If you were a Christian youth in the late 90s you heard a Joy Electric song at one point. Joy Electric is the brainchild of Ronnie Martin, electro-pop genius.
This musical story began in the 80s. The Christian rock market had not yet branched out of California in a significant way. Ronnie Martin was a preteen who was attending his first Christian concert in a high school gym. He was mesmerized by the Lifesavors front man, Michael Knott.
At the end of the show, Michael Knott gave Ronnie a guitar pick. This moment of passing a piece of plastic would be the spark that ignited Ronnie’s music career.
While Ronnie was making blips and beeps in his bedroom creating Joy Electric, Brandon Ebel was starting Tooth and Nail Records. Tooth and Nail and Joy Electric would go on to partner on 25 albums and EPs together as Joy Electric became one of Tooth and Nail’s most prominent mainstays. Tooth and Nail was the heart of the Christian rock movement from 1995-2005, putting out 462 albums during that time. That’s almost an album a week. Here are a few titles:
3 Reasons Why Joy Electric Was Unique
While most of the Christian music being made at the time was rock driven (and often “Christianized” versions of what Christian rock listeners called “secular music”) Joy Electric was not only unique in the Christian music scene. It was a cutting-edge brand of European-inspired electronica unique for North America.
2. The Songwriting
Ronnie wrote songs about medieval times, castles, dedication to monarchy, sounds, love songs for synthesizers, and songs based on short stories. He even made a Christian album called Christiansongs.
3. Contentment in the Christian Music Scene
While the Christian rock music scene from 1995-2005 was an amazing era, this was the height of the Christian youth movement. Youth conferences were selling out NHL hockey stadiums and Christian music festivals were sprouting up all across North America and shattering attendance records.
It was a hard if not impossible music scene to define but equally impossible to deny. Those in and around the scene were constantly asking, “What is Christian music? Can music be Christian? Do Christian bands (or Christians in bands) have to write songs about God?”
Because of this murky identity many bands were stars of this scene reluctantly. They wished they could be in “the mainstream” playing with the likes of Goo Goo Dolls and Foo Fighters but instead found themselves on the bill with Frodus and Focused.
Ronnie Martin was happy to play in churches and Christian music festivals. He didn’t believe that music could be a Christian thing any more than a Christian mechanic could replace Christian alternators. But he didn’t seek to be in a scene that seemed more prominent. He recognized this as a pride game. He wrote Christiansongs as a criticism of those who thought they were better than the scene they were in (which was almost everybody).
I talked with Ronnie about this over the phone:
WHAT HAPPENED TO RONNIE?
The Christian rock scene slowly died circa 2005. Christian record labels were bought up and absorbed into mainstream labels like EMI and Virgin. Christian music festivals petered out and a new generation did not rise up to take over the scene.
With the death of this era of Christian music, Tooth and Nail was not able to pay Ronnie what he needed to survive and they parted ways.
Ronnie moved to Ashland, Ohio with his wife and daughter. He swapped the full-time synth for the pulpit.
He pastors at Substance Church where he also presently leads worship from the acoustic guitar. He mention to me recently that “maybe I should have been have been a folk singer”.
They meet every Sunday at 10 am if you ever find yourself in town and want to attend a service. Otherwise, you can listen to his sermons HERE.
He also wrote a book called Finding God in the Dark which relates his personal faith journey, co-written with Ted Kluck. You can buy it HERE.
IS JOY ELECTRIC DEAD?
No. Ronnie still records under the name Joy Electric. His newest album Dwarf Mountain Alphabet released in 2012 is one of his best albums to date. You can listen to it HERE.