The day after he visited Dunedin’s Taipei Club for the first time in 1989, Schwalger moved out of the family home. Reflecting on his music career quarter of a century later, he credits that evening with providing the catalyst for the journey that followed.
The seeds for this change were sewn earlier in the form of a childhood love of hip hop culture, as well as a back seat at Sunday church services, where he penned rhymes to a headphone-provided soundtrack.
“I was going to church and sitting in the back with headphones on and listening to the Beastie Boys and Run DMC," Schwalger remembers. "So instead of listening to the gospel of the lord I was writing rap lyrics. Then one night I left the house at night and met up with my mate Peter Paneta, went to the Taipei nightclub and the next day I was out of there. But it never clicked with me before that. I just didn’t feel… like… I was meant to be in different classes but I’d be in the streets behind the church climbing up fruit trees and stealing fruit from the neighbours [laughs].”
A career in music has provided fruit of its own. Schwalger produced the pioneering New Zealand drum and bass album Movement, released to acclaim in 1998. He has released seven albums and a number of singles, as well as touring New Zealand regularly and extensively as a DJ and producer.
He began his career as DJ Damey D before forming early live jungle collective Locuste with Pearl Runga and Ryan Smith.
Schwalger's career demonstrates a consistent narrative of change and development, as well as bloody-minded determination. He began his career as DJ Damey D before forming early live jungle collective Locuste with Pearl Runga and Ryan Smith. But it is his most long-term moniker, The Nomad, that seems most fitting. Presumably chosen as a vague palindrome of his first name, his career and life has indeed been that of one who moves from place to place and project to project, always progressing along the way.
Schwalger was not homeless for long, thanks to Paneta’s parents offering him their family garage. Trips to the Taipei Club became more frequent, and he remembers being infatuated by what the DJ was doing, leading to him being invited into the booth regularly.
When the resident DJ was fired, club owner Eddy Chin assumed Schwalger himself was a DJ, offering him a one week trial the following week.
“I was this guy who didn’t know anything really, but I knew what music I liked. Luckily Eddy’s son Henry offered me the keys to the club during the day to let me practise, so I went to Echo Records and brought all the new hip hop releases, even though that music was really new then. I got some shit for playing hip hop, but luckily the club owned enough stuff like Boney M to see me through.”
He DJed the club six or seven nights a week, including Mondays, which consisted of visiting Chinese fishermen, bottles of whiskey and local gangsters. “Rap music wasn’t really on the map many places in 1988 in New Zealand, less with that crowd … but I got away with it somehow!”
Schwalger was then hired by the suitably 1980s titled Club Nouveau. “It had a bubble machine and a smoke machine, and the KLF record has just come out.” Club Nouveau then rebranded and rebuilt as Genesis, and he consulted on the audio installation.
Grateful to be progressing, as well as to be DJing in general – “I was obsessed by mixing and scratching. I couldn’t believe that I’d started doing it because it was amazing and I loved it so much” – Schwalger planned a trip further afield.
“I got my Public Enemy medallion, and my flat top, and I put my white polo neck on … went up to Christchurch with my mate Rob Munroe. I went to a club called the Palladium. It had the biggest laser system in the Southern Hemisphere, and when you walked up the stairs of the club they would light up. They had hairdressers in the toilets. They had a covers band playing. I came back to Dunedin and I was like ‘I have to move up to this place, they’ve got some mega clubs and they’ve got heaps of people’. It felt like New York to me you know, coming from Wanaka to Dunedin to Christchurch.”
In 1993 he made the move. Christchurch’s beats scene was more developed at the time than Dunedin’s, albeit still in its infancy. Matt O’Brien aka DJ OB1 was putting on raves, and Greg Churchill played many parties and residencies. Schwalger began putting on gigs of his own, with a distinct hip hop, jungle, and ragga focus.
In 1994 The Worcester Bar hosted a DJ and MC contest. He won the former, and early rap ensemble Dark Tower the latter. This resulted in him becoming a sought after DJ around Christchurch and sponsorship and endorsements followed, as well as vinyl arriving every week from the major record labels. The landline ran hot.
Around this time Schwalger met Pearl Runga and band, an encounter that sowed the seed for his foray into music production. H Club were covering pop house acts like the M People, and he was the DJ at one of their residencies. He began scratching over their sets, before purchasing an Ensoniq AS-R10 keyboard sampler and setting out to make music of his own.
“There was no YouTube. All I had was the manual, and I hated reading. So I thought ‘well I’m dedicated now.’”
Schwalger emerged soon after with two finished tracks. He approached Pearl to join himself and friend Ryan Smith (on keyboard), forming the early jungle collective Locuste. Andrew Penman of Salmonella Dub attended one of their early shows, offering to fund professional studio recording of the track ‘Sounds Like These’. Schwalger then produced the four track Locuste EP (released on cassette), and ‘Sounds Like These’ was included on Penman’s early New Zealand electronic compilation On the Beat N Track Vol.2.
Ever moving forward, he began to produce solo work and The Nomad was born.
Despite initial successes with Locuste, Schwalger wanted to produce music with a harder feel. Ever moving forward, he began to produce solo work and The Nomad was born, while Locuste disbanded. “I started living with my sampler in a flat on Colombo Street. I had two minutes of sample time with the RAM maxed out, and would have to save one track on to six or seven floppy discs.”
Seventy two floppy discs later and Movement was born, one of the first ever New Zealand drum and bass albums, and the project that introduced Schwalger and The Nomad to a national audience.
Movement was mixed by Tiki Taane, who at the time was Salmonella Dub’s live engineer. “He was super talented and super young and super fresh … I learned so much from that boy, now man.”
The album sold well, received positive reviews, and garnered much needed support for the career that followed. “I got so much support from local businesses. Product and money to help me get started as an early artist. Over the years without all those sponsors, all those people helping me out, none of this shit would have happened. It’s a lot different these days.”
A year later and Second Selection followed. It included a collaboration with visiting Rockers Hi Fi emcee Farda P. Label interest followed, and Schwalger signed a publishing and distribution deal with Festival Records. Soon after, The Nomad relocated to Wellington and Daimon received NZ On Air funding to make his first video after meeting filmmaker Chris Graham.
“I got the five k out of my bank to give to Chris. So he pulled up at my house in Newtown, got out of the car … but the brake failed on the car and it rolled down the hill and smashed into the front of my house. I’m standing there with five grand in my hand thinking ‘well that will cover come of it!’”
Despite this setback the video for ‘Where Are You?’ was still produced, with footage taken at the turn of the Millennium from the Gathering festival.
Still in Wellington, a number of further projects followed. The Concentrated EP was released in 2000, containing a remix by Jeremy Geor (50Hz), another pioneering New Zealander drum and bass producer.
“I found it so buzzy meeting someone else doing stuff like me.” Another album, Level Three followed in 2001, with collaborations from Barnaby Weir from a then little-known band called The Black Seeds.
The album also included Tehimana Kerr, who went on to play in Fat Freddy’s Drop. “He came up to me late one night at Studio Nine and he knew about The Nomad and he was overly friendly and I was like ‘who is this fucking weirdo’, then a few hours later we were best buddies you know?”
In 2005 Schwalger's priorities shifted significantly when he became a father. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me, having been a DJ, being quite self-centred. It makes you pull your head in and the brakes go on and you reassess your priorities.”.
This milestone also occurred alongside another, when The Nomad was flown to Europe for paid shows across the continent the same year. “I maxed out my credit card on records over in Amsterdam. I got in a lot of trouble for that … but I had some killer beats.”
The year also marked the release of Quinessence, which continued the numerical-based punnery of earlier album titles. The album included collaborations with the Ghanaian-born, Wellington-based roots reggae vocalist Ras Stone, as well as then battle emcee champion Word Perfect.
Releasing a best of compilation in 2008, Daimon noticed a distinct shift in the music industry, in that he could no longer rely on album sales. Not one to gather moss, The Nomad has since continued to release albums (2011’s Perilous Times and 2014’s Seven), though he now also works in video production and on audio-visual art installations.
Having only once applied for NZOA funding, he self-funded purchasing video equipment in order to produce his own music videos, a skillset that has transferred to other creative employment opportunities. “Over the last four years I’ve invested a lot of time in upskilling myself in the video side of things, lighting, editing… all that sort of stuff. And that’s taken me down this new path in terms of the work I’m doing at the moment.”
The “new path” has included working with visual artist Michael Tuffery on art installations, as well as embarking on similar collaborations with fellow artists Rangi Kipa and Shane Cotton. The work ethic appears to have changed to, with Daimon feeling he has now regained the momentum and focus of his early career.
“In early 2014 I was the most motivated I’d been for my whole career. I made the whole of Seven in eight weeks rather than the year albums used to take. I stopped smoking pot, cigarettes, drinking, and just focussed. I wanted to give up cigarettes so gave up everything, and it worked… and then because I did that I had heaps more energy. I was in Westport, and that’s all I was doing, seven days a week. Two months, and then the second two months was organising the tour and organising the promo and stuff like that.”
“I’ll never stop making albums, but now I’m really interested in visual art projects, multimedia projects. Taking people’s artwork and animating it and putting music to it and projecting onto buildings … and music videos … and I’d like to get into documentary making at some stage.”
Alley Kat Records
Schwalger has worked with visual artist Michael Tuffery on art installations, as well as embarking on similar collaborations with artists Rangi Kipa and Shane Cotton.