“A safe space and the place to be.”
On March 18 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., the underground (literally!) hidden gem in Mile End, The Fungeon held its first-ever festival, appropriately named Fungeon Fest. The DIY festival delivered 12 hours of indie/indie-rock performances from various bands, like Toronto’s John’s Cottage and Montreal’s Hole in Heaven, among many others.
Leading down to the fabled stage in the basement stood a room next door, decorated ceiling-to-tile with the various bands’ merch booths on one side and on the other, handmade art from talented independent sellers such as Muskoka’s lovable mother-and-son duo The Hippie Pocket, or Montreal’s Low Life High Road, and others.
Due to the occasion, the customary basement-reserved venue was flowing through the entire apartment. It started with the regular lively gaggle of strangers and friends alike, smoking, talking, and laughing outside the back door, moving to the ticket setup in the kitchen and the temporarily empty living room, bathed in soft pink lighting along with host Morleigh Mo Ida Smith’s spellbinding visual art. The magic then moved into the previously mentioned art and band merch seller’s room, and then finally to the illusive star of the show, the basement.
With a handwritten setlist crowning the entrance, the underground venue glowed. Multi Coloured Christmas lights on one pillar, twinkling fairy lights on the other, bright blue light projections in the corner, dining chairs neatly lining the back wall, and even more decorative art pieces graced the concrete walls of the unfinished room. As the night went on, more and more festival-goers passed through this local haven. The crowd consisted of city locals, non-locals, artists and art enthusiasts of all ages, genders, sub-cultures and walks of life. Everyone stood present under the basement’s tapestry-adorned ceiling. They were watching, listening, and occasionally headbanging to the earnest music of the artists in front of them. By 10:30 p.m., the night was coming to a close, and one last performance remained: The Fungeon’s very own host and owner Joe Cassis.
Cassis moved to Montreal from his hometown of London, Ontario six years ago. He moved into The Fungeon’s address a few years later with his ex-fiancé and her two children. The Fungeon had come to life through the now-separated couple’s desire to remain in the local music scene while still staying at home with the children. Eventually, The Fungeon as we know it formally opened its basement doors for the first time on June 18, 2022, and has been making a melodious name for itself ever since. Cassis describes the venue as a “safe space for people to f—ing play” and a beacon for others to make their own statements.
Before beginning his set, Cassis gave a very humble thank you to the crowd that had gathered in his warm and welcoming basement. He then gave a deeply captivating performance of unplugged, raw, self-written songs, with the exception of “Everybody’s Talkin’” by Harry Nilsson which was performed in honour of his late father.
When detailing the Fungeon Fest, Cassis recounted crying in the arms of John’s Cottage lead singer Max, as they performed one of their more emotional songs. “That’s the thing about these bands being so genuine to themselves is that they have the potential to save people’s lives and the lives they’ll save the most is the kids,” he explained. “That’s what these bands are perpetuating. That it’s a safe space and the place to be.”
Graphic by James Fay @jamesfaydraws