music • 07 Sep, 2017
A Tribute To The Observatory
Our Refuge And Rendezvous Is On The Move Again
Maybe you don’t know. But the Observatory first opened at 145/21 Nguyen Trai. It was a clubhouse with an open-fronted lounge downstairs that squinted out towards Pham Ngu Lao. And upstairs it was a ’modular’ event space with a DJ booth that kept popping up in different places and a wide wrap-around balcony like a drunken arm slung around the entire club.
It was a refuge and a rendezvous with bar staff as eccentric as its guests, and it hosted some near-mythical nights of mayhem as it introduced us, for the first time, to Oskar Offermann and Tom Trago, Trus’me and Toby Tobias, Borrowed Identity, and San Soda and Gratts. For a while, it was an art gallery as well, with experimental exhibitions like the RED show of monochromes held in the small white room upstairs that was like entering ‘a space ship’.
In November 2013, we described it as ‘an indelible part of Saigon’s cultural life; cosmologically sat somewhere between the frenzied white-heated sun of backpacker-Bui Vien and the cool lunar-poise of the more opulent bars across town’. Then, within a year, it was forced to close upon realizing residents of the apartments above had less refined tastes in underground house and techno, and in African funk and disco edits.
So we all breathed a sigh of relief when owner Dan Bi Mong, who put a mixtape together for us at the end of last year, found a disused architect’s office in the port area, just over the bridge into District 4 and a convenient clamber through a climbing frame of motorbikes from Cargo (which has also since fallen to the developers).
Understandably hard to find for an underground club, New York Disco don John Morales and Detroit techno head Alton Miller played there together for the first time ever, and we captured their conversation. So did Andreas Baumecker, and on another epic nocturnal adventure, Nick Höppner from Berlin’s Berghain. And the Giegling records gang too. Plus the collaborative open-house policy had Jase Nguyen invite special guests like Ryan Hemsworth, DJ Vadim and Free the Robots (who will be back in Saigon on the 15th September), and the Heart Beat crew set up a temporary home there, with DJs like Sigha dropping by.
As the new space dictated that the Observatory focused on its freewheeling club nights, the venue trimmed to three evenings a week. But still it’s where residents Dan Lo and Nick Ford, and Dan Bi Mong as DJ Hibiya Line, really got into their groove, and the place even earned its own tribute, released on Ensemble in June this year by Gratts and featuring Toby Tobias. Called ‘Obs track' on the compilation ‘So Underground It Hurts’, with throbbing slow-build synths, it was the perfect soundtrack to sunrise over the river as tourists unknowingly staggered off their cruise ship on sea legs past the best club in town.
But now it seems we have to hold our breaths again, as the Observatory goes looking for a new location after the sudden announcement on Friday that the club will close and move as of Tuesday 5th September. As Cargo, the event space in exile in Mui Ne have discovered, finding a replacement isn’t easy. So expect the Obs to be popping up within other venues around town until they find something more permanent with announcements imminent on their Facebook page.
On a more positive note, the time is definitely right for a reminisce, so take a look at some of our favorite moments from past parties below.
Words by David Kaye
Graphics: Ivan Kamensky