Having experienced firsthand the challenges of forging a career in Singapore's arts scene, several creatives came banded together to create a safe space for budding artists to develop their talents.
Taking the form of a homely two-storey studio known as Studio Ugly, this music and arts space is equipped to support artists from various tracks, including music production, arrangement, songwriting, and graphic design.
Beyond helping creatives to hone their skills, the all-female team behind the "unapologetically feminine" initiative seeks to mentor individuals who lack the guidance needed to take their careers to the next stage.
"We are also equipped with nearly a decade's worth of experience within the music industry. Although it is not quite as hostile a climate these days for young female or gender non-binary artists, we could still offer advice and support as the next generation of creatives tries to navigate and negotiate for its own space in the local arts scene," shared Studio Ugly's Tiffany (who performs as KYLA T), Kelly, Joyce, and Serena.
In an interview with Hear65, the Studio Ugly team explained how their initiative came about, spoke about the gaps in the local arts scene that they hope to fill, and recounted the challenges they had to contend with while setting up the studio.
What’s the story behind your name?
Studio Ugly was derived from our original performance art collective, UglyMukbangGirls. We were commissioned by The Local People for a National Day Event they held near Kadayanallur Street. The experience meant that we had two months to write, compose and execute performances with multimedia interactive elements, with total control over artistic direction. It was a valuable opportunity and we were able to fully immerse ourselves in rehearsals night and day at our university dormitory over summer break.
UglyMukbangGirls was conceived by our fascination with the cultural phenomenon Mukbang and how increasingly, the act of eating was influenced by the male gaze with performers choosing conventionally attractive thumbnails and content to increase viewer interaction. Satirising this particular trend, UglyMukbangGirls was born, with the understanding that while we may not obtain views or much attention, we could still act and operate without the pressure of capitalistic performativity and occupy space in the fields we enjoy.
When we performed for festivals organised by The Local People, we would mesh our musical performances with interactive art installations. One of our key installations was made up of clear acrylic boards in front of our music stage that the audience would throw paint sponges at, forming an artwork!
Take us back to the moment when you first came up with the idea to set up Studio Ugly.
Gigs were hard to come by with plenty of musicians competing for the same stages, residencies and opportunities. The unique opportunity afforded to us by The Local People allowed us to truly enjoy and learn through collaboration free from competition.
The pandemic and the subsequent circuit breakers highlighted the importance space had to our creativity and in turn, happiness. As time went on, our band of friends and family became proactive in our search for space conducive for creative collaborations and self-expression. Our team consists of Tiffany, Kelly, Joyce, and Serena with the latter two being sisters.
Earlier this year, Joyce found an opening for a space in Hillview Terrace and suggested we check the space out. At the time, we both needed a conducive space to work on our music production and art pieces and decided that this space would be a good start. We had always wanted to improve and contribute to the creative scene in some way, and thus the idea to create a comfortable studio space for like-minded creatives was born.
Studio Ugly's Tiffany (top left), Serena (top right), Kelly (bottom left), and Joyce (bottom right)
"We would like to offer young creatives in the area an opportunity to develop and grow their artistry in a safe space."
What gaps in the music industry do you hope to fill through this initiative? Why do you think that now is the right time to launch Studio Ugly?
We would like to offer young creatives in the area an opportunity to develop and grow their artistry in a safe space. We are also equipped with nearly a decade's worth of experience within the music industry. Although it is not quite as hostile a climate these days for young female or gender non-binary artists, we could still offer advice and support as the next generation of creatives tries to navigate and negotiate for its own space in the local arts scene.
As most of us are in our mid to late twenties [and] fresh off a once-in-a-generation historical pandemic where existing social, economic, and gender structures are held under scrutiny, we were forced to acknowledge how vulnerable our livelihoods as musicians and artists are. Studio Ugly is our answer to the uncertainty faced by creatives in Singapore: resilience through adaptation.
As social change sweeps our country, we are actively working on continually analysing the less savoury components of our shared experiences and striving to correct them or at the very least offer an alternative work culture in the way we operate Studio Ugly.
You’ve described Studio Ugly as being “unapologetically feminine”. How do you see this working to your advantage?
Having been in the local music industry since our teen years, our shared experiences as young females in the industry have been tumultuous. From snide remarks and unrequested commentary about the way we look, the way we dress, and the way we perform, these experiences, unfortunately, do seep into our artistry, facing pressure to perform to a “standard” for female musicians that does not align with our burgeoning self-concepts as teenagers and young adults.
“Femininity, in all its diverse forms and beauty, is one we choose to reclaim and embrace for ourselves. We no longer accept taunts for perceived weaknesses often associated with femininity and wish to further pursue our craft free from the pressures of the unwanted attention and unasked-for feedback.” - Joyce
Studio Ugly was partially conceived thanks to the opportunity presented to us by Pin from The Local People to come up with a (paid) multi-media art show that allowed us to explore self-expression with freedom and a lack of censorship. Having had the safe space of our university dorm room to fully create many aspects of the art show illustrated to us how important having free rein and a judgment-free zone are to nurturing creativity.
That space is what we hope to offer other creatives and youth who, like us, would have not discovered what we were capable of if not for the gift of opportunity and a safe environment. There are a lot of talented artists and musicians in the scene who were unable to find a space or a community they were comfortable enough to work with and therefore, gave up their dreams of pursuing the creative industry. We want to be there for these individuals and encourage them to pursue their passions in a realistic and sustainable way.
"Having had experience working with a music festival events company, we are uniquely positioned to guide aspiring artists on how to deal with audiences, A&R, and labels."
As individuals who have experienced the challenges of being in the creative industry, what forms of guidance will you be able to offer to aspiring artists?
To list a few, we will be offering music production, composition, arrangement, and songwriting services as well as sharing our performance tips and strategies with our clients. Having had experience working with a music festival events company, we are uniquely positioned to guide aspiring artists on how to deal with audiences, A&R, and labels.
We do have a couple of artists and tastemakers who have worked with local magazines as well as international companies such as Disney in their digital marketing department. The artist and art management portion of our team will be able to cover art direction, illustration, animation, and art production.
"With a common vision and open communication, we handled adversities as a team..."
What were the biggest obstacles that you had to overcome while setting up Studio Ugly?
Money and time were two of the biggest obstacles that we had to overcome starting out, with our differing schedules and limited budget. Each of us was busy with schooling, freelancing, and working different jobs.
When we encountered difficulty coordinating the setting up of the studio, we would meet at odd hours on weekdays and weekends to paint, set up, and discuss the aesthetic and business model of the studio; some days we’d meet to paint our studio walls and stairs by scratch, and on weekends to move our gear into the studio, and dedicate a few days a month to firm up our business and operation processes.
We were also hesitant about starting a creative business in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when the gig industry was just beginning to reopen and recover. We weren’t sure if there would be a wide pool of clients in the creative industry we could cater to, and we would also be competing with many other already established studios. However, with a common vision and open communication, we handled adversities as a team and were ultimately able to acquire the desired production equipment, tools, and aesthetic that we envisioned for Studio Ugly and its future clients.
"We wanted to subvert the trope of pink solely being a feminine colour, and that pink is a colour for everyone.'
Tell us about your physical studio space. How did you come up with its design? What kind of effect do you hope it will have on your guests?
Following our motto of being “unapologetically feminine”, We wanted to subvert the trope of pink solely being a feminine colour, and that pink is a colour for everyone. Our creative team suggested that we paint the stairs and railings pink as physically they represent the bones and structure that support the layout of our studio. We found their advice to be a wonderful metaphor in line with our motto!
As we wanted the overall atmosphere to be relaxing for our clients and friends, we decided to work with natural colours and imagery (i.e. daisy cushions and natural green tatami mats) against the earthy warmth of our coffee vinyl flooring. Due to the limited space because of art and music equipment, we played with vertical space in our interior design to create a sense of boundless space [which would] in turn have an airy, light effect on our guests.
The first floor, designated to be our office working space, contains two music workstations, an art crafting station and a pantry area. The second floor functions as a recreational space, where creatives can take a break, watch some TV, play some games, and read some books in between sessions.
Lastly, what can we expect from Studio Ugly in the coming months?
Aside from ongoing music projects, we will be holding a few more open houses in October and November to introduce our space to new people. Our creative team are also working on art collective projects as well as planning game nights for the board game enthusiasts to enjoy! We have exciting events soon to be announced on our Instagram page (@studiouglysg), so stay tuned!
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.