CamelPhat are on top of the world. They’ve managed to build on having one of the biggest global crossover dance hits of the modern age without losing a shred of credibility. In fact, despite having streams running into the billions, if anything they’re more connected to and committed to serious dancefloors than ever. They’ve got a huge 20-date residency at Ibiza’s revered Pacha club, bringing in brilliant guests from across underground music, and have not long since launched their own When Stars Align label to fantastic response. It’s on When Stars Align that they’re soon releasing their second album “Spiritual Milk” with a stellar array of guests including London Grammar, Max Milner, Jake Bugg, Noel Gallagher, Kolsch and Ali Love.
Getting here has been an interesting balancing act. In the six years since their single “Cola” went supernova, Dave Whelan and Mike Di Scala have worked tirelessly to make sure audiences and peers understand that they’re the real deal. “There’s always been assumptions about us,” as Dave puts it, “and we’ve always been determined to prove them wrong!” Mind you, it’s easier to do this than it might be for some, because the pair have a deep history. Dave and Mike are dance music lifers. They are completely infused, to the very core of their being, in club culture as something that exists outside the cycles of hype – and in particular they are rooted in the uniquely vivacious culture of their home city, Liverpool.
The pair had parallel upbringings on Merseyside, both bedroom DJs from the age of 12, Mike in his early teens even producing banging trance on rudimentary home computer “tracker” software: “all numbers pouring down the screen like The Matrix!” as he puts it. Dave absorbed all the peak 90s club sounds via his sister’s tape packs and became an avid follower of the evolving styles of the time. They both threw themselves into clubbing but wouldn’t meet ‘til around the turn of the millennium, when Dave went into a record shop where Mike was working as security guard. They got chatting and bonded over shared attitudes and love of funky house – which at the time seemed a way more fun alternative to the trance that still dominated the super clubs.
That very day a friendship and working relationship began, producing under various aliases in a makeshift studio above the record shop, DJing together every weekend, that’s lasted to this day. Right through the 00s their residency at the Society club saw them sending 1200 people wild every weekend and getting the best guests – often before Liverpool’s bigger clubs – and their productions started doing well. But though they didn’t realise it at first, what made Liverpool brilliant was also holding them back. Its self-sufficiency and abundance of clubs meant that it didn’t need the outside world and the outside world often ignored it. This meant that while Dave and Mike were local heroes, the world didn’t grasp their talents – until, that is, they were forced into action by losing their residency.
There was no great plan, but unconsciously they knew they needed to let their productions shine in their own right. In 2008 they photographed themselves in wrestling masks, called themselves CamelPhat, set up a Soundcloud with the location set to Milan, put out a couple of tracks… And instantly top tastemakers got on board: Pete Tong, Annie Mac, Soul Clap, the Adana Twins. Suddenly people worldwide were judging them not on their preconception of glammed-up Liverpudlian crowds, but on what came out of the speakers. And the snowball hasn’t stopped rolling since.
They deliberately went subtle in their sound, emphasising groove, sensuality, the roots of house music, to differentiate from the flash and noise of EDM which was booming all around them They kept the masks – even managing to keep up the pretence of being Italian around people they knew when they played in Liverpool – but strangely enough, this didn’t seem that weird. After all this was a time when the likes of Italojohnson and Claptone were normalising anonymity in Euro house music. Meanwhile, with mask off, Dave was foundational in setting up and running Liverpool’s high tech club space, Mansion, which is still going strong today.
In their natural sense of humour and mischief, a kind of anti-philosophy was building. “Doing the opposite of the obvious is when things happen” says Dave. “Yeah but you can’t try too hard either,” continues Mike. “It’s like The Secret… but the wrong way around!” All of this fed into the wit and funk of their music, and things kept getting bigger. Every so often there’d be an “OK this is big” milestone as in 2014 when Pete Tong and Annie Mac dropped “The Act” to a vast Glastonbury crowd, live on BBC Radio 1. But then in 2017 came the one-two of first “Hangin’ Out With Charlie” – signed to Green Velvet’s legendary Relief Records, it gave them their first Beatport number one – then another track from the same sessions… “Cola”.
And that’s when it went, in Dave’s words, “from zero to a million mile an hour.” “Cola” became simply one of the biggest house records of the modern era, doubly impressive when you factor in that most other huge tunes were reworks of classic tracks or familiar samples, while its eerie, slightly electroclash-y narrative and bumping groove were all-new and all-original. To add to that, they’d shown their faces for the first time as CamelPhat on the cover – the attention was a LOT. So, they did the only thing they knew how to: just continued doing everything back to front and upside down.
While most acts dealing with huge success might have immediately wanted management, they continued to go completely their own way. So instinctual was their approach that Dave created an email folder: THE BLACK HOLE. If even the subject of any email made them nervous, into The Black Hole it went, never to be looked at again. They were often pretty much unreachable, and booked their gigs and found their collaborations on whims, and via the good old fashioned clubland values of word-of-mouth and friends-of-friends. In the case of Tale Of Us, they only managed to get the message to CamelPhat that they wanted to collaborate by one of their girlfriends happening to end up at the same party as Dave in London.
The five years of total freedom was a lot of fun, and during all this they somehow managed to mainly get exactly the gigs they wanted (occasionally playing the big festival stages where they were expected to play the hits, but generally keeping to the dance tents and clubs where they could play brand new music as they always had) AND smash out a bunch more classic singles including collabs with friends and heroes like Green Velvet, Jake Bugg, Riva Starr, AND get a major label album deal to collect together the best of their output. The total independence was without question what they needed to evade being put into any pigeonholes. But it was exhausting too, and much as their “wrong way round” anti-philosophy might often bear fruit, it didn’t help with long term planning.
So, they decided it was time to get serious.
In late 2022 the next phase began. Their label When Stars Align was launched – its name perfectly capturing the way everything in their career had fallen into place through lucky counters along their long, circuitous and sometimes chaotic route. At the start of 2023 they signed with Anglo Management, realising it was time to plan ahead properly. Having put in the thousands upon thousands of hours to make Camelphat’s identity solid and real, and escape the boxes of predictability, now they can embark on serious projects like the Pacha residency, like the new album – which will be their first to be written as an album – and like building live shows “as big as the music”. In popularity terms, they’re now up there with stadium filling acts like Four Tet or The Chemical Brothers, so the challenge now is to create a spectacle to match.
The exact form this will take remains to be seen, but one thing we can always guarantee with CamelPhat is that whatever casual observers think they know about them, they’ll prove all assumptions wrong!