Derek Christopher centers Black musicians with new label, studio

Christopher recently signed Cherimondis and Kali Dreamer to his new Non Entity label, along with debuting a nonprofit recording studio that offers free services to Black artists.
(Left to right) Derek Christopher, Cherimondis and Kali Dreamer
(Left to right) Derek Christopher, Cherimondis and Kali DreamerComposite image

In early January, Derek Christopher announced the creation of a new record label, Non Entity, and the rebranding of his Grandview recording studio as Penfield Studio, which will now operate as a nonprofit, providing free recording services to Black Columbus musicians, as well as Black artists within the global goth/industrial scenes of which Christopher is a part. 

“The fact of the matter is not a lot of musicians have the financial means to go to a studio and get their music professionally recorded,” said Christopher, who makes music under the name Wandering Stars with creative partner Gregory Stokes. “And I’ve found Black musicians are even more affected by that, not just because of the financial means aspect, but also there’s a lot of gatekeeping. Not just in Columbus, but in the [industrial] scene we’re a part of worldwide. Nobody is really reaching out to these artists and saying: ‘Hey, can I do this for you?’; ‘Do you want to jump on this tour?’; ‘Could I remix that for you?’; ‘Could I produce this?’ There’s not a lot of that, where you do see it with white musicians.”

In sharing news of Non Entity, Christopher also announced the first two Columbus artists who will join Wandering Stars on the label: shapeshifting rapper/musician Kali Dreamer, whose latest, October Requiem: 1988, is a gothic wonder; and soulful singer Cherimondis, whose sophomore effort, Dove Archer, from 2022, saw the artist make noticeable strides on her already impressive debut.

The seeds for Christopher’s two-pronged plan were planted two years ago, first surfacing in conversations with his wife, and then with Stokes. “We were talking about creating a label, number one, because neither of us want any musical restraints. Having anybody tell me what to do sounds like a nightmare, and I’d rather cut my hands off than go on tour,” Christopher said, and laughed. “So, we talked about the label, and then we talked about making a legitimate music studio where people could come and record.”

From its inception, Wandering Stars has donated any profits generated by its music to Nancy’s Place, a shelter for unhoused women run through Faith Mission, and early discussions on creating a studio centered on similarly charitable ideas. “I want to do good in the Columbus community. And then also in the worldwide industrial scene we live in, I want to do something for Black musicians in that community, as well,” Christopher said. “And turning the studio into a nonprofit allows us to work with folks not only in Columbus, but worldwide.”

While the label will prioritize Black artists – “It doesn’t mean I won’t sign [white artists], I just won’t center them,” Christopher said – the studio will be available for free exclusively to artists of color.

“If you’re a Black musician, you’re welcome to the studio,” said Christopher, who recently hosted recording sessions with rapper Dominique Larue and her longtime producer Jack “Tha Audio Unit” Burton. “Now, that doesn’t mean I’m just throwing the doors wide open. But if someone is referring you to me and I trust them, it’s yours for free. Come in. Use anything you want. And I’ll help you do it.”

Penfield Studio is located in the finished basement of Christopher’s Grandview home and comes equipped with a wide assortment of instruments and recording gear. Included among the sonic toys are: high-end microphones, a variety of guitars (bass, electric, acoustic), synthesizers and assorted digital production tools that Christopher described as “the real guts” of the studio.

“One of the first things I got when I started making music was Serum (a software synthesizer), because if Danger Mouse was using it and Kanye was trying to pirate it, I should probably have it,” said Christopher, who has maintained a similar approach in the years since, acquiring tools utilized by other chart-topping producers, including Illangelo, best known for his production work with the Weeknd. “Basically, if it’s out there and a major producer has it, I buy it. So, the things you can do here are sort of limitless.”

Christopher said his plans for the studio and label have evolved in subtle ways since they were first hatched – a shift he attributed in part to his developing personal and creative relationships with Kali Dreamer and Cherimondis, both of whom he has worked with extensively as a producer. 

“Watching their [creative] evolutions helped shape the evolution of what is now Non Entity,” he said. “I think they’re helped me appreciate music more. And, quite frankly, they’ve influenced me as an artist, just from working so closely with these two individuals that aren’t doing anything like what I do. But their processes are very similar, and the way they hear their music is very similar to the way I hear my music. … So, it’s given me a lot of insight, and it’s helped me mature as a musician.”

While Cherimondis and Dreamer are radically different artists, there are commonalities at play in their music, from the atmospheric quality of the recordings, which have a way of enveloping listeners, to the sense that the songs have been somehow touched by the supernatural. Considering this, it makes complete sense that the two would share a label, and in tandem the signings offer a picture of where Christopher hopes to take the venture creatively moving forward.

“I’m going to be actively searching out Black artists that fall in that same wheelhouse that Cherimondis and Kali Dreamer fall in, even though they’re completely different artists,” said Christopher, who described the label as a developmental system where signed artists are free to leave at any time without penalty (Non Entity artists all maintain full rights to their own music). “Whatever those through lines are between them, I want to find more artists that have those. … I want to find other artists who fit in well in this strange little world that I’m trying to help create.”

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