wanch from sharing music with music lovers. The Wanch remains active on social media, featuring different musicians’ videos. The team is also planning a weekly YouTube video show interviewing musicians, along with a live performance.
Bridget, Keith, JP, partners of The Wanch also assured that The Wanch will be opened when the situation allows.
“We are 100% focused on reopening The Wanch once the virus is under control and the business climate is stable once again.”
The Aftermath Bar
The Aftermath Bar is a multi-purpose live performance venue located in Central. Beside occasional live music performances, FreeJam Hong Kong organises open mic events in the bar every Tuesday before the social gathering ban.
Since mid July, all the performances and open mic events had been cancelled. With the loosening of ban, The Aftermath Bar held The Aftermath Benefit Concert on October 11, featuring 8 bands, which was the first live music performance since July. The event was also live streamed on Youtube.
To support the running of the bar, the management team launched a save aftermath campaign, including direction donation, pre-order lunch, merchandise, and bandcamp live cassette tape purchasing.
Lost Stars Livehouse Bar & Eatery
Lost Stars Livehouse Bar & Eatery is a livehouse in Tai Kok Tsui. Other than providing live music, Lost Stars is also a restaurant offering high quality gourmet food.
The COVID-19 social gathering ban has a double hit on both live performances and catering service. Along with the health concerns, Lost Stars was closed from July 16-21 and reopened afterwards with no live music session. Until October 13, no live music performance was arranged.
To attract customers, Lost Stars provide 25% off discount for both eat in or takeaway.
(Feature image: Peel Fresco Music Lounge Interior. Photo: TANG Wai Yin Antonia)