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The Vegetable Man Project is a series set up by Dario Antonetti and Max Dolcini in 2002, which is as its name suggests an ongoing tribute to Syd Barrett's Vegetable Man. Each volume comprises a selection of interpretations of this track by bands from Italy, and increasingly with each volume, further afield. Other countries represented so far are USA, Germany, Canada, Sweden, Turkey, The Netherlands, UK, Brazil, Australia, Belgium, France, Japan and the Czech Republic. I don't have volume 2 so I suppose that must be sold out, but Dario has sent me volumes 1, 3, 4 and 5 on CD, as well as the 10" vinyl release The Vegetable Man 10" Project. Most of these are out on the label Oggetti Volanti Non Identificati (Italian for UFO), with the series continuing on Yellow Shoes Records for volume 5 onwards.

Volume 1 features 20 tracks with a general psychedelic and garage emphasis. Pulp_ito have an outstanding track with strings, piano and psychedelic effects. It's a big, full sound that really fills up the head. Effetto Doppler do a sort of garage punk rock with spacey effects. Yulan make psych-rock that alternates between spaced-out, laid-back moments and an edgy urgency. Delavega incorporate aspects of jazz and blues into their interpretation. The Linus Pauling Quartet provide an excellent psychedelic interpretation that combines meandering and intense/raucous aspects to great effect. Nick Bensen contributes a type of psychedelia that's kind of reminiscent of The Bevis Frond. Castemore provide a brilliant off-centre folk-rock piece based around violin, mandolin, accordion and flute. Menazone contribute a kind of electronic dance music with gothic undertones. It is a tribute to Vegetable Man but not a faithful cover version: its lyrics are just the song's title repeated over and over. Max makes heavily distorted, raw and intense garage rock. Gnu make piano-driven blues-rock with experimental undertones. There are also a few strange DIY oddities thrown in. Gastel Etzwane's track consists simply of a man singing in the shower then towelling himself off, with brief snippets of overdubbed backing vocals. Drona Parva's track comprises strange droning vocals and improvisational guitar, and doesn't bear any obvious resemblance to the song Vegetable Man.

Volume 3 includes amongst others the eccentric psychedelia of Berna Park Hotel; playful synthpop from Hyperbubble, who have rewritten the lyrics from a feminine perspective; a heavy psych-rock/folk-rock hybrid from Floorian; Electric Orange, who provide a kind of off-centre rock with vocoder, spacey synth, military drumming and jazz-blues aspects; the psychedelic electronica of Mondobliquo; odd experimental sound manipulation from Le Monochrome; the Middle Eastern-tinged psych-folk-prog-rock of In The Labyrinth; the psychedelic garage rock of New Planet Trampoline; the punk noisiness of Storm of Depression; Baba Zula, whose version of Vegetable Man is translated into Turkish and set to a musical accompaniment that combines psych-rock with traditional-style Turkish music; Jan van Dobbelsteen, who recites a Dutch translation of Vegetable Man over an electronic ambient backdrop; Znorty, who make an innovative mixture of electronic experimentation and psych-folk; and the DIY synthpop of Dario Antonetti.

Volume 4 features some bands with delightfully bizarre names: Der Bekannte Post-Industrielle Trompeter, Satantango, Posthuman Tantra, and perhaps best of all, My God Is A Fluorescent Frog! Again there's a diverse mix of underground sounds on offer here. Miaziado do a sort of electronic dance music that's a cut above its mainstream equivalent. Der Bekannte Post-Industrielle Trompeter makes weird and spooky experimental music with brass instruments. Beat Babol's piece is a kind of electronic psychedelic music. Su/Si_Lab contribute some bizarre experimental sound manipulation that lurches from one channel to the other, creating an almost dizzy sensation when listened to through headphones. Kevin appears from his voice to be a young boy. He sings his own reinterpretation of Vegetable Man in a mixture of English and Swedish, over a backdrop of psych guitar and clattering pots and pans. My God Is A Fluorescent Frog make eccentric, improvisational psych-folk. Milanoans are a jazz ensemble, whose music takes on board aspects of old-school jazz and more modern experimental jazz. Their jazz rendition of Vegetable Man works surprisingly well. There's 60s-influenced psych-rock from Fantasyy Factoryy, and garage rock from Satantango. Danielle Lemaire makes surreal and at times harsh electronic sound manipulation. Labyrinth Whistler bridges the vast chasm between indiepop and heavy proggy psych-rock. The Kitchen Cynics contribute a slice of homemade psych with eccentric vocal effects. Marsicano Sitar Experience and Lauro Toledo reinvent Vegetable Man as traditional style Indian music with ambient undertones.

Volume 5 includes spacerock from Sula Bassana, intense psych-rock from Guignol, bleak gothic/post-industrial music from Wolf-107, quirky synthpop from Gretel E Hansel, a fierce metal/punk sort of thing from Adracne, lo-fi psych-folk-rock from J.C. and the Mallerband, a sort of wacky circus music thing from Sex Tourists, a blend of prog, psych and 70s style powerpop from Mr Suede, brooding and surreal classical music-based sound manipulation from Destroy Beethoven, quirky psych-pop from Trespassers W, and assorted other underground oddities.

The Vegetable Man 10" Project is something rather different from the others. This 1-sided 10" features 10-second contributions from 60 bands/artists, compiled into one long 10 minute track. Just a few of the contributors are Electric Orange, Blue Mask of Pan, Hugh Hopper, Daniele Brusaschetto, Les Little Searchers, Mandragora, In The Labyrinth, Nick Bensen, Swedish Whistler, Floorian, Mandra Gora Lightshow Society, and The Lazily Spun. It's generally pretty hard to follow who contributed what (apart from the odd bit I recognised from certain bands' full length versions of Vegetable Man from the other comps), and the cut-up nature of the release gives it a surreal, experimental sound. Someone has even cheekily thrown an S-Express sample into the mix!

Some might not see the point of so many cover versions of the same track: doesn't it get a bit repetitive? Actually, no. There are lots of diverse sounds represented here, bands transforming Vegetable Man into their own genre and even transforming it altogether so that it is no longer recognisable as Vegetable Man. Some of the music here is pretty weird and a bit of a challenging listen, but there are definitely some truly creative gems to be found across these various compilations.

Dario Antonetti, the coordinator of the Vegetable Man Project, also has a solo album available, L'Estetica del Cane. The lyrics are in Italian, which I unfortunately don't speak. This is very much a lyric-driven sort of music and I suspect not understanding the majority of what Dario is singing about means I'm not really getting the full benefit of the songs. The music can still be enjoyed without knowledge of the language though. Some of the music is slightly off-centre underground pop with a homemade sound, adding things like lo-tech synth, or a metronome used as percussion. In general however, most of the music here has less of an obvious DIY feel and sounds more influenced by 60s pop. There's an authentically retro thing going on, with things like vintage organ and 60s-ish harmony vocals. There are also some quirky psych-pop numbers, as well as punchier songs like Approssimato Per Eccesso, which takes on board aspects of psych and garage rock. Final track Risveglio incorporates a sophisticated and atmospheric prog arrangement featuring mellotron and flute, courtesy of Peter Lindahl of In The Labyrinth. There's lots to like here if you're into retro or underground music, even if you don't understand the lyrics.

Dario tells me there is a sixth volume of The Vegetable Man Project out now, as well as a reissued version of his solo album featuring three bonus tracks. There is also new stuff out by Dario's new band La Svolta Psichedelica (The Psychedelic Turning Point). I'm currently awaiting the review copies of these, but hope to be able to post an update on this stuff shortly. In the meantime, visit www.myspace.com/thevegetablemanproject and www.myspace.com/darioantonetti

UPDATE: I have now received the latest releases from Dario. For reviews of La Svolta Psichedelica, see this issue's Single and Album Reviews sections. The Vegetable Man Project volume 6 introduces a new style of cover artwork, which is full colour throughout and looks more professional than that of its predecessors. The music follows a similar theme to previous volumes, having a general garage, psych and DIY/experimental emphasis. Some of the bands featured here are as follows. Ucho Mory, from Poland, contribute an off-centre combination of hypnotic spacerock, jazz, and a certain punky energy. Le Fatine make a kind of psych/prog rock incorporating Hammond organ and vintage synths. John Maters makes bizarre experimental noise. Q.B. contribute a kind of proggy spacerock incorporating intense and heavy aspects along with synths and vocoder. Little Miss Sunshine are certainly not the twee band their name suggests; their track combines angular experimental rock with punky noise and ranting. The Movements make experimental psych-rock which takes on board piano with wobbly processed effects, manic ranting, mock gospel singing, free jazz sax, vintage sci-fi movie synths, church organ, 60s-ish organ, alarm clock bell, and who knows what else.

The last part of the album is a section called Odd Vegetables Orchard, which comprises material influenced by Vegetable Man but which veers into other territories as well. Airwavesjoxfield provide a medley of Vegetable Man and another Syd Barrett song, Effervescent Elephant. The latter parts are instrumental, and in general the song fits in with the overall Vegetable Man theme. The other two tracks are something else entirely. Jan van den Dobbelsteen contributes some bizarre computerised narration entitled Vegetables in the House of Syd Barrett, which from what I can make out behind all the computer generated effects, is a recitation of Latin names of cacti, some of which are spelt out in individual letters. Its connection to Vegetable Man is tangential at best. Mulee' contribute a track entitled Big Apple in a Hole, in which ethereal underground rock meets Wild West movie soundtrack. The sleeve notes describe it as "a supposed direct coda of Syd's song with its end of feedback, noises, and reverberated foggy voices". As with the other volumes, there is plenty here to entertain lovers of music with bizarre artistic tendencies and a strong DIY spirit.


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Text Kim Harten, 2012.