There are few UK DJ/producers who have managed to reach Number 1 in the US dance chart, even less to receive a GRAMMY nomination for said track — and doing so as an act from North of England? Nearly unheard of. However, CamelPhat have become accustomed to smashing any pre-concieved expectations.
The duo, consisting of Dave Whelan and Mike Di Scala, have managed to do all this, and hold down a number of Ibiza residencies since they first began releasing under CamelPhat in 2010. Still rolling from the success of their debut album 'Dark Matter' in 2020, and of course 2017's "most played song on the White Isle" 'Cola' — the pair were able to take their time, and craft their second album 'Spiritual Milk' into their most defining record yet. “With 'Dark Matter', we'd had 'Cola', 'Panic Room' and 'Breathe', and we wanted them to have a home — but that was only three of the 21 tracks on that album, so we still made a lot of new music for it,” they tell me, as we catch up ahead of an appearance at Pacha in September. "We chose to make the albums because we want a legacy, something to show our kids that weren't just DJs who jumped from gig to gig every weekend — but we would also make a body of work that could be remembered."
It's no surprise then, that the pair want the album to be listened to as a full piece rather than a collection of singles - a belief that is evident in their decision to only release two of 'Spiritual Milk's' tracks: 'Hope' ft. Max Milner and 'Compute' ft. Ali Love — which features a sample of Kraftwerk's 'Computer Love'. "It only make sense if you play it from start to finish," they say. "In today’s world which is dominated by TikTok and 15 second clips, if you can give yourself a moment to dive in, listen and be open minded to different styles of music, then we think you will appreciate it.”
Though the pair have worked to ensure the record is a fully-encompassed experience for the listener, 'Spiritual Milk' still plays with genre. On the surface much of its 16-track run appears to sit within the melodic techno arena, but there are clever dashes of tech house, progressive house, even a bit of indie — particularly on 'Love Is Something' featuring Nottingham rocker Jake Bugg; a somewhat unusual feature choice for an Ibiza-headlining duo. “We wanted to make an indie dance record, but the idea we had for the track that was like no other track out there at the minute," they say. Both had been fans of Bugg long before conversations around collaboration had come about, and as the pair hit the studio in Los Angeles in the five days between Coachella's double-weekends last year — it made sense to get him on board; a session that gave the record a distinctly "West Coast feeling" according to Whelan. "It ended up being so different that we did not have the bottle to play it out for a long time," they admit. "We only started playing the record out ourselves after we saw the reaction it got when it was being played by people such as Solomun, MK and Nicole Moudaber.”
It's clear CamelPhat wanted their second record to not only provide a legacy, but also pay homage to the varied influences that have driven them through their careers - both individually and as a duo. “We used to make music to fit with what people wanted to hear, and we were so concerned with what people thought... but now we just make the music that we want to make,” they say. “We went out of our way to get live drums, guitar and bass recorded for the album, as we feel this helps us to come across as a musical act instead of just DJs," they tell me, sharing that it was a "big goal" to put less of a focus on danceability and more on the inclusion of vocals and instruments.
The change of direction hasn't been a sudden one, the pair may have earned their stripes initially as tech house producers, but it's within the melodic, progressive area of house that they feel most at home within.“We made tech house at the start to fit in because we could not get a gig," the pair laugh. "Promoters just weren't willing to have a wide range of styles on line-ups, so we tried to make music that would be accepted by the industry.”
Of course the story of CamelPhat started long before a smatter of tech house hits. The pair first met in 2006 at Liverpool's3B Records when Di Scala, who was working as a bouncer at the store, noticed that Whelan - who coincidentally was also undertaking a residency at the same nightclub as Di Scala, Society - was buying similar records to him. The pair had experienced disparate journeys in their career so far — Di Scala had already enjoyed chart success with Ultrabeat and Rezonance Q, while Whelan was working to build his Jubilee club brand. Following their meeting at 3B, they decided to start making music together alongside solo projects — releasing under monikers such as The Bassline Hunters, Pawn Shop, Wheels & Disco, Shake n' Jack, Whelan & Di Scala, before settling on CamelPhat in 2010.
The new title marked a change in approach for the two, dropping music on SoundCloud and attempting to retain anonymity by setting their location to Italy, and hiding their faces with retro wrestling masks — keeping up the act even when they were booked in their home city. “There was a girl there who Mike had been working with in the studio two weeks earlier, and she was speaking to us in broken English as she thought we were Italian," they laugh. "We played along and replied with an Italian accent, but we were laughing our heads off underneath the masks!”
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Steady club bookings and a handful of releases followed, but everything changed upon the release of 'Cola' ft. Elderbrook in 2017. The track hit number one on Billboards Dance Club Songs charts, as well as the UK Top 40 and was nominated for best dance recording at the 2018 GRAMMY awards. The song grew to an astronomical size, and is still heavily requested in their sets today, over six years after its release. CamelPhat became international superstars overnight, swapping gigs in Liverpool for Las Vegas — touring their debut album 'Dark Matter' all over the country, with a finishing headline slot at Wembley Stadium. Aside from a brief haitus during the COVID-19 pandemic, things haven't really let up since — Summer 2022 saw CamelPhat kick off their residency at Ushuaïa alongside fellow North West duo Solardo, before moving to Pacha for 2023.
“Our Ushuaia residency was an unbelievable experience. Every week felt like we were playing huge concerts and it really made you feel like a rockstar,” Whelan tells me, “but for us as an act who are venturing more underground, on the verge of a range of different styles including techno, it was difficult to get our desired sound across at 8:PM on a Tuesday evening.” Therefore, when the opportunity arose to headline Pacha every Tuesday night, it was an offer the pair could not refuse.
Though Whelan and Di Scala had seemingly aimed to demonstrate versatility outside of their DJ sets with 'Spiritual Milk', there's a tangible feeling of familiarity felt in the audience as they dish out tracks from the record at their Destino Ibiza launch party — despite many tracks still being unreleased, the crowd is seemingly engrossed in each melody, singing along to vocal samples with the same energy as fully-fledged dancefloor classics. Of course there was room for those two, with the pair weaving in the well-worn stylings of 'For A Feeling' and 'Spektrum'. Maybe this is due to CamelPhat's inherent ability to create catchy dance music, or maybe in their decades of experience behind the decks — they've managed to nail DJ/dancefloor synchronicity to a tee.
None of this takes away from the fact 'Spiritual Milk' is, at its heart, a traditional full-length record. Designed not for picking out bangers, but for the journey it takes the listener on across its 16-track span. In exploring their own, fully-realised musical vision — its clear CamelPhat is not shying away from their reputation as world class DJs, but instead demonstrating their artistry. Only time will tell if the record will achieve the "legacy" that they were hoping for, or if it will find its audience being cut through the sets of their fellow selectors.
CamelPhat's 'Spiritual Milk' is out now, buy/stream it here.
Chris Cahillane is a freelance music writer, follow him on Instagram