Justin Long and Jerry Goh, Underscore
Justin Long and Jerry Goh launched Underscore as a respite from their main business, Singapore-based multi-disciplinary design studio Hjgher. The magazine has a bookish calm about it, each issue building philosophical and reflective ideas around a theme. They also publish U Paper, an international series of arts/culture-based broadsheet publications and earlier this year we worked with them on U-Symposium, the first independent magazine event in Singapore. We join them just after they launched the London edition of U Paper.
Where are you today?
We’re in our studio in Chip Bee Gardens in Singapore, where we’ve been working at for the past nine and a half years, though we’ve recently moved upstairs and converted the ground level into a gallery space, so everything’s a bit of a mess right now.
What can you see from the window?
Justin: Lots of green lush and white terrace houses with weathered clay roofing.
Jerry: If you look closely, a squirrel family is running around gathering nuts.
Are you a morning or evening person?
Justin: It needs to be late, late into the dark of the night
Jerry: Definitely later part of the day.
What was the first magazine you remember enjoying?
Justin: When I was really young? Mad magazine. I remember the Spy vs Spy comic strips and the trifold back page to get a twisted message. Then I remember The Face when I was a teenager, which blew all other magazines away and especially because it was banned here in Singapore, I had to resort to bribing my friends to help smuggle them in, which made it all the more addictive.
Jerry: It was Purple Journal by Ellen Fleiss and Re-magazine by Jop Van Bennekom — both slightly different from each other but they opened my eyes to a world where magazines are not all glossy titles with recipes or song lyrics; they are sincere, creative, human. They are real stories told by real people.
Justin: Right now, this very morning, it would be The Gourmand. I’ve seen its progression from Issue 0 and it’s very considered, very aware of it’s own language and as huge fans of print magazines, (we purchase every new one we see) I think it’s important to lead the pack, and that’s just what Dave and Marina are doing with The Gourmand; it’s way ahead in it’s category of food and art.
Jerry: I’m finally reading The Happy Reader since I got them earlier this year. Gert’s and Jop’s way of storytelling has matured into something inimitable, refined, and still genuine at the same time—I enjoy their Dutch sense of humour, often being packaged by their very unique stoicism.
Tell us about Underscore: why did you launch it, what are your ambitions for it?
Justin: We started Underscore because we actually run a creative consultancy Hjgher where we were churning out work and slowly losing our souls. Underscore helps remind us that our souls are why we’re doing this in the first place, to create all that is pure, simple and beautiful. We never really had ambitions for Underscore, it’s always been reactive and organic but lately, we’ve started to realise how much more we could develop Underscore with the content, network and trust we’ve earned. We just launched our complementary broadsheet, The U Press London in June, having The U Press Singapore for over 2 years already and will launch The U Press New York this Fall so we’re all geared up for how crazy things are going to get.
Jerry: We started in 2009 when the market was relatively quieter and we knew many talented individuals—writers, artists, musicians, photographers—who were doing what they do best, while their soul slowly being eaten up by the harsh reality like ours. We thought, ‘why don’t we create a platform for all these like-minded people, why don’t we tell their stories?’ From the beginning, Underscore has been about human values, and the spirit of a creative community. It still is.
After several issues in magazine format, the latest issue, ‘Arrival’, is a hardback publication. Why the change?
Justin: Underscore magazine was always meant to held and appreciated like a book, it’s our never-ending story of continued chapters, of constant adaptation, of departures and arrivals. And as a hardback, I like to think it says, I'm here to stay.
We’re seeing many magazines from Singapore – tell us about the magazine scene in the city.
Justin: The mechanics for magazines to thrive in Singapore are well put in place. English as our first language, well-traveled urban writers and creatives, world-class printers at affordable prices within 30 minutes of commute, off/online magazine retailers and nation wide distribution of every international magazine available, and most importantly, an emerging creative culture that seeks to find and communicate its own signature voice, no matter the expense. Do look out for us, we’re coming your way.
What are you most looking forward to this week?
Justin: We’ve been into pottery for the past 2 years so we’re keen to finally launch our new brand ves ceramics, to retail all the ceramic work we’ve done in our new gallery space.
What are you least looking forward to this week?
Justin: The unforgivingly hot and mind-bendingly muggy weather.
What will you be doing after this chat?
Justin: At Hjgher, we recently branded and designed an indoor cycling studio, Anthem, so now the whole team will be heading there for an after-work leg-burning sweat-out.
Jerry: Also grabbing myself a cup of coffee from the kopitiam (traditional coffee shop) across the road.