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A decade of dance: commemorating The Observatory's journey in Saigon

Entering its tenth year in style, we take a look into OBS’ artistic evolution along with its five weeks of sonic celebrations, plus the sleek, new outdoor space

  • Henry Cooper
  • 14 November 2023

When it comes to Ho Chi Minh, often people will be drawn to the tunnels, the food or the picturesque roads to scooter along. Under all of this hustle and bustle lies a vibrant and often overlooked club scene. The city also known as Saigon has a scene that is booming, with clubs coming and going plus different flavours and styles constantly evolving.

Amidst this somewhat chaotic backdrop, one club has stood the test of time for over a decade, firmly establishing itself as the go-to spot for house and techno enthusiasts: The Observatory.

Few clubs in Asia can boast the impact and influence that The Observatory (affectionately known as OBS) has had on its local scene. The venue has been instrumental in propelling up-and-comers onto the global stage while simultaneously ushering in international stars to Vietnam's cultural capital.

A decade ago, The Observatory emerged as a modest, family-oriented venture aiming to provide a platform for their local scene. Over the years, it has grown into a thriving community dedicated to delivering an exceptionally unique experience for music lovers from all over.

Throughout its life, the space has faced many hiccups, demolitions and constructions in Saigon, and moved locations countless times before finally settling in the heart of the city where it stands today.

What has always remained constant during OBS’s turbulent life is its mentality when it comes to artistic expression. They place a significant emphasis on musical freedom and push artists to explore untested sounds, providing them with the rare opportunity to venture into unknown territories.

Much of this decision started a decade ago with Dan Bi Mong aka Hibiya Line, OBS's first resident DJ and co-owner, who shaped and realised OBS’s creatively diverse vision during its formative years with the support of Nic Ford and Dan Lo.

Today, the club hosts an impressive roster of 18 residents, all with an eclectic range of genres, styles and tempos, illustrating how Hibiya's vision never wavered even after all these years.

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In the past, OBS has worked with brands such as More Rice Records, Atipik, Nurture, Staub, Equation, WAM, Soichi Terada, FFKT, and artists such as Soichi Terada, Answer Code Request, Sunju Hargun, Skatebård, Wata Irigashi, Acid Sister, Tom Trago, Deepak Sharma, Peter Van Hoesen, Diskonnected, Yoshi Nori, Mr Ho, Mama Snake, Gonno, Inland, Mike Servito, Alex From Tokyo…just to name a few.

Now, as OBS enters its 10th year, the club has something exciting in store.

Their monumental milestone is marked by a five-week celebration from early November to early December, featuring an impressive line-up of international stars, local heroes, and club takeovers with some of Asia’s most exciting clubs and labels.

In preparation for this, they’ve done some serious gutting and reworking of the space itself. Inspired by their want for an outdoor space reminiscent of a public park, they’ve converted their balcony into this retro-futuristic tropical garden littered with psychedelia and deco that mirrors the creativity of the music they are known for.

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Their new sound system matches the quality of this balcony, with the system powered by the prestigious K-Array and Harmonic Design and distributed flawlessly across the outdoor space.

Talking about these changes, Dan Bi Mong tells us: “The new space now allows us to widen our experience in terms of music styles that can be played over the night. We truly hope it will inspire DJs who play there to push the limits of their art.”

He continues, “Change is a dynamic in which we always try to stay in. To me, change is permanent and is also one of the stimuli of creativity. It’s important to evolve with our times correlated to the experience we accumulated and the network we evolve with.”

Even a decade later, artistic freedom and expression are still at the forefront for OBS, which is commendable in this day and age.

The scheduling for this five-week bonanza is quality too, with a mind-boggling number of artists, labels and clubs, all working towards this common goal.

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The first weekend opened aptly with an OBS resident night, followed by the Saignonese disco collective Liên Hoan, run by residents Anh Vy, parkING, Khoi Mai, and Viet Anh.

Moving on to the second weekend, the renowned Taipei club Pawnshop and steadfast Vietnamese counterpart and strong supporter of OBS, Savage, each took charge with their resident DJs.

In the third week, the spotlight turns to Bangkok's Sunju Hargun's record label Siamese Twins Records. Shifting gears on Saturday, a Giegling takeover will captivate the audience.

Weekend four will be hosted by Powder and 5ive's record label, Thinner Groove, featuring international residents like SHHHHH and Alex From Tokyo, culminating in a spectacular Saturday finale.

Finally, to give the icing on the cake, a final bonus weekend in early December includes a world premiere collaboration between Peter Van Hoesen and Wata Igarashi, performing an all-night-long hybrid set.

Adding the cherry on top of all this, five additional Sunday parties hosted by the Nurture X Liminal Dreams collectives will extend their monthly ambient gatherings into a weekly affair, offering essential winding-down sessions to close out any heavy weekend.

The emphasis on community and collaboration in these events goes to show just how strong an impact OBS has had over the last ten years.

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We also caught up with BongBongQuayQuay, marketing manager for OBS by day and resident DJ by night. When asked what’s so incredible about OBS, she told us, “To me, it is not only a club to enjoy every weekend, but also a safe place that gives lots of support and love from everyone involved, as we treat each other like family. That is one of our core missions: to build up human connection and create a relaxed space for everyone to feel welcome and to share our love for electronic music and have a good time.”

She continues, “OBS’ 10th anniversary is remarkable as we just did a monumental renovation on the terrace, and we have prepared not one, but five weekends of celebration. The line-ups include some of our all-time favourite labels, collectives and artists, as well as long-time allies and friends who are no strangers to OBS since day one. Without them, we are not where we are today, and this celebration is as much about them as it is about us!”

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The sense of passion and pure love for the space and the music is best summed up by Dan. When asked about highlights over the years, he simply said: “It’s been ten years... so you can guess there are so many. And to be honest, what are the highlights? To me, there is no moment in that adventure that is more meaningful than the other, because we always try our best to create magic for the parties!”

When pushed, he did tell us that the in-house resident nights are always incredibly special themselves, saying that they “showcase what The Observatory is about and the sound that crystallised around it”.

It’s not about the biggest names or the most successful events, but rather, enjoying each and every moment of the past decade for what it is and always aiming for evolution and growth. That’s what music should be about, and The Observatory is a space with an ethos that all clubs should aspire to emulate.

For a complete list of events at The Observatory, click here.

Henry Cooper is a Writer at Mixmag Asia. Follow him on Instagram.

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