Santiago de Compostela

The Camino de Santiago is a 500-mile pilgrimage route running through several countries in Europe, including France and Portugal, with a final stop in the Galician capital of Santiago de Compostela, the reputed burial place of Saint James the Great, believed to be one of the 12 apostles. Around 200,000 pilgrims descend on the almost-thousand-year-old cathedral each year, sharing the historic cobbled streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Site with the resident students, tourists, and, earlier this month, the attendees of WOS Festival; an experimental music event now in its sixth edition.

Unfolding over the course of four days and two nights in twelve locations, from the green and peaceful Parque de Bonaval to the decorative baroque chapel of the Igrexa da Universidade, this year’s WOS – AKA WOS Festival x SON Estrella Galicia – dialled in 25 live performances along with a smattering of cinema screenings and panel talks. Pan-American, the alias of Labradford guitarist Mark Nelson, took his elegiac guitar soundscapes to the 14th century gothic church of San Domingos de Bonava on the Friday evening, his looped, seemingly infinite meanderings perfectly suited to the building’s natural reverb. Later that night, Zbigniew Chojnacki led us into his weird and wonderful world of avant-garde accordion, augmenting his instrument of choice with live electronics and a jumble of effects pedals that created a cacophonous clash of antique folk and contemporary drone.  

In the same Fundación SGAE venue, an impressive space inspired by megalithic structures, Brooklyn-based musician Rachika Nayar transformed the pitch-black basement den into a near-rave, saturating the room with fog and charging through the euphoric maximalism of her recent album Heaven Come Crashing to twinkling pink and purple visuals. Silhouettes swayed to Nayar’s emotive, trance-like fever dreams, which snowballed with intensity and hit an ecstatic, all-encompassing high.

On Saturday afternoon, Galician DJ Alicia Carrera guided fragile heads into the soft sunshine with drifting ambient numbers that filled the pretty, tree-lined Parque de Bonaval, formerly an estate and cementry of Santiago de Compostela’s Dominican convent. Elsewhere on the Saturday, Caterina Barbieri’s blistering show at the sleek Auditorio Abanca theatre proved yet again why she is the gold standard for modular synthesis. Constructing her own cathedral of sound steeped in the heady inspirations of the female philosophers, mystics and poets that shaped her recent album, the Italian composer breezed through Spirit Exit decked out in a jaw-dropping sculptural metallic dress, exuding superstar quality. At WOS, the locations feel like part of the performances. Coby Sey’s alfresco set on the rooftop terrace of the Fundación Eugenio Granell – a unique space built into an 18th century urban palace – chimed fittingly with the roomy adventurousness of his music. Fleshed out by a live band, the CURL collective co-founder showcased tracks from his freshly released debut solo album Conduit, released on the London label AD 93 a day prior, and stirred up a riot of grunge, jazz, grime and spoken-word poetics.

Sofie Birch took on her Sunday duties with the practised ease of a new age stalwart and student of meditation, wrapping the crowd in a soothing ambient blanket. Sporting an eye-catching grape-coloured headpiece that cut a sublime figure against the ornate backdrop of the baroque altar, the colours evoked Frida Kahlo and the sounds were as earthy as you’d have hoped from the Holotropica artist, with watery field recordings and synthwork elevated by experimental jazz saxophonist Nana Pi.

As many festival-goers were still reeling from the previous night’s early-hours finish, the final day of programming made plenty of room for rest and reflection, with Grand River – AKA Dutch-Italian composer Aimée Portioli and visual artist Marco Ciceri – projecting forest-like visuals and conjuring palate-cleansing, minimalist electronics in the cool, dark auditorium of the Teatro Principal during a live audiovisual show. They were an ideal final act for this focused, intimate, and thoughtfully curated affair, which felt like Galicia’s best-kept secret as well as a graceful bridge into autumn, following the sweaty adrenaline of summer 2022.