One to watch: Ronika

The Nottingham-born sound engineer-turned-disco alchemist discusses her DIY approach - and gives us an exclusive preview of new track Believe It

Sipping from a mug of mint tea in a near-silent east London cafe, Nottingham-born disco-pop firecracker Ronika – all platinum blond hair, blood-red lips and ripped jeans – is recalling the descriptions of her since she emerged in 2010. "I like 'Gwen Stefani as styled by George at Asda'," she says in a voice that rarely falls below "quite loud". "What I was trying to do is bring the glamour of the disco sound to the mundanity of my everyday life in Nottingham." As if to prove her point, she describes an early press shot as "me with roller skates on but with a walking stick going around an old people's home".

This refracting of everyday life through the escapist prism of pop is at the heart of Ronika's DIY approach (she runs her own label and creates her own videos). Inspired to start making electronic music at the age of 14 after watching her friend's dad, producer William Orbit, DJ at an all-night rave in Brixton, Ronika's teenage tastes took in funk, jazz, hip-hop and "just about everything really". Her genre indulgences took place at Nottingham's legendary – but now closed – record shop Selectadisc, the name of which also adorns her debut album. "It was a magical place and I just wanted a title for the album that meant something to me." This musical crate-digging also applies to the album itself, which slinks between effervescent synthpop bangers that Kylie would give her gold hotpants for, warm Moroder-esque epics, and delicious nods to disco that manage to avoid pastiche purely on the strength of their brilliance. "I was trying to draw on the stuff I loved but also the stuff I thought hadn't been overly rinsed; things like freestyle, boogie and Italo," she explains. "These are all major passions of mine."

Things haven't been plain sailing, mind you. "I had quite a tough time in Nottingham," she says, her voice dropping slightly. "There were a series of events that were not very nice; my next-door neighbour got stabbed and I got shot at in the back of a taxi. So there's an element of feelgood escapism vibes on the album." She also found the sexism of the music industry just as terrifying. Having trained as a sound engineer and produced or co-produced most of Selectadisc, it was vital to keep full creative control: "I've turned down big opportunities because my experience of people in the industry is very much, 'we'll get you in the studio with some big male producers'. I wasn't seeing any female producers when I started doing this. One of the most important things about the record was to make sure there were a load of tracks that had a female production credit on them."

Then, just as the Studio 54 shimmer of 2011's Forget Yourself was sashaying across the music blogs, Ronika was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, delaying the album. "Last year I was in hospital and I nearly died a couple of times," she says almost nonchalantly. "The music was a survival instinct – I think I would have gone mad without it." While the fallout from her illness is covered on the early Madonna-isms of Shell Shocked, the melancholia is swathed in deliciously danceable melodies. "People assume that for music to have emotional weight it needs to be introspective or dark, but uplifting and uptempo music can have just as much depth of emotion and integrity," she says, pulling a rogue mint leaf from her teeth. "I don't really like to dwell too much; I like to turn things around."

Selectadisc is out 2 June on RecordShop


Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

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