Top: Adam Faulkner, at left, and Tim Stephens earlier this month in Bangkok.
BANGKOK — Chanted Indian prayers, flute notes from a Tajik funerary dirge and a chirping crosswalk button near Bangkok’s Giant Swing.
Those are some of the audio samples collected by a duo cycling thousands of miles from London to Tokyo on a mission to produce an album and hour-long documentary on their musical pilgrimage.
After 10 months on the road, they arrived in Bangkok right on New Year’s Eve. When Khaosod English caught up with them at a cafe in the Phra Khanong area, they showed up in swimming shorts.
“There’s always an amazing sense of achievement cycling into a big city that you’ve looked forward to visiting for a long time, and Bangkok really delivered,” Tim Stephens said.
Total Bike Forever consists of Stephens, 30, and 32-year-old Adam Faulkner. Half of a UK quartet called Bear Muda, the pair last year quit their full-time office jobs to embark on an epic journey.
“We wanted to travel and we wanted to play music. We gave it some thought, and we realized we could do both,” Stephens said. “It’s got to a point when we’re like ‘let’s give it a try and see what happens.’”
“It’s another full-time job: cycling, plus music,” Faulkner said with a chuckle. “But we have a balance. We’d stop cycling and make music with people that we meet.”
That means taking a break from pedaling to play ambient electronic music at various stops along the way. They’ve made a number of songs inspired by the cultural diversity and experiences they encounter.
“I Waited Too Much” was improvised when the duo tried to kill some time while stuck waiting four days at a port in Azerbaijan for a ship across the Caspian Sea. Arriving at a gas station in Turkey, they spent a night there and made a song about petrol pumps. It’s called “Fill it Up.”
Inspired by a warden met in Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains, “Afghan Hound” was born during a live radio performance in Delhi.
“You don’t know what the next sounds would be or what you’d make,” Faulkner said.
Traveling light with limited gear strapped to their bikes, Stephens and Faulkner rely on collaborating with local talents to complete a proper track.
After their first impromptu gig in Macedonia to the live radio show in India, they came to Bangkok with two gigs lined up.
Early this month Stephens and Faulkner took over the deck at Studio Lam and played alongside local electronic trio Orbital XX, who last month were a top-billed act at Wonderfruit.
A week after that, they performed with local keyboardist Keith Nolan at Check Inn 99.
“We loved playing in Bangkok.” Stephens said. “The band we played with and supported were amazing and the venues were very different from each other. Definitely gave the sense that we were just scratching the surface of the city.”
Nolan, who jammed to a couple of songs with Total Bike Forever at Check Inn 99, described the duo’s music “creatively fresh” with “interesting” samples and a strong electro backbeat.
“They came to meet me, and I was so impressed with what they have set out to achieve,” Nolan said. “I was also impressed with how they had traveled so far with such clever sampling and music technology. … They can play anywhere including on the top of a cliff and in the middle of nowhere.”
It was one night in Bangkok after a wander through Khaosan Road that Stephens and Faulkner stopped at a crosswalk near the Giant Swing, where they pulled out a recorder to record its unique chirping sound for possible use.
Leaving Bangkok last week, they struck out toward Khon Kaen, where they stopped by to see The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band play.
“Watching them was amazing as the music really connected with us and we watched them in the province they originated from. They haven’t played there for years, and the crowd’s reaction was electric,” Stephens and Faulkner wrote in an email before hitting the road for Laos. “[It’s] one of the highlights of the trip so far.”
After Laos, the Total Bike Forever duo will cycle to Vietnam, South Korea and then in their final destination, Japan.