Studio Sounds with Toby Hatchett
A boat builder by trade, Toby Hatchett has combined his carpentry skills with a love of music to create custom sound systems for the country’s biggest music festivals.
"I wish I’d started 20 years ago, I really do,” says Toby Hatchett of his unique, handmade sound systems. And it’s not because they’re proving extremely popular – which they are, with festivals like Body&Soul, Electric Picnic and Another Love Story all requesting his distinctive speakers. It’s because there’s still so much to understand.
“It’s been an unbelievably steep learning curve and I’m still discovering things,” insists Toby from his hand-built workshop in Timoleague near Bandon, Co. Cork. “It’s one thing to make something look nice, but it’s a whole other thing to make it sound right and all the technical components required for that, and I suppose that’s why I love it – the constant exploration.”
With the vantage of hindsight, this move to building one-off sound systems seems fated. “I’ve always been a tinkerer, it began with Lego as a small child and then progressed to more complicated things like stereos and hi-fis. My dad even bought me an old Triumph when I was 16, so I was fixing up engines before I could drive. And music is a huge part of my life, I used to DJ a bit and I go to all the festivals so I guess it has been a natural progression.”
It may have seemed inevitable but the route was hardly a linear one. Born in Devon, Toby began his career as a boat builder, working on everything from racing yachts to luxury cruisers. “There are so many materials and techniques in boat building, from fibreglass, wood, steel and paint finishes, you can basically build anything after that.” But, while working in South Africa, the lack of creative freedoms in the boatyard took its toll and he turned his hand to carpentry.
Following that and four years in London running a small joinery shop, he and his family upped sticks to join his parents in Cork in 2000. “My mum is Irish, so we’d spent most of our holidays in Ireland and we were ready to get out of London.”
Splitting his time between crafting kitchens and small carpentry jobs while dabbling in flat-pack sustainable houses, Toby more or less stumbled into the festival business after volunteering his carpentry skills to Body&Soul.
“Right off the bat they gave me an incredibly important job and it just took off from there. We built this bonkers venue called 'My House' that looked just like the inside of a 1970s council house, where the DJ played in the kitchen and you went backstage through the fridge. Then we had to put this rented sound system in and it looked absolutely awful, so the next year I made my own and covered them in this psychedelic, floral wallpaper. To be honest, from then I was hooked.”
Now Toby works out of a workshop next door to his home – both of which he sustainably built using recycled newspaper and triple-glazed, “so there’s no need for a boiler or central heating”. His melange of tools and kit, hoarded over a decade or two of creating things, are on full display here, as is his range of skills.
A half-built kitchen for his own home sits alongside a coffee shop fit-out and two sound systems he’s building for the 2017 festival season. “I’ve also just converted a little wooden cabin in the garden into a dedicated sound system workshop, to test sound and play around with them.”
Building kitchens alongside speakers might seem an odd combination, but to Toby it makes perfect sense. “I’ve always enjoyed creating spaces that are functional, but are a nice place to be too. I think a sound system is similar because its job is to sound brilliant, but there’s no reason it can’t look amazing as well.”
These side-by-side businesses are an amalgamation of all of Toby’s interests and honed talents. “Now is the first time in my life I’m actually building things purely for the love of it.” And he’s not just relying on the techniques he’s previously mastered either, turning his hand to everything from testing timbers and materials such as birch ply, formica and oak in search of the perfect sound, to welding all his own metalwork and brackets.
And he has found many a helping hand in the creative melting pot of West Cork. “Metal worker and sculptor Moss Gaynor is based just down the road and I go down there to find out how to get the cleanest welds and the best way to sandblast and finish. There’s also an engineer in Bandon who is great for bouncing questions off, so it’s one extreme to the other. Moss is a proper artist and then there’s the straight up engineer, who’s into his tractors, to talk to."
“But I am also quite stubborn, I like to figure things out on my own,” he laughs. “I get as much pleasure out of finding the right material and getting the perfect finish as I do seeing them completed.”
He might feel he’s only scratching the surface of his craft, but the blocks on which he has built it seem sound.
WORDS Lauren Heskin
PHOTOGRAPHY Shantanu Starick