OVER the past couple of weeks she’s been interviewed by The Mirror, Mojo, The Observer and the NME, a sign that Nottingham’s Ronika is on her way to finally achieving the success she has long deserved.
The exposure, the most by any Nottingham artist aside from Jake Bugg, has included rave reviews for her debut album, Selectadisc, released this week.
And she’s done it all herself: writing, recording, producing, co-producing and releasing the album. Her only help came from back in her home city; hip-hop veteran Joe Buhdha and house producer Laurence Matthew co-produced some of the album.
Fending off major label offers to turn her into a mainstream pop artist, Ronika (real name Veronica Sampson), has stuck to her passion for early 80s dance, disco and pop.
“To have all the nice things that have been said about it, I’m over the moon,” she says.
“It’s not easy doing it all yourself but that’s the price you pay for artistic integrity,” she laughs, aware of how pretentious that sounds.
Music journalists have dubbed her “the Madonna of the Midlands” (she was a fan as a schoolgirl) and “Gwen Stefani as styled by George at Asda”, but her influences are from early eighties New York club sub-genres like disco, boogie, Italo and electro-soul.
Since her first EP, Do Or Die, was released four years ago, there’s been widespread acclaim but little support from the mainstream radio or mainstream success.
Although that could well change with the current buzz surrounding her.
The album was expected to be released last year but she was ill for most of it due to an incurable auto-immune disease.
“It’s like a wave crashing over you and pulling you under, and you don’t know if you’re going to reach the surface again’,” she says.
“Because of the drugs I’m taking for it, my immune system is quite weak. Your body can’t fight off infections.
“I was hospitalised last year. I had pneumonia; that was pretty serious. So, last year was a write off.”
She adds: “It’s really hard to live with. It’s a day to day struggle. It’s just one of those things that people can get in their twenties. They don’t know why.”
She’s had the condition for four years.
“Talking about the illness helps to explain why the album has taken so long but it might also help others who suffer with long term illness. They might draw strength from my story.”
Ronika married fellow musician John Sampson in their teens and their marital home for years was in Sneinton. He’s best known for alt-rock band Swimming although he’s now working on a solo project and composing music for film.
Last summer the couple moved to London.
She says: “It wasn’t for any strategic reason. We like London, a lot of my family are from there and it meant a change; I’d lived in Nottingham my whole life.”
She was born in Sherwood but grew up in Lowdham. Her parents, who are now retired (mum was a social worker and dad worked at the CPS), were not musical at all although her two older brothers were and their music tastes had a big influence on her.
As was Selectadisc, the legendary city centre record shop which closed five years ago.
“It was an important place to me growing up. I was there every weekend. I wanted to give a major nod to my musical roots in Nottingham.”
At 13 Ronika was searching out house parties in Forest Fields and clubbing in the city a year later. After A levels at Clarendon she studied sound engineering at Confetti, at HND then degree level.
“I wanted to make my own music. It was inspired by hip-hop and old electro mostly.”
The sound engineering skills helped her create her own music. Until the move to London, she was also passing on those skills to troubled teens for Nottinghamshire County Council.
When she’s being interviewed, Nottingham always gets a mention.
“They ask me about my life there.”
Do they mention Robin Hood, Jake Bugg and guns?
“They always think Nottingham is represented by Robin Bugg with a gun,” she jokes then adds: “They ask who I know from the Nottingham music scene but I think they want me to say Jake Bugg, Saint Raymond and Indiana, who I don’t know.
“Although I have told them I’ll be doing a Kylie and Jason style duet with Jake.”
She told The Guardian she’d been shot at here. Really?
“Me and my dancers were coming from filming my first music video and we pulled up outside my house when a shot came through the widow inches from my head. There were two guys chasing another down the street so we were caught in the crossfire. It was more surreal than frightening.”
She told the same journalist how her next-door neighbour had been stabbed.
“He was stabbed 11 times on the doorstep and I had to clean up his blood the next morning. He was having a party and there were people he didn’t want to let in.”
She adds: “I didn’t want to give Nottingham a bad name but at the same time when they ask about my life I want to tell the truth. Those incidents, as well as the illness, contributed to the music I make. It’s feelgood party music because it’s an escape.”
Selectadisc is out now on RecordShop (recordshoplabel.com). For more about Ronika follow her on Twitter: @ohronikagirl.
Ronika appears at the Bodega on Friday, July 11. For tickets call 0845 413 4444 or go to alt-tickets.co.uk.
WHAT THEY SAID
“One of this year’s sprightliest releases (4/5)”.
“A masterfully assured selection of joyful pop songs (4/5)”.
“Ronika has cherry-picked key influences to create one of 2014's most assured and fun-filled debut albums”.
“Bold, ecstatic songs draw on synthetic 80s dance music... but don't call it throwback; this is a thoroughly contemporary singer aiming at the charts and the clubs”.
“Quirkily British, DIY re-rendering of NYC Danceteria-centred disco scene”.
“Ronika. What a woman. One day she will be regarded as one of British pop’s true treasures”.
“Ronika has done something clever; worn her retro influences proudly but also repurposed them for 2014 (7/10)”.
“This is an album made of 13 bangerz - every one is a dancefloor filler and every one will be stuck in your head for weeks to come”.