Preview: Cancer survivor, Jim Semonik, reinforces industrial music revival

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When last we left Cancerborg two years ago, the ailing robot was injecting himself with life-giving medicine on the cover of the four-CD "Electronic Saviors: Industrial Music to Cure Cancer" compilation, produced and compiled by Pittsburgh-based industrial musician and promoter Jim Semonik.

On the front of the six-CD "Volume II: Recurrence," for which Mr. Semonik holds a release party this Saturday at the South Side's Rex Theater, Cancerborg's valiant battle hasn't ended in triumph: his female cybermate cradles his enshrouded corpse in a graveyard of industrial gear-crosses, representing those who have lost the fight against the scourge.

Electronic Saviors II: Recurrence Release Party

With: Terrorfakt, Xuberx, Reinforced, Venus in Furs, WreckCreation, Cyberstrukture.

When: 6 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Rex Theatre, 1602 E. Carson St., South Side.

Tickets: $15/$18; all ages; 421-381-6811.

Yet Mr. Semonik is disease-free for four years after months of chemotherapy and surgery following his diagnosis of colorectal cancer. "At five years with no recurrence, the doctors told me I'll be officially cured," he beams. "Health insurance premiums go up, so the bills are still there, but I'm approaching the last CT scan that I'm going to have to pay for out of pocket."

His own ailment wasn't the first time cancer hit him hard. In 2003, Mr. Semonik's father succumbed to the same disorder: Lynch syndrome (or HNPCC), which genetically predisposes the carrier to colorectal cancer. "It wasn't the environment or my diet -- it was something that either was going to happen or it wasn't," explains Mr. Semonik. "I turned out to be the unlucky one."

Not so fortunate is Ric Laciak, owner of industrial-music label Ras Dva who has four inoperable brain tumors that aren't getting any larger but are incredibly painful. The four-CD "There Is No Time" compilation of the industrial scene that Ras Dva issued in 1995 inspired Mr. Semonik to do his own comp series.

"Ric's lost an eye, and he has his good days and bad days," Mr. Semonik laments. "But through 'Electronic Saviors,' he got in touch with me, telling me, 'Man, this is amazing,' so I befriended him."

Mr. Semonik explains that he titled the six CDs after the famed Kübler-Ross five stages of grief (from "denial" to "acceptance," adding "shock" at the beginning), and that he decided, in conjunction with an online vote by the bands on the comp, to forward the proceeds to the Bone Marrow Foundation and Gilda's Club/Cancer Support Community of Western Pennsylvania. Two years ago, the first edition of 2,500 copies raised over $20,000 for cancer research, but Mr. Semonik hopes to top that.

Among more than 100 bands on the six-CD comp (an eight-CD limited version came out for the Kinetik festival in Montreal, but since sold out) are many industrial scene luminaries: Europeans such as Nachtmahr, Spetsnaz, Project Pitchfork and Blutengel; and North Americans such as Aesthetic Perfection, Hocico, Bella Morte and 16 Volt. The styles (including rare and unreleased tracks) range from pounding industrial techno to gothic darkwave, and should have a wide appeal to everyone from today's electronica ravers to mainstream fans of Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode.

And once again, Mr. Semonik has mixed the cream of the Steel City goth/industrial music scene into his sonic cauldron, with appearances by Agnes Wired for Sound, Venus in Furs, Terror Firma Sky and several others that regularly perform at his Distortion Productions concerts. Locals Patricia Wake and WreckCreation collaborated with Dan Clark (of Milwaukee's Stromkern and Dark Clan), who also mixed the new release for Mr. Semonik's band, Reinforced. Cancerface is a one-off supergroup combining Mr. Semonik's vocals with contributions by Martin Atkins (Killing Joke, Public Image Limited, Pigface), Wade Alin of Christ Analogue and Brian Graupner of The Gothsicles.

"I'm working with a lot of my musical influences, and it's a great feeling to do that for something so close to my heart. The point is to reach as many people as I can, either inside the scene or outside it, not to dichotomize them. I want people to be moved by this music, and realize that it's pretty amazing and different. Some of the tracks are accessible, though others are noisy and experimental. I'm using my passion for music to help cancer patients ease the pain of what I went through four years ago, and raise money so people without insurance have an easier time paying their bills."

Even with the worldwide promotion of "Recurrence," including release parties held in more than 15 cities, Mr. Semonik still has aspirations for the third and final volume of "Saviors" in 2014. "Skinny Puppy, Frontline Assembly, VNV Nation, KMFDM, Nitzer Ebb, Front 242," he ticks off his wish list. "I would love for huge bands that have been around since the '80s to be involved. I don't know how to go about making that happen, since some of them are out of my reach, but it makes no sense for anyone not to sign on to a cause such as this."

In the meantime, there are several artists on the comp from the WTII label (the heir to the legendary Wax Trax Records), which has set the official release date of Aug. 24 for Reinforced's next album, "X Amount of Stab Wounds in the Back." Mr. Semonik's band will appear live on Saturday, opening for New York powernoise/industrial act Terrorfakt, an experience not to be missed for any true fan.

"It'll be 10 people or more on stage, with shopping carts and baseball bats and grinders and lots of steel," he says. "I've only seen them do it twice, but I've participated in the show both times. They'll get sledgehammers and car doors and wheelchairs from a junkyard before the show, kind of like [German industrial giants Einstürzende] Neubauten. It's very industrial-looking and sounding in the true sense of the word."


Manny Theiner is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer. First Published June 7, 2012 4:00 AM


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