Nikki Kaelar, better known by her stage name Varien, is an internationally recognized composer, producer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. She is a platinum record producer and a video game composer. So why would I consider her untapped? Well, because a lot of people may have heard her works, but don’t know a lot about her. I’ve been listening to her for years and so have my children.
Per her YouTube channel, Nikki is known for her innovative, new-age sound and high-tech production technique. It juxtaposes a sense of femininity and with dark, gritty, goth styles. Varien has been attributed to being a true mastermind in the electronic realm, a vanguard in innovation, and a figurehead for underground electronic producers. The artist has incorporated industrial, metal, orchestral, neofolk, and ambient music. She is known for her unconventional approach to electronic music, including the use of many live instruments not normally found on tracks within her genres.
She has over 300,000 dedicated monthly listeners on Spotify and engagement rates that rival major record label acts along with over 100,000,000 plays on YouTube. But Varien has mostly made herself. And she is always hard at work.
PERSONAL/ PROFESSIONAL HISTORY
Born in 1990 in Tampa, Florida, Nikki was encouraged by her family to follow her passion for music. Growing up a member of the generation that was into Toonami and has always had video games and anime present in their lives, Nikki has a real love for that intersection of music and entertainment. She started learning music at eleven years old with a guitar. She moved on to piano and then into producing soon after. By age 14 she had developed perfect pitch while playing the keyboard. She wound up in multiple bands while in school.
In 2010, Kaelar achieved online viral status with her slowed-down remix of Justin Bieber’s “U Smile”, titled “Justin Bieber 800% Slowed Down”. She was even interviewed by Entertainment Weekly and MTV about the track.
By mid-2011, Nikki released her first Monstercat single “The Force” under the alias Halo Nova. And you can really hear the influence of old games with this song.
Two more singles made it under the alias before she abandoned it for Varien. Between 2013 and 2014 Nikki released several volumes of trailer cues that she had written for film, television, and video game licensing. This paid off because she made money off of the licensing and recognition that came from it.
In 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”. Then in 2016 came her next EP, My Prayers Have Become Ghosts.
She took a hiatus in 2017 to get through depression and anxiety that had led her to self-doubt, something a lot of artists and creatives go through. This is especially prevalent during an age when the internet has made communication and of course trolling a daily thing.
By October of 2018, Varien released her next EP, Death Asked a Question, through Most Addictive Records. Previously she had released music on her own, Kitsune Soundworks. The latest EP was meant to showcase her struggles during that hiatus.
In her interview with EDM.COM, she explains:
“When Death Asked a Question was released, that was my peak depression/anxiety and ideation of not-so-nice things,” says Kaelar. “Humans weren’t what I thought they were. I was sucked into the fame and fortune game and then had a Garden of Eden moment where the wool was truly pulled from my eyes. At some point it was placed over my eyes because I wasn’t always so into fame and fortune. Now we have social media numbers.”
Per EDM.COM – “Kaelar hit the nail on the head: EDM’s issue right now is that it’s overly saturated with investors and number games. And guess who pays for it: the artists.”
Her next full album release was the EP The Second Industrial Revolution at the end of 2019. The sound was so transitional, going from dark, industrial grunge and finding perfect pathways to softer melodies. It was released to critical acclaim and multiple interviews from all over the industry. The sounds of this album resonate with a lot of people, written while the artist was in a rage and also depressed.
“I’m just so physically sick and exhausted of plastic people living plastic lives. We’re better than that; give me the imperfect, the marginalized, the weird. Throw away the shrink wrap and throw yourself into the abyss with me.” – Varien
In 2020, Nikki Kaelar aka Varien came out as transgender. Soon after teases of a new song drop came called DEAD!NAME was blasted all over social media. And on March 26th, it was available… under 24-8 MGMT and is available on all the links we have below. It’s definitely worth listening to!
STYLE AND INFLUENCE
Nikki has always been into video games and RPGs, so her music gets a lot of influence from that pastime. She’s written and produced multiple video game soundtracks and her regularly released music tends to have a bit of that influence.
In an interview with RPGAMER.COM, Nikki tells a story of how video games influenced her:
“I went to my friend’s house in the middle of nowhere and it was his birthday. His dad was “I know you like Final Fantasy-type games so I got you this cool-looking one”, and it was Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. For a fourteen/fifteen-year-old me, playing Nocturne was blowing the doors open of what a video game could be, with demons and this amazing soundtrack. What an obscure game to just randomly pick for your son, but I’ve beaten it four or five times since discovering it. I love it more every time; I live for that cel-shaded aesthetic with the low droning atmospheres and progressive metal guitars. I have a lot of memories like that.” She then states it’s not so much that there is a “first” memory of a game or influence on her music, it’s more of a “culmination of these memories’ that have made her the person she is.
When you listen to some of her music, you’ll feel it, not just hear it. You’ll feel how much gaming has influenced not only her contributions to gaming music but also her soundtrack work and her electronic music.
So, where do those dark sounds come from? Because there are plenty of grim, gothic, and even bleak sounds that are found in Varien’s collection. Well, Nikki was also listening to adult bands in her youth, such as Korn, Rage Against The Machine, and Sonic Youth. Plus, it comes from a very personal place. She uses her experiences and the emotions she feels about the experiences of others to add to her other influences when producing music.
Because video game music is about the mood of the scene or the area in the game that you play, Nikki is devoted to making sure the atmosphere of her songs is properly expressed for the listener.
“That’s how much gaming is a part of my music. Even when I write about me personally in my darkest times, there are still major traces of cinematic-isms and video game-isms.”
And when she writes K-Pop tunes, Nikki pulls from the likes of Timbaland. From an interview with RAVERMAG.COM, she says, “He’s become my musical icon for my later 20s. I’ve deconstructed a lot of his stuff, especially from the 90s, and have a general idea of how he made so many iconic beats.”
COLLABORATIONS & CONNECTIONS
From her website:
“The Trent Reznor of this generation” – EDM.com
“A vanguard” – Earmilk Magazine
“One of America’s most influential, underground, electronic producers.” – Broadway World
So, Nikki has stated before that most people have heard her music, but they don’t realize it. I don’t remember hearing her music on mainstream billboard top 40 or anything like that, but yeah, as a gamer and a movie consumer, I definitely had heard her compositions before getting to know her music on YouTube. She’s done work for television commercials and for movies, video games, and movie trailers.
Her music has reached over 50 million collective plays across streaming platforms and has been released on Monstercat, OWSLA, and Wakaan. Her songs receive support from Skrillex, REZZ, and LSDream to mention a few.
Her songwriting genius can be heard in other artists’ songs as well – Apashe – Insane feat. Tech N9ne Varien Remix, Super Junior – “The Crown”, Monsta X – “X-Phenomenon”, Super Junior D&E – “Jungle”, Kerli – “Where the Dark Things Are”, VIXX – “Scentist” and more.
Nikki has #1 Hits for K-Pop groups, composer on Hollywood films, television, and video games including Hotel Mumbai, John Wick 3, Replicas, America’s Got Talent, The Return of Superman, Doki Doki Literature Club, Injustice 2, Bones, Monsters: Dark Continent, The Walking Dead, 300: Rise of an Empire, The Purge: Anarchy, Furious 7, PlanetSide 2, and Face-Off.
ORIGINAL SONGS or DISCOGRAPHY
- The Ancient and the Arcane 2015
- La Couleur Exquise (as Nick) 2017
- When Death Asked a Question 2018
- The Second Industrial Revolution 2019
- Pick Your Poison, Vol. 01 2013
- It’s Showtime! 2013
- Pick Your Poison, Vol. 02 2014
- Mirai Sekai (with 7 Minutes Dead) 2014
- My Prayers Have Become Ghosts 2016
- Into Oblivion 2016
There are so many singles, I’m just not gonna list them here. Go check out the link to Nikki’s YouTube channel below, find what you like and go purchase it through one of the other links. It’s worth the time to make your ears happy!
Nikki has recently signed to 24-8 MGMT and is currently working on new music. She just released her new album DEAD!NAME in March of 2021.
Currently, she’s working as a lead composer on an IP sequel, working on lead audio for the 80s inspired shoot’em up game, and handling the soundtrack and engineering for an anime visual novel.
I believe now that we have Nikki Kaelar here, out and taking on the world, that quote from her previous interview with RAVERMAG.COM is all too perfect. They asked, “Finally, if you are going to be remembered for anything, what would it be and why?”
Her response? – “That I lived life to its fullest and always dared to try.”
Similar Sound – Maybe if you took Skrillex or Razihel and pushed a wider range of music their way and let them have at? Varien has a similar sound, but a much wider range of base music. But that’s just my humble opinion.
FIND OUT MORE:
As always, if you want to share more, or feel I’ve missed something, let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.