4Minute, “Volume Up” (2012)

by Chris Randle

Last month I moved for the first time in several years, to Toronto’s Koreatown. I did it because a room in a friend’s place opened up, but there were secondary considerations. The neighbourhood is unsurprisingly full of cheap, satisfying Korean food – three locals recently vowed to eat-critique their way through every restaurant on the strip, including its Subway and lone pizza place – and I’ve found myself sampling a lot of it over the past few weeks, because who wants to cook or do anything else that requires sentience when the temperature gets above 30 degrees?

So lately my dinner is often accompanied by Korean music, some of it in styles very different from the K-pop I’ve become so enamoured with. Traditional court music, folk tunes, the proto-K-pop of trot, they’re playing whether I want it or not. Certain restaurants make their own mixes while others seem to be using satellite radio, but in either case it curtails the xenophilic pop fan’s quasi-colonial ability to sequence whichever global jams they like best. That’s a piquant corrective.

When I heard this track over bulgogi, for a moment I forgot that I already knew it. You don’t come across much alto sax in K-pop – it could’ve been the intro to some old trot single, or indeed a Western one. But confounding expectations is what “Volume Up” does. Before now I mostly associated the five-member girl group 4Minute with standardized electrobosh like “Muzik,” and stampeding trance synths do make a return appearance here. Yet they crescendo just as the saxophone does, producing noises not unlike the whine of straining metal. By the almost-end, during the bridge, those horns are little more than a staccato pulse, yoked to the beat. A sonic symbol of “organic” “sophistication” has been made to sound thrillingly synthetic. I want Dan Bejar to hear it.

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