THE OBSERVATORY 10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY
To immortalize an entire decade of its sterling legacy, Saigon night club The Observatory offers a whole month’s worth of celebratory programming this November. OBS, as it is fondly called by its regulars, emerged in Ho Chi Minh City ten years ago as a beacon of underground electronic and club music. Since then, the club has evolved side-by-side with the cultural and musical identity of its locale, from providing a platform for novel musical expression to building a community committed to providing the best possible experience for its loyal party-going guests, staff, and invited artists.
The club has both witnessed and been an integral part of the dynamic growth of the Saigonese and Vietnamese music scene. After several location changes and an extensive summer renovation, its current site, on the rooftop of a commercial building in central District 1, The Observatory is poised to further build upon its musical journey and legacy of top-notch quality and experience.
Much of this foray started off a decade ago with Hibiya Line, The Observatory’s co-owner and first resident DJ, who shaped and brought forward his musical vision supported by Nic Ford and Dan Lo in the initial years. This vision expanded to include an ever-growing roster of local and international resident DJs, fostering a haven for a spectrum of musical styles. Today, the club boasts a strong lineup of 18 residents, including local Saigonese, Vietnamese, regional, and international acts—what began as a bootstrapped ad hoc operation has morphed into an extended musical family, one that takes care of its members and illustrates social impact and understanding. The club now employs over 30 people, providing more than adequate salaries and healthcare, showing the long-term potential for a sustainable livelihood in the music business. The Observatory now emphasizes free expression through musical and social explorations, inviting everyone from DJs, residents, guests, and staff to develop their own vision and pursue their own unique voyage.
A MONTH-LONG CELEBRATION
Commemorating these milestones, The Observatory is throwing a string of packed weekend benders for its 10th anniversary. With a focus on the relationships and commitments built with artists, affiliates, clubs, and record labels, Obs is throwing five weekend programs throughout November, with a bonus finale weekend in December.
Starting with a family affair on Friday, November 3, The Observatory opens the month-long celebrations with a resident night. Followed on Saturday, November 4 by a party hosted by local Saigon collective Lien Hoan, which brings the soulful disco of prior generations to a modern audience. Run by OBS residents Anh Vy, Park:ING, Khoi Mai, and Viet Anh; Lien Hoan has generated a cult following among younger Vietnamese.
For the second weekend, OBS looks to neighboring regional clubs and notable powerhouses in their own cities, each hosting a one-night takeover. On Friday, November 10, famed Taipei club Pawnshop hosts a night with their residents, 8228, Toumingren, L-CC, Avalalava, and Y3KDJ. While on Saturday, November 11, fellow Vietnamese club and long-standing supporter from Hanoi, Savage, brings their talented residents, Di Linh, TaoFu, Ouissam, Manikk, Cong, and Zwi.
For the third week, the collaborations continue with two respected record labels. On Friday, November 17, Sunju Hargun’s Bangkok-based label Siamese Twins take over along with s.o.n.s, Tommy Hanson, and Nic Ford. On Saturday, November 18, German label Giegling (also co-collaborators for The Observatory’s lighting design in the club room) are bringing DJ Dustin, Konstantin, and Leafar Legov to join local selectors Yokosun, Hibiya Line, and Dusan.
The fourth Friday, November 24 will be enlightened by Powder and 5ive’s record label, Thinner Groove, adding Sonic Weapon and KOOLMFL to their musical arsenal. The month comes to a flourishing finish on Saturday, November 25 with international residents SHHHHH and Alex From Tokyo playing out the night with homegrown OBS residents Dan Lo, Nic Ford, and Khoi Mai.
Unable to contain all the revelry to a single month, the anniversary celebrations spill over to the first weekend of December, featuring two bonus nights on December 1 and 2. On Friday, a world premiere collaboration between Peter Van Hoesen and Wata Igarashi performing an all-night hybrid set. And on Saturday, AliA, Dee Diggs, Savile, and San Soda take the decks for a showstopping finale.
In addition, every Sunday of November as well as the first weekend of December will feature an ambient showcase by the Nurture X Liminal Dreams collectives, extending their monthly sessions into a weekly affair, providing atmospheric wind-downs to cap off each weekend.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
We spoke with Hibiya Line, co-founder of The Observatory, about the club’s history and journey so far. Read on to learn more about this hallowed venue, what they’ve accomplished, and what’s in store for the years to come.
What makes this anniversary celebration different from previous years?
10 years is a milestone, of course, so we wanted to organize something special for this occasion by creating takeovers with people we’ve been close to for a long time and also more recently. We’ve built close relationships with all these collectives and we are more than happy for them to take full control of each night to celebrate our anniversary together.
What are some of the biggest changes and milestones you've observed in the past 10 years?
10 years ago, there was no venue dedicated to the music we program; not only in Saigon but in all of Vietnam. In these terms, OBS has been the pioneer as a club. There were already some promoters, DJs, and events happening, but they were organized in different venues like bars, restaurants, some clubs, or whatever place could fit a one-night event. Everything was pretty much DIY and every event felt like a house party as you would know 99% of the crowd. Going out felt like hanging out with family. There were only a few DJs in the city and having international guests was something like a precious treat. We were very delighted and honored when touring DJs found interest in performing here even when Vietnam was not yet on the map for electronic music.
Once OBS opened its doors in September 2013, what changed is that the music we cherish, which actually is difficult to define as we love a very wide range of genres, found a home. People started to gravitate around that and could finally meet at a regular home base. It was fundamental to strengthening that community and creating new connections between people, not only on a local level but also internationally.
Another game-changer is the fact that before OBS opened, there was no permanent place with decent DJ equipment. In 10 years, what is today mainly called “the underground music scene,” which I think embodies more a certain network of artists rather than a music style, has developed drastically. It is very beautiful and encouraging to see the emerging Vietnamese local scene after all these years.
Could you talk about some of the personal highlights, most memorable moments, or
unforgettable experiences you've had throughout the club's history?
This will sound maybe a bit cliché, but all moments were memorable even if I forgot a lot of them over the years! To me, they are all highlights. I think I would have a similar answer if you asked me which DJ or which music style I prefer. I love various types of music for the different emotions that they can bring in different contexts. From the moment you embrace music as an art form, it would feel wrong to say that there is a music style that I prefer over another one. In that sense, all the experiences we have shared at OBS have been meaningful to me, whether it was during a full-house eccentric party or a more intimate event.
Having run Observatory for a decade now, what are some of the most significant insights you've gained?
To be honest, there is so many we could talk about. We’ve learned so much over a decade that I don’t know where to start. But something central I realized over the years of running a nightclub that provides the best experience possible is the importance for the entire team to understand each other’s scope of work and realize that to create a good party, every part of the job is equally important if we want to create a unique experience.
Moving forward, what are the club's next big goals and objectives for the coming years?
Reaching sustainability in order for The Observatory to pursue its mission and eventually pass over management to new generations. Remaining free and independent in our artistic choices and working to provide a quality space for music with the best experience possible for our audience, staff, and invited artists; and pushing creativity as far as we can.
Lastly, why is it so important to cultivate an enduring space for the clubbing community in Vietnam?
I think it’s important to cultivate an enduring space not only in Vietnam but everywhere. It is fundamental in order to ensure good articulation between generations and to offer a platform where knowledge, skills, and experience can be shared and exchanged. In the case of Vietnam, it is important because the scene here is still at its beginning stage and it would be a shame if, over the next years, this link would break.