Outside a café on Mill Road at around 8pm, I’m sitting with Syzygie, the 7-piece jazz-fusion “Tom Misch tribute band” who are set to play a seemingly impossible number of May Balls this year. My first question is about their impossible-to-spell name, and my answer sets the tone for our conversation: “we don’t really know why we’re called that, to be honest”.
Self-deprecating descriptions aside, it’s clear that the group has some pretty serious musical credentials, formed as they are of hilariously talented, passionate jazz musicians, singers and the recent addition of a rapper. I ask if their approach – what they enigmatically and grinningly keep calling the ‘Syzygie Sound’ – is a unique thing in Cambridge. “The jazz scene here is insane”, Hugo, a French Computer Science student from Homerton chips in. “It really is abnormally good”. However, just because the University produces great jazz musicians doesn’t mean that they produce exciting new bands; what differentiates Syzygie is their restless innovation. They play and listen to everything from hip-hop to house, refusing to be tied down to the piano/saxophone/guitar/drums paradigm. According to them, Cambridge, for all its connotations of stuffiness and paternalism, is a “very stimulating environment to evolve in”. Containing members from across at least four countries (I didn’t count), they have a broad range of scenes to compare to, and the overwhelming agreement is that Cambridge is more fluid and friendlier than almost anywhere else.
In this vein, I ask if they’d be open to the band continuing as a Cambridge institution after its founding members leave (at the end of this year, only three members will be left). They explain to me that the Cambridge music scene is much more fluid than one might imagine, with most people being in more than one band, dipping in and out as their interests and commitments fluctuate and shift. Of course, the continued existence of Syzygie is dependent on the continuation of their (I’m constantly told) unique and inimitable sound.
This mixture of confidence and irony marks out what is apparent from how they talk about their music: these are not a bunch of mates with an out-of-tune guitar, but seven serious musicians who also happen to get on really well. I ask what it would take for an aspiring Tom Misch impersonator to join the group – they all, almost in unison, stress the importance of people skills and “good vibes” over musicianship, and the sort of intuition and ability to go with the flow that makes a jazz performance such a living, breathing thing. “We’re not very serious”, laughs Sam before, under his breath, he mutters something else. “One wrong note and you’re out, though.”
As they’re supposed to be playing in ten minutes, the band starts getting up from the table and moving inside. I frantically ask for one final send-off to please the people over at TCS. Hugo smiles and proclaims that “dreams do come true”, before leaning in conspiratorially and telling me to just make something up.