“When I was dancing, I just wanted to freeze the moment and stay right there.”
These words came out of my mouth – completely unironically – after watching Emily Burns and Tove Styrke perform, wending my way home across Waterloo Bridge. Watching two women whose songs I had sung along to before a night out, cried to after heartbreak, bonded over on countless occasions, was a happiness that felt like it had walked straight out of a movie cliché.
It was clear that I wasn’t alone in this feeling. The guy behind me who screamed along so loud his voice cracked; the girls in front who danced so hard they didn’t notice their dip-dye got an extra dousing of beer from my friend’s cup – we were all so invested in the music it was tangible. There were no awkward hang-ons or partners clearly tagging along at this gig. We were there for the artists and the songs and the experience.
It’s a sentiment shared by musician Emily Burns, who is supporting Tove Styrke throughout her UK tour. “It’s really cool to see so many female pop artists coming through and making waves,” she told Third Wavelength. “I’m just really honoured to be a part of that and for people to be engaging and listening to my music.”
Aside from the emotion of the songs, the night hit me in a way I didn’t entirely expect. I only realised the day before that the gig was taking place in Heaven, one of the longest-running gay clubs in London and the scene of many of my own nights out. To stand in the same spot where Freddie Mercury met Jim Hutton, where countless LGBT+ performers have debuted, and watch two queer women as part of a headline tour – I’ve retyped this sentence four times now because words really can’t describe.
The more engaged I become in LGBT+ circles, the more I realise there are often precious few spaces for bisexual women. Being in a heterosexual relationship makes you straight, being in a homosexual relationship makes you lesbian. Even friends jokingly calling me gay digs a little under my skin. Heaven is one of the few places where anything really does go: I’ve met both men and women there and no one has batted an eyelid.
Both women’s music also provided that space. Styrke has often said herself that her songs are the stories of everyone, not just her own: “I want to connect with people through my music, touch someone else’s feelings not just tell you about mine. To do that I need to keep these stories open for interpretation so that anybody who didn’t live my life can apply them to theirs.”
Burns writes from personal experience herself, yet her lyrics could just as easily be about my own life, or Loud Screaming Guy, or Hair-Flicking Girl, or, according to her near-tearful post-gig elation, my friend’s. For Burns, heartbreak is the uniting factor: “I write a lot of songs about my personal experiences in dating and my love life and the trials and tribulations of it… A lot of my songs are inspired by girls that have broken my heart.”
Live music always creates a community in the crowd, no matter the size or space, but that night was something else. There was a collective identity in the music that spoke to everyone in the room. The combination of meaningful pop songs with the iconic underground arches of Heaven made for a sense of belonging I had never noticed was missing in previous gigs. Thank you to Emily Burns and Tove Stryke in creating that – and here’s to finding and shaping even more inclusive spaces and art.
Emily Burns releases her new single this month so keep an eye on her website. Third Wavelength can categorically confirm it is an absolute tune.
Tickets for Tove Stryke’s Scandinavian tour can be found here.