Photo by Owen Salisbury

Dan Bi Mong walks into the cafe, energetic and obviously fit, handsome in an exotic, windswept way. He shakes hands and thanks me for coming, a polite gesture for someone who has influenced Saigon’s dance and electronic music scene to the point of reshaping it in just three years.

 

Sitting across from me, he’s a quietly intense presence, concealing great passion under courtesy and humility. When asked about music, that passion shines through, speaking animatedly in his Swiss-French accented English.

 

What strikes most is his sincerity, and his near-mystical belief in the near-mystical bond between artist and audience… at least, when the DJ or artists are at least as skilled as he.

 

Another thing in his unofficial biography is how instrumental he was in getting international acts to Saigon. He built the Observatory, a place where DJs could play to their spirits’ content — and come the DJs did.

 

Changes

 

In three years, he’s expanded the whole scene, bringing new music, new styles, new clubs to fruition, plus the wave of international DJs and dance-music performers who have graced Ho Chi Minh City over that time. Even before he arrived, he had connections to the Saigon music scene that allowed him to move in smoothly, organizing parties with Linh Phan and DJ Jase in his first year here.

 

In his quiet way, he’s one of a very small group who have created Ho Chi Minh City’s modern, non-mainstream dance-music scene.

 

“There are many more parties, many more promoters, many more venues. Compared to four years ago, we can see many more international acts more regularly. It’s funny, because there were many more local people at the old location [of the Observatory].”

 

The International

 

How did he lure the big international acts that now play so regularly now at the Observatory and other venues?

 

“The first real international act we had was Alton Miller, one of the main figures of house music in Detroit in the ‘90s. He was on tour in Asia and he contacted us through mutual friends.”

 

That has proven true since; almost all of the international DJs who have played the Observatory have approached Dan, not vice versa, a stunning thing to say for a small club far off the beaten path of the major music festivals and venues.

 

“I think they just have fun here,” says Dan.

 

The Observatory

 

When asked about his plans for the Observatory, Dan is definite.

 

“I don’t want the Observatory to get bigger because I love small clubs,” he explains. “I don’t want to open Observatory 2… I want our loyal fans to keep coming, to keep having a good time, and to make enough money to stabilise it and step back. We want to keep reasonable prices so the local people can come.”

 

Legacy

 

When asked about his own legacy as a performer, he’s typically modest, supposing that there are “a few” young DJs who were inspired by him to begin playing.

 

“Wow, that’s a big question,” he laughs and immediately begins talking about other performers.

 

And finally, what about the music and DJs he loves?

 

“The ideal act is a DJ who fills the place and from the first track it’s working — you can tell he’s communicating with the crowd. I like DJs who take risks, who take the audience on a journey… it must be real dynamic. Sometimes [ideal] DJs lead and follow at the same time.”

Owen Salisbury

Owen Salisbury is a fairly typical example of Homo Expatrius. Originally from California, he moved to Vietnam in 2011. He loves to write, take photos, travel, eat well, and learn.

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