|Also known as|
|Born||May 15, 1990|
Tampa, Florida, U.S.
Nikki Kaelar, better known by her stage name Varien, is an American composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. Varien has incorporated or experimented with styles of industrial, metal, orchestral, neofolk, and ambient music. She is known for her work on film soundtracks, along with her unconventional approach to electronic music, including many live instruments not normally found on tracks within her genres.
Kaelar was born on May 15, 1990 in Tampa, Florida. She had a connection to music from a very young age, and her family supported her passion. At the age of 11, Varien began playing the guitar and attempting songwriting, and she joined a number of bands experimenting with genres of rock, grindcore, metalcore, and jazz. Kaelar developed perfect pitch when playing the keyboard at age fourteen.
Kaelar was in multiple bands in high school, playing grindcore, metalcore, screamo, post-hardcore, and power metal before joining her school's Jazz band for two years. She cites these years as pivotal to her artistic development, learning sheet music, jazz theory and improvisation. She also cites this as the time she developed a profound interest in electronic, folk, and metal music.
She decided to focus on solo composition and began producing in 2009, with music in video games serving as her most longtime influence to date. She cites Shin Megami Tensei, Final Fantasy, and Metroid as her biggest influences when it comes to games, as well as the works of the Wachowskis.
2010–13: Career beginnings
In August 2010, Kaelar achieved online virality with her slowed-down remix of Justin Bieber's "U Smile", titled "Justin Bieber 800% Slowed Down". She was interviewed by Entertainment Weekly and MTV about the track.
In July 2011, Kaelar released her first Monstercat single "The Force" under the alias Halo Nova. She subsequently released two more singles under the alias before abandoning it and continuing to make music under the alias Varien. One of the first subsequent releases as Varien was a remix of Ephixa's song "Division".
On February 26, 2013, Kaelar released Pick Your Poison Vol. 1, a compilation album of trailer cues that she wrote for the purpose of film, television, and video game licensing. She released a followup, Pick Your Poison Vol. 2, a year later.
2014–16: The Ancient & Arcane and My Prayers Have Become Ghosts
In 2014, Kaelar teamed up with Two Steps from Hell on a private trailer cue compilation entitled Open Conspiracy. 2014 saw an abundance of licenses for Varien. Her music was used in trailers and promotional media for 300: Rise of an Empire, Bones, The Purge: Anarchy, Face Off, America's Next Top Model, PlanetSide 2, and Monsters: Dark Continent. Los Angeles-based singer Roniit's song "Runaway", produced by Varien, was used in multiple trailers and TV spots for the film The Loft.
On August 5, 2015, Kaelar released her first LP, titled The Ancient & Arcane, on Monstercat. Prior to this, she had released two tracks, "Beyond the Surface" and "Aether and Light". In an interview with UKF, she elaborated on her songwriting process for the album, saying: "I make so many other types of music so I thought I’d sit down and write – no theme, no story. It’s a very Zen experience. Very spiritual. Wake up. Do yoga. Make music. No regard for the club. No regard for where it will be played or comparisons to my past music or anything else that's going on. I’ve never gone to any of these places I’m exploring right now. I want people to listen to it and think ‘is this Varien?’ Psychedelic, worldly, ethnic, trippy... People have never seen me go there. Yet."
The Ancient & Arcane met with critical acclaim upon release, with EDM website Dancing Astronaut calling it a "cinematic masterpiece", giving particular praise to "Ghost Spores" as "reinvigorat[ing] the soul with its harp-tinged melody and orchestral instruments that once again highlight Varien's idiosyncratic musicianship."
Kaelar's next EP, My Prayers Have Become Ghosts, was released on October 31, 2016 via Monstercat.
2017–2018: Hiatus and Return
In 2017, Kaelar announced a hiatus from the Varien alias and removed all of her social media accounts. Across two interviews with EDMSauce, she cited the psychological impact of social media as her reason for going on a blackout, also saying she "needed a break from it.". In 2018, Kaelar announced via her YouTube channel that she would continue producing music under the Varien name, after her hiatus had allowed her to "take a deep breath from it all". As of 2018, Varien has released music on her own imprint, Kitsune Soundworks.
In April 2018, Kaelar wrote, arranged, and produced K-Pop group VIXX's lead single for their album Eau de VIXX, "Scentist". The track went on to hit #1 on the Mnet charts and was licensed for Korean television shows like The Return of Superman.
On October 2nd, 2018 Kaelar was quoted in RPGamer talking about her youth and which RPGs and video games inspired her career as a producer and composer. Kaeler comments that she always knew that she wanted to be a video game composer when she "grew up," and that if the opportunity came to her she would go for it. She explained in the article, "The thing is video game [composers themselves are], and especially the JRPG community, [are] very much a Fort Knox. There's a limited amount of people and they’re the best."
Alex Fuller from RPGamer commented on Varien's talent, "It's readily apparent how [she] has been able to utilize [her] gaming influences both in [her] electronic music and well as [her] soundtrack creations. It's easy to be able to see the sort of scenes or environments that one would expect from a JRPG while listening to those particular tracks." Varien's collaboration with Materia Collective was mentioned in the interview and the official remix with Undertale is featured.
On October 26, 2018, Varien released her next EP, Death Asked a Question, through Most Addictive Records. In an interview with EDM Joy, she described the EP as being the physical manifestation of her struggles during her hiatus, in contrast to the "fantastical" narrative of The Ancient & Arcane.
On July 13, 2018 Kaelar is featured in an exclusive EDM Sauce interview talking about direct influences of her work, which includes Y2K Era, Fight Club, The Matrix, BBs forums for Final Fantasy, Rage Against the Machine, A Perfect Circle, Nine Inch Nails, KoRn, and "cool new electronic music like Drum n Bass, Trip Hop, etc," as what she declares as her "favorite era [of music]." The EDM Sauce article features Varien's statement about her 2017 hiatus, declaring that she was being "ground down" by the industry and needed a break from it all. Kaelar stated that she returned with a newly radically and positive mindset surrounded by a community of support and friends. The author, GLU, declares, "Varien is an enigma. Creative on levels I don't think we have yet to catch up to; [Nikki] has been building a fan base for years. The Floridian producer effortlessly dominates any genre [she] touches."
On October 26, 2018, Kaelar released an EP, Death Asked A Question, premiered through EDM website Dancing Astronaut in which Kaelar describes the EP as soul-searching, expressive, personal, raw, and featuring numerous gaming influences. Kaelar also described it as having "so much Metroid it's not even funny!" In the Dancing Astronaut premiere and interview the author, Robyn Dexter, quoted Varien and the newly released EP as "consistently [surpassing] genre constructs and [proving herself] a true mastermind of the electronic music realm."
In January of 2018, Varien played at MAGfest, an organization dedicated to the appreciation of games and video game music. On January 1, 2019 featured in Big Shot Magazine, Varien speaks of that performance and describes herself as being fully "back [from her hiatus]" and that she "felt that feeling of performing again for the first time in so long."
On January 1, 2019, in Bigshot Magazine, Kaelar looks back on her 2018 musical highlights throughout the year and reflects,"I’d definitely say landing the VIXX track "Scentist" [in 2018] which went to number one in Korea in April, and then number three in October in Japan. This marked my first official placement in the K-Pop realm of which there is so much more to come. I was credited as producer, songwriter, and arranger.”
Kaelar's next full album release, "The Second Industrial Revolution" was on December 5, 2019. The album was renowned and extolled by critics, and was quoted as being uncompromising, daring and utterly raw. Broadway World Music reviewed the album, "At its essence the album is a celebration of this "imperfect", exalting the artistic beauty and freedom that lies in surrender to that. From the very start of the album, in titular single 'THE SECOND INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION', there is a grainy, clipping quality to the production this is far removed from the polished normalcy of much of today's electronica, carried through as the album begins its descent into darkness."
Referring to the album, Varien speaks about wanting to connect with her imperfect, marginalized and "weird" audience, saying, "Throw away the shrink wrap and throw yourself into the abyss with me." It was also stated that the album The Second Industrial Revolution was produced "in the pits of [Kaelar's] deepest depression," and "[lifted her] through the dark times" as well as resulted in a physical relocation of Kaelar to the Northern European country of Finland.
The Broadway World Music article also states, "Adored by critics and followed with a feverish, almost cult-like manner by fans, elusive US electronic producer Varien ... continues to push the boundaries of [her] chosen genres from [her] position within the shadows of American musical counter culture. [Hers] is a unique space, flexing across countless areas within music but continually refusing to compromise or dilute [her] work."
On December 23rd, 2019 Relentless Beats reviewed the album and stated it to be a complete masterpiece as well as one of their favorite albums of 2019. In the review they stated, "Overall, The Second Industrial Revolution truly blew me away. The transitions from grungy, distorted basses to soft, elegant melodies was effortless and the story lies in these musical parallels. On one hand, the world Varien created was dark and meaningless, yet on the other it was beautiful and full of life." And concluded, "Everything Varien touches seems to turn into gold, no matter the genre."
In 2019, EDM.com described her as "Trent Reznor dark lord of this generation in electronic music". As one of Varien's most prominent features, EDM.com states that Kaelar is "on the same playing field," as Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor. The articles states, "It's hard to place someone on the same wavelength as Reznor, but Kaelar's Varien moniker has achieved immense success and garnered an unprecedented vision for music, something Reznor accomplished just as flawlessly. Varien is now coming around and finding [herself] as musician and artist."
On December 12, 2019 Raver Mag commented on Varien's prominent return to the industry, "After a well-documented ghosting of the music industry, [she] returned just over 12 months and since then has been on what can only be described as a production rampage, releasing not just electronica but also #1 K-Pop hit singles and soundtracks for movies like John Wick 3 and Replicants." Kaelar stated in the interview that when writing The Second Industrial Revolution she drew a lot of her time from writing K-Pop because that's what taught her the mechanics of writing hooks and catchy rhythms. She comments that there is songs on the album that feature "an element of queer too.”
Kaelar states in the Raver Mag feature that she believes art, poetry, theory, philosophy combined with razor sharp logic, rationality, reasoning, and critical thinking can assist in practical ways of dealing with the world. In the interview, she also states that if she had the choice to bring whoever she wanted to dinner dead or alive, she would choose Lana Wachowski, David Foster Wallace, Chuck Palahniuk, Marilyn Manson, and Brit Marling. She concluded the interview by stating that if she had to be remembered for saying anything she would want it to be the statement,"That I lived life to its fullest and always dared to try."
|The Ancient & Arcane||
|La Douleur Exquise
as Nick Kaelar
|The Second Industrial Revolution||
|Pick Your Poison, Vol. 01|
|It's Showtime!, Vol. 01
as Chrono Rabbit
|Pick Your Poison, Vol. 02||
(with 7 Minutes Dead)
|My Prayers Have Become Ghosts||
as Nick Kaelar
|Death Asked a Question||
As featured artist
|Tokyo (The Remixes)|
|Space & Time EP||
|Cataclasm (The Remixes)
|Regenades of Light
|Cloak and Dagger||2011||Monstercat 003 – Momentum||Monstercat|
|Throne of Ravens||Monstercat 005 – Evolution||Monstercat|
|Skrillex Orchestral Suite||Bangarang||OWSLA|
|Mirrors||2012||Monstercat 005 – Evolution||Monstercat|
|The Alchemist's Nightmare||Monstercat 006 – Embrace||Monstercat|
|Seduction||Monstercat 007 – Solace||Monstercat|
|Resurrection of the Dagger||Monstercat 009 – Reunion||Monstercat|
|The Anthem (with Project 46 & Ephixa)||Monstercat|
|Nights in Bangalore||non-album single||Play Me Records|
|Morphine||Monstercat 011 – Revolution||Monstercat|
|Lilith||Monstercat 012 – Aftermath||Monstercat|
|Nights in Bangalore Pt. 2||2013||Monstercat|
|Toothless Hawkins (And His Robot Jazz Band) (with Razihel)||Monstercat 013 – Awakening||Monstercat|
|The Scarlet Dawn||Monstercat 016 – Expedition||Monstercat|
|Memories of Melodies Past||Monstercat – The Best of 2013||Monstercat|
|Metalworks||non-album single||FiXT/Position Music|
|Moonlight (with SirensCeol) [featuring Aloma Steele]||2014||Monstercat 017 – Ascension||Monstercat|
|Valkyrie (featuring Laura Brehm)||Monstercat 018 – Frontier||Monstercat|
|Valkyrie II: Lacuna (featuring Cassandra Kay)||Monstercat 019 – Endeavour||Monstercat|
|Mirai Sekai Pt. 3 – Aeon Metropolis||Mirai Sekai, Monstercat 019 – Endeavour||Monstercat|
|Whispers in the Mist (featuring Aloma Steele)||Monstercat 020 – Altitude||Monstercat|
|Aether and Light||2015||Monstercat 022 – Contact||Monstercat|
|Supercell (featuring Veela)||The Ancient & Arcane, Monstercat 023 – Voyage||Monstercat|
|Hypnotique (featuring Charlotte Haining)||Monstercat|
|Beyond the Surface||non-album single||Self-released|
|Valkyrie III: Atonement (featuring Laura Brehm)||Monstercat 024 – Vanguard||Monstercat|
|We Are the Lights (with Mr FijiWiji)||Monstercat 025 – Threshold||Monstercat|
|Sacred Woods (featuring Skyelle)||2016||Monstercat 027 – Cataclysm||Monstercat|
|TEVA833||My Prayers Have Become Ghosts, Monstercat 029 – Havoc||Monstercat|
|Catherine (with K?D)||2017||Non-album singles||Self-released|
|Wrath of God (with Teri Miko) [featuring Flowsik]||Spinnin' Records|
|The Dark Harvest||Self-released|
|Of Foxes and Hounds||Self-released|
|Never Ending (with SWARM)||Self-released|
|Eventide (with Diskord)||Circus Records|
|Death Asked a Question||Death Asked a Question||Most Addictive Records|
|Born of Blood, Risen of Ash||2019||Non-album singles||Lowly Palace|
|Can You Feel My Heart (feat. Andrew Zink)||Self-released|
|Hush the Storms Away (feat. STRIX)||Self-released|
|A Pale White Horse||Self-released|
|One Shot, One Kill||Metanoia Music|
As Halo Nova
|The Force||2011||Monstercat 001 – Launch Week||Monstercat|
|Triceracops||Monstercat 002 – Early Stage||Monstercat|
|Milkshakes and Chill||2016|
|Storm the Gates (with Sakuraburst)|
Kaelar's music has appeared in the following works:
|2013||Breaking Amish: Los Angeles|
|2013||Pain & Gain|
|2013||The Tomorrow People|
|2013||The Challenge: Rivals II|
|2013||NASCAR Race Hub|
|2014||America's Next Top Model|
|2014||300: Rise of an Empire|
|2014||The Purge: Anarchy|
|2014||Monsters: Dark Continent|
|2015||The Walking Dead|
|2017||Doki Doki Literature Club|
|2018||America's Got Talent|
|2018||The Return of Superman (TV series)|
- "Varien: Trent Reznor Dark Lord of This Generation in Electronic Music". June 12, 2019. Archived from the original on June 20, 2019. Retrieved June 19, 2019.
- Jenkins, Dave (January 27, 2015). "Exclusive: Varien is about to blow minds with her new album!". UKF Music. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
- "NP Unzipped: Varien". May 10, 2013. Retrieved July 7, 2019.
- "Up Close and Personal with elusive US producer Varien". IhouseU.com. December 9, 2019. Retrieved June 9, 2020.
- Lyons, Margaret. "The man who slowed down Justin Bieber: 'It was a joke, and now it's this phenomenon'". Ew.com. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
- "LISTEN: Varien's (formerly Halo Nova) remix of Ephixa's "Division" - Suburban Apologist". Suburban Apologist. October 26, 2011. Archived from the original on February 27, 2017. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
- "Varien Releases "Pick Your Poison Vol. 02"". January 27, 2014. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
- "Two Steps From Hell: Open Conspiracy « Trailer Music News". trailermusicnews.com. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
- Diaz, Jordan (August 10, 2015). "Varien's debut album 'The Ancient & Arcane' is a cinematic masterpiece". Dancing Astronaut. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
- "Varien Goes On a Social Media Blackout... What Does It Mean? [EDMSAUCE Exclusive Interview]". December 1, 2017. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved June 20, 2018.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
- "Varien Rises From Ashes Victorious [EDMSAUCE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]". July 13, 2018. Archived from the original on April 18, 2019. Retrieved June 19, 2019.
- Varien (January 27, 2018), Varien is Returning [VLOG], retrieved February 1, 2018
- Fuller, Alex. "Nick Kaelar (Varien) Interview". RPGamer. p. 1.
- Fuller, Alex. "Nick Kaelar (Varien) Interview". RPGamer. RPGamer. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
- "Straight From the Underground". Materia Collective. Materia Collective. Retrieved July 28, 2016.
- "Varien weaves a dark and vulnerable web in 'Death Asked A Question' [EP Premiere + Interview]". www.dancingastronaut.com. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
- "Interview With Varien On Mental Health & Coming EP". October 15, 2018. Archived from the original on June 20, 2019. Retrieved June 19, 2019.
- GLU. "Varien Rises From Ashes Victorious [EDMSAUCE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]". EDMSauce. EDMSauce. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
- Dexter, Robyn. "Varien weaves a dark and vulnerable web in 'Death Asked A Question' [EP Premiere + Interview]". Dancing Astronaut. Dancing Astronaut. Retrieved November 1, 2020.
- Fleming, Ian. "2018 REWIND: VARIEN". Big Shot Magazine. Newsflash. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
- Crandall, Madeline. "Varien Release New Album, 'The Second Industrial Revolution'". Broadway World. TV News Desk. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
- Small, Liz. "Relentless Review: Varien's Latest Masterpiece 'The Second Industrial Revolution'". Relentless Beats. Relentless Beats. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
- Bailey, Kat. "Varien dives into The Second Industrial Revolution – Interview". RaverMag. RaverMag. Retrieved November 15, 2020.
- Varien (May 15, 2020). I'm Transgender. // Varien (YouTube video).
- Higgins, Chris (June 29, 2020). "From memes to cyberpunk dreams: Varien's transformative journey through music". AllGamers. HyperX. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
In May this year, she took another step on that path, posting a vlog to her YouTube channel in which she came out as trans to her fans.
- Endykiewicz, Paige (August 6, 2015). "The Ancient & Arcane LP by Varien Finally Emerges [Monstercat]". Your EDM. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
- Desk, TV News. "Varien Release New Album, 'The Second Industrial Revolution'". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved December 7, 2019.
- "NEWS: Varien Releases Cinematic Inspired Album « Bring the Noise UK". www.bringthenoiseuk.com. Archived from the original on August 17, 2017. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
- "Varien discusses composing for video games, Pick Your Poison Vol 2". The Untz. January 31, 2014. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
- Meadow, Matthew (September 3, 2014). "Varien & 7 Minutes Dead - Mirai Sekai EP [Monstercat]". Your EDM. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
- MrRyanHarcourt (November 8, 2016). "Varien - My Prayers Have Become Ghosts EP - EDMTunes". EDMTunes. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
- "Position Music - Nick Kaelar "Into Oblivion"". www.positionmusic.com. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
- "Skrillex - Bangarang EP - Reviews - Alternative Press". Alternative Press. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
- "Gareth Emery - Tokyo (The Remixes) - EDMupdate". EDMupdate. April 9, 2012. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
- "Space & Time [Discontinued]". Klayton.info. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
- on YouTube