Madrid manages the extraordinary feat of preserving its traditional Iberian look while being cutting edge in the arts, fashion and culture. Up-and-coming electronic music star John Grvy shows us around his favorite haunts in a new smart forfour electric drive.
It’s 10am in Madrid’s Justicia district. The New York-style foyer of the achingly cool Only You hotel is so vast it could be mistaken for the waiting room at Atocha station just across the road. In fact, the fashionable crowd and tattooed baristas in their leather aprons give you the sense that even just to be here, breathing the free air, is to have arrived in life. The hotel is also the first stop of the smart electric base – which will tour Europe and the US through September 2017. Visitors and guests are signing up for test drives in one of the new smart electric drive models parked out front. The relaxed atmosphere is a fitting place to catch up with electronic music’s rising star John Grvy (read “John Gray”) to explore his personal Madrid in a smart forfour electric drive.
Hey John, you look incredibly relaxed – you’re a walking chillwave.
John Grvy: I guess (smiles). I live nearby, just next to the Parque del Buen Retiro, so this hotel is just a stroll away for me.
That’s ace! But we can’t do our city safari on foot – shall we grab our smart and see what electric driving feels like?
John Grvy: Absolutely – let’s go. I love driving through the city, especially at night. For me, the car is one of the best places to listen to music.
What’s in your rotation?
John Grvy: Mostly electronic, but also R&B and soul. Right now, I am listening to a lot of Animal Collective.
So, what’s your first local secret?
John Grvy: We’re off to the Reina Sofia – Madrid’s museum for 20th century art. It’s one of the city’s main attractions. What most people don’t know is that on most days, the entry’s free after 7pm. So I come here with my girlfriend to get some inspiration for my music.
What is it here at the museum that inspires you in particular? Is there a piece of art that you can point to that triggered a particular song?
John Grvy: I wouldn’t say it’s that literal. Often, it’s a technical aspect of a work of art that captivates me. For example, I might see something in a crazy blue color that sets the mood for a song. I might even show it to my producer to get across the feel I want. I also get a lot of inspiration from older music. That’s why I like to browse LPs at La Gramola record store. I might find just a bit of a song that I like and then use it as a sample on one of my tracks.
What got you into the whole music game?
John Grvy: Writing songs has been a hobby of mine since I was a teenager in Toledo. I can tell you it was a bit weird living there as a person of color as the mindset there is so traditional. Everything changed when I came to Madrid to study journalism. Suddenly, I felt free and at ease – people are very open-minded here. You have this sensation that nobody’s from Madrid. Everybody comes here for the hustle, so when you get here, you don’t feel a stranger. One of the guys I studied with was a promoter, heard my stuff and said I should perform live some time. And that was a turning point for me – I loved having that connection to the audience, and still do.
So you quit your studies?
John Grvy: Not there and then. But when I won a talent competition and was given studio time with a really high-level producer from Brooklyn, I knew I was going to commit to music as a career. That’s when I put my degree on hold.
And what did your mom have to say about this?
John Grvy: (laughs) She’s my number one fan but she still wants me to finish my studies one day.
So what else do you love about Madrid, other than the feeling that it’s easy to blend in?
John Grvy: The sun and the party life. Ok, so we don’t have a beach but that’s ok. There are a lot of places to go and they’re all nearby. The nightlife, the parties and the girls inspire me and feed into my music, like my new EP City Lights. People hang out ‘til really, really late. In London, things close at 4am but here, it’s until 6am and later. You just go to someone’s house for the after party. I’ve been to some parties that have gone on for 17 hours!
So now, we’ve arrived at Plaza Dos De Mayo. Shall we park the car and go for a stroll?
John Grvy: Sure. This neighborhood is called Malasaña – it’s where I hang out the most with my friends. A lot of them live here. There’s always something going on in this square – at night it’s really buzzing. There are skaters, painters and musicians, and you can actually sit here and buy a beverage off a Chinese vendor.
And what about food? It’s important to eat well before a big night out.
John Grvy: When my girlfriend’s mom is around, we often have lunch at La Musa Latina – Spanish tapas with a contemporary twist. Everything on the menu is delicious but the carilleras (pork cheeks) are my favorite. My management company introduced me to this place – their office is just around the corner.
The tapas here look absolutely delicious!
John Grvy: Yes, Madrid is great for food. Another option is the Mercado de San Antón in Chueca. The options are overwhelming and always really tasty. Chueca is the LGBT neighborhood of Madrid, so it has this really free-spirited vibe I love. I often have drinks here on the market’s terrace – unless we go to the rooftop cocktail bar at the swanky Me Hotel in Plaza Santa Ana. There, you really get the best views of the city.
And where do you go when the night begins?
John Grvy: I hang out with rappers, rockers and garage people – they’re all a bit crazy and we always stop at the bar La Vía Láctea in Malasaña. My friend Miqui Brightside is a DJ who runs a party called Blasé every month at Costello club – a must if you like futuristic electronic beats. Then we sometimes go to this fancy club called Chachá. It’s like the Soho House of Madrid, a private members’ club.
And after that?
John Grvy: We’ll probably end up at someone’s house.
John’s song “Odes to the City Lights” is playing over the car’s integrated JBL speaker system as the locally emission-free four-seater smart forfour electric drive quietly zips through the alleys of Madrid. The track is fitting, encapsulating the dreamlike mood of a journey by night. It’s quietly intense with a little bit of low-level chaos bubbling away in the background, building up to an emotional crescendo, “drowning in a sea of feelings, lost to the city lights.”
There is a lot of sentiment in your songs.
John Grvy: My music is all about feelings. My generation is extra emotional. Yes, we can do more things, we’re able to travel to different countries and do so much more than previous generations but at the same time, there’s an underlying anxiety. We are the generation of social media, we can instantly share anything. But the downside is that we constantly compare ourselves.
So you’re not so big on social media?
John Grvy: For me, as a person with a public profile, I definitely have to use Twitter and Instagram, but I don’t love it. Social media is all about instant gratification. But you have to work for what is good in life – you need patience, persistence. I always think if people really want to know about my emotions and my message, they should listen to my music.
Nigerian-born J. E. Edwards came to Spain when he was five years old, living in Salamanca and Toledo, before moving to Madrid. After winning a talent competition, he teamed up with producers Lowlight and assumed the name John Gray (styled JOHN GRVY) in homage to Oscar Wilde’s novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. John had his first big success with the single “Mad on Her” and has just released his EP “City of Lights”. Visit his Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter.
Local Secrets Madrid:
Only You Hotel Atocha
Paseo Infanta Isabel, 13
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
Calle Santa Isabel, 52
La Gramola – record store
Calle San Bernardo, 52
La Musa Latina – restaurant
Costanilla de San Andrés, 12
Mercado de San Antón – market
Calle Augusto Figueroa, 24B
Plaza Dos De Maio
La Vía Lactéa – rock bar
Calle Velarde, 18
Calle Caballero de Gracia, 10
Hotel Me – roof terrace, cocktails
Plaza de Santa Ana, 14
Chachá – private members’ club
Calle Cedaceros, 7