The Hydraulic Press Channel is one of the more straightforward channels on YouTube: A guy crushes stuff with a hydraulic press and remarks upon how awesome the destruction is. Sometimes his wife joins in. The videos, in which he destroys objects ranging from frozen toys to a jawbreaker, are weirdly, addictively compelling to watch — one of those strange instances of knowing exactly what’s coming, but not wanting to miss it. Think BuzzFeed’s viral watermelon stunt, but over and over and on a much-compressed time frame.
The man behind the channel is Lauri Vuohensilta, a 29-year-old who lives in Tampere, Finland. The brilliant, simple idea first hit him, he told me, “About five months ago. My wife and I were walking outside, and I came up with this idea to make some kind of YouTube channel where maybe we break some stuff.”
He’d seen other destruction-focused channels — most notably carsandwater, devoted to playing with fire and melting stuff — and he knew they were popular. Vuohensilta runs a family machining business that makes use of, among other things, a hydraulic press, and, so, Hydraulic Press Channel was born.
It launched in October 2015 and became something of an instant hit — today it has more than 762,000 subscribers. Almost all of the videos have more than a million views, with one (“Can you fold paper more than 7 times with hydraulic press”) up over 10 million. Vuohensilta told me he did expect the channel to do well, but was surprised at its rapid ascent — he thought it would take a couple years of regularly publishing videos for it to catch on. Instead, the route to burgeoning YouTube stardom has been a fairly straightforward process.
It’s hard to describe why the videos are so good. Obviously, the anticipation is part of it — it’s fun watching things explode, even when it’s not exactly unsurprising. (And yet there are still lots of pleasant surprises, weird hiccups, and unexpected outcomes along the way — a frozen ball of rubber bands, for example, splays out like a plate of spaghetti.)
More than anything else, though, I think it’s the tension between the gleaming metallic brutality of the hydraulic press and the goofy nerdiness of Vuohensilta himself that animates the channel. The series’ title sequence features black-and-white clips of a hand fiddling with metallic machinery while heavy metal plays, lending a sense that there are some brotastic times ahead. In the hands of another host, this could be a men-being-men channel replete with beers and high-fiving, but Vuohensilta himself is a total goofball, a fact he knows and plays off of. Usually, the first thing you hear in the moments after the press finishes is a giggle — from Vuohensilta, his wife, or the both together.
Vuohensilta agrees: The videos, he told me, are “so exciting because stuff explodes, and strange things happen, and there’s the humor value of everything, my accent and stupid jokes.” The titles and descriptions of some of the videos — “Do not try this at home!! or at any where else!!” — give a sense of Vuohensilta’s deeply enthusiastic and slightly stilted vibe. He seemed particularly proud of his “Pressception” title — naturally, for a video in which he uses his hydraulic press to crush a smaller hydraulic press.
In my personal favorite video, Vuohensilta tries to drive the press through a massive tome entitled “Suomi Englanti Suomi” — that is, an English-Finnish dictionary:
The press descends, and you expect it to punch easily through the book. Instead, it’s stalled by the sheer density of the pages being bunched together. “Fuck,” Vuohensilta exclaims over the whine of the machine at 0:59. The press comes up, with the book sticking to it, and Vuohensilta explains he’ll need something smaller to finish off the book. The camera cuts to a side view, and text appears on the screen (sic): “Our main cameras footage didn’t survived upcoming events so I have only this slomo-cameras footage.” Soon we see why — as the press descends in slow motion, suddenly the book explodes violently, taking out a bunch of the equipment around it, including the primary camera. The press always delivers, but sometimes it exacts a terrible cost along the way.
I asked Vuohensilta if he had any theories about why it’s so compelling to watch something be destroyed. “I have tried to figure that out myself many times,” he said. “But I think it’s something that all people want to see in some way. I remember when we were children and we liked to break stuff, and — I think it’s somehow inside of [the] human mind to break stuff.”
Now that his channel has caught on, he’s naturally looking to get more ambitious, to destroy bigger stuff. He said he’s excited about a 1,000-ton press he thinks he’ll soon have access to due to a sponsorship deal. “And with that the first thing I am going to press is a running lawnmower,” he said. “That’s going to be exciting, because there’s lots of moving and hot parts and gasoline and stuff like that.” He kept breaking into giggles as he described the carnage to come.