It’s been almost one year and half since I moved to Taiwan. I’ve lived in Japan and the UK where new music scenes are constantly emerging and moving back and forward, yet Taiwan’s music scene is subtle and still new to my ears. I must admit that I didn’t know much about Taiwan until I moved here but I’ve heard about some cool venues to hang out, and one place really caught my attention. It’s called VOICE in Zhongli, central part of Taoyuan which is just 40 mins drive away from Taipei.

VOICE is a small venue, but it’s a record shop, a coffee bar, a publisher, a live house, a gallery and it’s all about art culture.  Everytime I come here, the owner 陳忠敏銘 (Zhongmin ming Chen)  a.k.a Jimmy Heaven, is playing cool music I don’t know and I always have to ask him who they are.  He also has amazing collections of music documentaries, underground and R-rated artistic films you can’t find online.  So I asked Jimmy Heaven 11 questions to get to know more about this place and music in Taiwan.

Q. How long do you have this shop? 
Almost 15 years in total. I opened this shop in 2001 here first, then moved to another place, but I came back here 8 years ago. 

Q. What does VOICE mean? 
It was called Revolution first. I wanted to do something very unique and new, back then there was no shop in Taiwan selling records and drinks and organising events.  But when I started in 2001, it was too avant-garde so people didn’t take it well. So I had to close shop after a year and half. But from this experience I studied how to make this work in Taiwan, and learned Revolution is not a suitable word, but using music as voice and instrument to talk to people, I thought I can penetrate all art culture here, mixing Taiwanese traditional culture and young culture. I worked at a record shop, film industry and I was a graphic designer before, so I combined everything of my knowledge. Also there used to be this cool Japanese fashion magazine called Studio Voice, I liked its design a lot so I took the word. 

Q. How do you describe VOICE?
It’s a good combination of cultures, a stop of every culture. I have lots of people, especially musicians visiting here from other countries. Sometimes they come to Taiwan but cannot play at big venues so I offer them to play here. But VOICE is not only about music, we are a publisher too so writers can do publishing events, artists can do exhibitions, we also organise festivals and have a dance theatre too. We can educate people and learn from people. We play roles of both import and export. Also this building used to be Taiwan’s first artistic theatre until 30 years ago. So the place itself is very historical.

Q. Why did you decide to open VOICE in Zhongli / Taoyuan? 
 I’m from Zhongli. I worked in Taipei for a long time but I was always thinking about what I could do for my hometown.  I had many offers and opportunities to open my shop in other cities, but there was no other place like my hometown. I closed my shop once here but the city didn’t change at all, so I opened VOICE in 2006 in Zhongli again.

Q. What do you think about a music scene in Taoyuan/ Taiwan? 
Taoyuan is a very industrial city. I always think of Taoyuan as Taiwan’s Manchester. But above all, there is no music scene here. Only Taipei has. Taoyuan needs more time to develop. There are some good bands from Taoyuan like The Waiit and Crocodelia, but we need more artists to make a scene. I discover new “Taoyuanese” musicians everyday though. The other day I got to know this artist who won the Golden Award twice, so I still need to learn and meet more musicians here. 

Q. What do you think about gender balance in the music scene in Taiwan? 
In 2001, there were not many female artists and it was more male-dominant. But past years, more and more female musicians emerged, and many of them played at VOICE too. There is a DJ in the Philippines, she organises all female artists events and I contacted her before because I would like to organise the event here too. I feel the music industry here is still male-dominant but it’s improving. Taiwan has more female-led organisations, book stores, publishers etc as well.

Q. So you’ve seen people in the past 15 years, how did they change? 
Nothing has changed, people are still the same. Improvement is very little, but I know I have to keep doing this, to help people to have good connections with art and other people, and provide a place to talk, hang out and discover something.

Q. OK last question. Where do you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years later? 
It’s very hard to say, because I know one day I have to give this up, give it to someone else. But I need someone who has the same passion, keeps what I established, and passes this heritage to next. So I am looking for this person, but I am starting a new project too, creating a new cultural community for artists. So I will be doing something new all the time.  

At some point, VOICE started playing an important role for me too: I come here with friends, sit at a corner table, order drinks and talk about music. We tell each other what we’ve done this week or month, exchange opinions, come up with new ideas and give ourselves homeworks.  This place provides us a great opportunity to review ourselves, discover something new and connect with people.  The world hasn’t come back to the normal state yet, but when we can travel again, come visit Taiwan. VOICE and Jimmy Heaven will be here for you. 

All pics by Fumie C K

Based in Taiwan, Fumie C K is the keyboard player of the tribal dreamy psych band KUUNATIC and is currently working on her solo project. Fumie C K is also a Booking Agent/Tour Manager, Translator and DJ at BANG THE NOISE.