The Corner Hotel. It’s the cornerstone of the Melbourne live music scene and a venue that most people reading this have been to for a rock, punk, or metal gig. It’s a special place for myself that I have shot countless shows at for KYS over the years too – sentimental doesn’t even begin to cover it. But last week on Friday, July 20th, the Corner Hotel took a step back in time to be transformed into the “Hardcore Hotel”, home of the iconic pro-wrestling and heavy metal experience: WrestleRock. After a three-year hiatus, this wild live music/wrestling event is finally back! For those who don’t know, the premise of WrestleRock is pretty self-explanatory. A wrestling ring is (somehow) jammed between the infamous support columns of the Corner’s live band room; a metal band plays a half-hour set up on-stage; then there’s five no disqualification, hardcore rules wrestling matches to follow; everyone drinks beer as the crowd cheers and boos; and then everyone goes home happy. And boy, did punters sure get their money’s worth tonight!
When WrestleRock first announced its triumphant return, the event’s hype video featured the frantic riffs of Melbourne thrash metal kings, Elm Street. So it was no surprise that they were to be the band given the ultimate privilege of gracing the Corner’s iconic stage to amp up the wrestle-loving metal crowd filing into the venue, with a crushing set tailor-made for a wrestling show audience. As the lush red curtains opened, Elm Street went hell for leather into their opening track, ‘Heart Racer’, showing no signs of stopping for the rest of their 30-minute set. Ensuring that crowd and wrestlers alike were ready for a hard-hitting night, not unlike Tomislav Perkovic’s drumming in the second song of the night, ‘Elm St’s Children’. Elm Street’s first set of the night (we’ll get to the second soon enough) was filled with original content. With song titles perfectly fitting for this setting like ‘Kiss The Canvas’ and ‘Barbed Wire Metal‘, fans in attendance for the music side of the show were going wild for these staple tunes.
To put my “music journalist” hat on, it’s clear to see why Elm Street has been off touring the world in recent months, with their set being one of the tightest “traditional” heavy metal sets I’ve seen in a long time. The respect they have for their craft is apparent, from bassist Nick Ivkovic rumbling away and using his portion of the stage to full effect. As lead guitarist, Aaron Adie sped his way through the meticulous riffs and licks that are lathered throughout each song. Not to be left out, the quartet’s vocalist and rhythm guitarist Ben Batres lived up to the hype I’d heard from numerous people that his performance was always a highlight of an Elm Street set. Well, they weren’t wrong! His half sung/half-screamed vocal style is one not often used in thrash metal these days, but when done right, it really makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd. Which luckily, in Batres’ case, was absolutely the result.
To round out their set and to summon in the violence of what WrestleRock would yield, Elm Street ripped out a massive cover of Metallica’s iconic ‘Seek And Destroy‘; a solid nod to the wrestling theme of tonight, with the song being linked to pro wrestling immortal, Sting. But now, it was time for the reason we had all gathered into the Corner Hotel: the hard hits and bloodshed! (Yes, the ring does fit on the floor of the Corner. No, sadly no one usee THAT fuckin’ support beam as a ring post).
Kickin’ off wrestling proceedings were WrestleRock originals Cletus and Cremator squaring off against two footy thugs, Mitch Waterman and Nick Bury – AKA the Brat Pack. The crowd was right in it from the moment the bell rang and soon enough, the fists, legs and bodies were flying all-around the ring. With the help of some underhanded tactics, the Brat Pack picked up a cheeky win, and the disgruntled fans let them knew all about it. Loudly too, might I add.
The following contest saw Australian Deathmatch Wrestling royalty, Mad Dog (no, not that foul-mouthed Aussie cyclist) take on the imposing and polarising Alan Payne. This match was basically two guys well-known for breaking out the weapons and mutilating their opponent’s bodies battle one another for their glory and our enjoyment. And mutilate and enjoy they did, with everything from barbed wire, cheese graters and a trust table being used. Thanks to a run-in by “the Player” Jake Lindo targeting Payne, Mad Dog took advantage of the situation and drove Payne’s bloodied body through the table outside the ring for a messy win.
The Hardcore Hotel was truly living up to its name.
By this stage, the beers were flowing well and the crowd was in full voice. Also making use of their lungs were the legendary live commentary duo of Criss Fresh and Julian James, both back to their former glory with some 18+ commentary coming right through the Corner’s PA. So far, this event was pure heaven for me.
Third match in and it was time for the women of Melbourne wrestling to show us what they could do, with Kellyanne, Indi Hartwell and Avary not wanting to be upstaged by the previous blood-war; whipping out staplers, thumb-tacks, construction signs and even a goddamn door to inflict as much pain as possible onto one another. After a dominant display from local favourite Kellyanne, it was actually Avary who took advantage of the sheer ring carnage to quickly put Kellyanne through that aforementioned door to pick up a surprising victory. Much to the displeasure of the raucous crowd, however.
The fourth match was the “true” wrestling event of tonight’s drawn hand, with two of the best talents in the country: ‘The Business’ Slex going up against ‘Cave Man Ugg’, with the manager of champions, Sebastian Walker (sporting a fashionable safari suit) by the latter’s ringside. This match was one that a lot of people were looking forward to, myself very much included, as we all knew it was going to be hard-hitting, fast-paced and one that would get everyone in the room fully fired up. And it was every bit what we all expected. The fightin’ pair of Slex and Ugg traded punches, suplexes, flying kicks and smashing chops, all while Sebastian Walker was trying to distract Slex as much as possible. Yet these cheap antics backfired, as an attempted run-in led Sex to land a Slexecution Kick and put Ugg away.
1, 2, 3 – ding ding ding!
The final match for the evening was the innuendo-sounding Dirty Dozen Rumble, where, as the name hints, twelve wrestlers enter the ring and vie for the title of WrestleRock Heavyweight Championship. With competitors like Fun Time Phil, Loverboy Lochy Hendricks, Kellyanne, Cremator, Campbell Anderson, this rumble was hotly contested. After ten eliminations we were down to the final two of Lochy Hendricks and Fun Time Phil. With the help of his trusty packet of Smith’s Original Potato Chips (I know that wrestling is ridiculous, but I love it), Phil slammed Loverboy down through those horrific chips get the win and become the new WrestleRock Heavyweight Champion.
To close out the night, Elm Street returned to the Corner Hotel stage to smash out some iconic wrestling themes, including tracks that have soundtracked the careers of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bret Hart, Ultimate Warrior and many more. All before one last flurry of bone-crushing thrash metal originals.
As the night drew to a close and the playlist of 80s classic metal faded out from ear, the ring crew dismantled the night’s arena, and the Corner was back to the way many fondly know it as – an iconic Melbourne live music venue. But on Friday 20th July, it was that and so much more for Melbourne’s rock and wrestling fans.
Here’s to the next WrestleRock!