Renowned and revered by the North American electronic music elite, for the past decade Nick Kaelar – better known by his moniker Varien – has been making some of the most inspirational, genre-defying dance music to hit our airwaves and DSPs. Often touted by media and fans alike as a figurehead, Varien has been a mainstay on labels like Monstercat, where he dropped his eponymous ‘Valkyrie’ series, the ‘Mirai Sekai’ EP and albums like ‘The Ancient & The Arcane’. After a well-documented ghosting of the music industry, he 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. We caught up with the enigmatic producer in his home state of Florida, where he’s just returned after a creative stint in the wintry wilds of Finland…
You’re often called one of the most influential producers in US EDM. How does that make you feel? And who or what influences you?
I suppose I don’t feel much, that I am increasingly aware of DMs coming from up and coming producers stating they were influenced by me, etc. and that puts me in a position where I have to recognize, “Ah yes, okay, the new wave of producers is here.”
Your new album ‘The Second Industrial Revolution’ is out this week. How does it differ from your previous work?
From my perspective, it kind of throws the clean mix era of my music out the window and instead ventures forth into odd production methods in order to achieve a unique aesthetic. I drew a lot from my time writing K-Pop, because that taught me how to write hooks and catchy rhythms. There’s just a lot more ‘weird’ and ‘desconstruction’ on this album more than say, My Prayers Have Become Ghosts. I’d also say an element of queer too, on songs like “EXO//SKELETON”.
What is the creative process like for you?
It differs from project to project, but I really do have to have the vision for something or else it becomes work. For this album, it was a slow combination of depression and then acceptance, and then combining two weird EPs into one album.
As well as producing electronic music you also write and produce for K-Pop bands. What musical vices do you get to indulge in writing in that genre as opposed to EDM?
I get to play Timbaland, and I love that. 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. But, moving forward I’m going to continue to include hooks and pop “feeling” into my tunes.
Have you got any plans to take your music on the road? What would a Varien show consist of?
Yes, I’d really like to. It’s just about being with the right management. A Varien show these days would definitely be an experience, that’s for sure. But I’d much rather DJ an art exhibit in Paris than say, EDC Orlando. I think the more art festivals would suit me too.
Which producers do you look up to and why?
Timbaland, Sophie, Arca, A.G Cook, Pharrell, Lorn, Burial
What artists should be checking out and why?
Lingua Ignota for the most intense metal experience ever, which kind of dulls her message just by saying that but… go in and just take in the sheer chaos. I mean beyond that, a lot of stuff I’ve been listening to, most people know – and they aren’t producers.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why?
I’d love to write pop or hip hop with Timbaland, produce for/with Bjork, I’d love to work with Imogen Heap as well.
Which one track would you love to remix and why?
These days I really don’t have a remix mindset unless it really pops up in my head; I already think a lot of the stuff I listen to is great as is, and to remix it would only take away from it.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be and why?
I just want razer sharp logic, rationality, reasoning, and critical thinking to re-enter the discourse about “what to do”. We can meet that with art, poetry, theory, philosophy, etc. and come to some beautiful, but practical ways to deal with the world. I don’t actually want a cyberpunk future, I got my eye on Solarpunk.
If you could invite five people to dinner, alive or dead, who would they be and why?
Now this is a good question! For an interesting dinner, I’d invite Lana Wachowski, David Foster Wallace, Chuck Palahniuk, Marilyn Manson, and Brit Marling. I conider them to be great minds, so to watch the conversation unfold, over a lobster bisque white zinfandel with dim lights, some trip hop in the background. My heaven.I could listen to these people talk for days.
Finally, if you are going to be remembered for anything, what would it be and why?
That I lived life to it’s fullest and always dared to try.