Getting into electronic music at the same time that my friends were getting deep into Christian rock gave us little common ground. Once in a while, a Christian dance group would show up on one of the compliations that came with their magazines -- names like Antidote, Cloud2Ground, and The Echoing Green come to mind -- though not even a CCM/7Ball stamp of approval was enough to keep them from skipping to the next ska-punk/southern rock band on the discs. Were they put off by these groups' lack of personality? Lack of guitars? Whatever it was, they certainly weren't alone. My journey to the dance tent at Cornerstone 98 brought me to an almost empty room with a few people sitting against the wall and a handful of kids exchanging glowstick-twiddling tricks in the middle of the room.
Only one artist seemed to stand out from this scene in a way that any of the X-tain rocker kids would ever notice. Ronnie Martin, AKA Joy Electric, was signed to Tooth & Nail (and later BEC) for most of the 90s. This got him into most of the big festivals and ensured that his records were available in most Christian stores. Listeners remained completely indifferent as generic ska-punk groups and tepid folk rock bands outsold his efforts 10-1. The first album I heard from Joy Electric was the presciently-titled album Robot Rock, which in all my teenage wisdom I thought was full of all sorts of interesting sounds and ideas but was clearly a confused affair by an artist in need of some direction. Of course, this was years before the electro revival, and I was really hoping to find more stuff that sounded like The Chemical Brothers. This just wouldn't do at all.
I probably found it all just a little... too gay. Not in a homophobic sense at all, but it sounded too pop, too retro and not badass enough in the kind of strict break/big beat + funk + samples arrangement that I was finding so amazing at the time. "Sugar Rush" was the first track on the album, and what an audaciously cheesy way to begin. Maybe it was just my residual memories of the sanitzed grunge-era world in Empire Records and the final scene where Renée Zellweger steps out of her shell and gets on stage to fulfill her rock and roll dreams by singing the a song called "Sugarhigh." In a movie so high on themes of alienation and youthful idealism, seemed like she'd be singing about heroin or self-cutting instead. I don't know, it's been so long since I've first seen it. But I had the same problem with this song. Everything I was finding so progressive and futuristic and sexy about electronic music was reduced to a whitewashed song for kids where cupcakes and candy bars and simple chorus-verse-chorus pop too the place of MDMA and long instrumental passages. What was he thinking?
Martin's follow-up, CHRISTIANsongs, seemed even worse, like a silly compromise to appease kids who listened to shit like The Insyderz. I read further interviews where he stated his intent to stick to pure analog instruments for the album, which seemed like a silly limitation for someone who seemed like Christian electronica's best hope. I wouldn't come to appreciate this aesthetic until the MTV AMP era had ended and I'd listened to groups like Add N to (X) and Adult. The man was really ahead of his time and it's a wonder he stuck with his work long enough to build up a small but devoted following around the world, probably more with synthpop fanatics than with Christian listeners.
"Monosynth" is probably the better song on Robot Rock but I'm posting "Sugar Rush" simply because it offended me so much at the time, and now I can't get enough of it. One of the happiest songs ever recorded?