Talking all things Bitch Fest with Lexy Robidoux and Ashley Cachia
by Interviews

Bitch Fest formed three years ago with the goal of highlighting women, trans people, non-binary people, two-spirit people, and queer people in bands and their mission is still going strong as they prepare to take over Toronto this March for their third and largest edition to date. 53 bands and artists will be playing 12 shows across 9 different venues, filling Toronto with the sounds of anaracho-punk, hardcore punk, ska punk, folk punk, power pop, synth punk, and so much more every weekend in March. Save Toronto Music Venues and STMV Promotions owner Ashley Cachia and owner of Ryot Booking and booking manager for STMV Promotions Lexy Robidoux have been working hard to put Bitch Fest 2024 together and you can get your tickets right here.

Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with Ashley and Lexy over Zoom to talk about the festival, the importance of community, making sure shows are safe, books, and so much more. Read the interview below!

Image Image 2024 marks the third and largest Bitch Fest to date with 53 bands playing 12 shows in Toronto throughout March. What has it been like to see the festival grow?

Ashley: It’s been really interesting to see it grow from what it was. The first year we did it it was very small and we weren’t even sure if we were going to be able to do it because there was a lockdown that January. We had started planning it, then had to stop planning it, and we weren’t even sure it was going to happen. Then we had to replan it all within February pretty much. [laughs] It still went off really well and there was a lot of support right off the bat which was really cool. To see how much it’s grown and how far word has gotten has been really interesting, over just three years. As far as the shows and stuff, I think it’s really cool we’re adding to it but I think the biggest thing for me is just seeing how much support, interest, and excitement people have about this type of fest and how that has grown. That has been more interesting to see than anything else.

Lexy: Yeah, the progression of mindset alongside the fact that there’s even a festival about this, about these subjects. The fact that there’s more and more people who are open to being involved in that is really cool.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about throwing the festival in the past three years?

Ashley: It’s a lot of work! [laughs] It’s interesting because the way that we do it is not the way that a typical festival would be done. It’s a lot of shows instead of one big day with one big show and trying to orchestrate 20-50 different bands every day. It’s organizing the shows within the month and figuring that out which in itself is a lot of work but I find it’s a little less stressful than doing a whole big festival in one day.

Then you can see who you want to see instead of having to pick between bands and you don’t have any time conflicts.

Ashley: Yeah, exactly! You’re really only worrying about 4-5 bands instead of worrying about 20 bands and where to put certain people on during the day. I think it creates a better space for people to come and see all the bands they want to see because it’s on separate days instead of trying to get there for twelve and staying until one o’clock in the morning.

Lexy: I feel like for me, the biggest difference between how we operate this festival and how other festivals are operated is that other festivals are really about the bands whereas this festival is more about the community in itself. The fest is not only offering space for the bands but offering space for the community to come out and meet each other in an environment that isn’t as intimidating.

What would you say to somebody who wants to become more involved in their community?

Lexy: Come out, just show up. Don’t be afraid to come out because everybody is really, really welcoming. DangerSex played a show for us this past Saturday and I posted about it on the Bitch Fest social media and a couple of teenage girls showed up. It was at SeeScape so it was all ages. They were just like, “We saw the post and we wanted to see the band because maybe they’re not playing this venue later” and I was like, “You’re right! They’re not playing this venue later and you wouldn’t get a chance to see them at Bitch Fest because the venue they’re playing later is 19+. But you heard about them through Bitch Fest and waited for the opportunity for these bands to be available in a space that you were allowed in”. I wish there were more all-ages spaces because those kids deserved to be there more than any of us did.

What goes into choosing the venues for the festival shows?

Lexy: A lot of the venues were particular to crowds. The Bovine is very central and it’s where you’re going to find what I like to call your “pretty punks” when you’re going around in Toronto so those are the types of bands that will be playing that venue. We have two shows there in March for Bitch Fest because it's their crowds who go to those venues. Having so many locals and knowing where their friends hang out and knowing where the bands usually are kind of gave us an advantage to who could set up and play with who locally. Every single show has a local band if not two.

Looking at the lineup and seeing that the majority of the bands are from the GTA is awesome to see.

Ashley: That was always something that was really important to me with everything - the festival and other shows - to really make sure that we are highlighting our local bands and our smaller bands that don’t necessarily get the space from other bookers and promoters.

Lexy: Yeah. One of the coolest things I found was going through the submissions and finding bands that I otherwise would have never even found myself if they didn’t apply. Some of them are really fucking good. It was really hard for us to turn down certain bands.

Ashley: Yeah, there was a lot that we didn’t even know about.

Lexy: It was really hard for us to have to say no because if we said yes to everybody we would’ve just been so overwhelmed. There were a lot of bands that we wouldn’t have discovered if they didn’t apply. Now we know them and are able to work with them on regular shows outside of the fest and they’ll be able to re-submit for next year. It puts them at an advantage because now they’re on our radar.

Ashley: I don’t think there was one band that applied that we didn’t want to put on. It was just space and what bands vibed together for those venues which is really what it came down to.

Lexy: Yeah. Also, there’s the fact that we’re a fully DIY fest so a lot of our shows are operated how we operate regular shows and because of that, we can’t bring in a lot of touring bands at the moment. There’s very little sponsorship so we’re flying off the seat of our pants most of the time when it comes to how we’re going to market and promote. A big portion of why this year was booming really well and got some more attention even outside of Toronto, was because of the branding that was done this year. When you look at the posts on social media and you look at the flyers and you go anywhere for Bitch Fest 2024, everything looks very cohesive. You know what you’re looking at and you know what you’re going to get. That’s the idea for any brand, you want to be able to look at it and know what it is. I think we did that pretty successfully this year.

It looks so cool! And bringing in the reading lists and the historical badasses and stuff like that too.

Lexy: Last year Ashley had books and movies already listed and when I took over as lead of the social media, I kept it because it was a great idea. I love to read and we love music. There’s lots of women in history that need to be highlighted aside from just musically and we will have more historical badasses posts come out throughout the month that focus on both historical women and women in music. We’ll be highlighting aspects of things that all are intertwined. A lot of the bands that were picked this year were anarcho-punk bands and all of these women stand for those values. Even if they weren’t in music, it still is the reason why a lot of these bands were formed.

The ideological spotlight.

Lexy: Yeah, absolutely.

Ashley: The first year I was doing STMV and shows through it, I had bookers coming to me asking where I was finding all my female bands and female bands were talking to me about how they applied for festivals but they’d reached their quotas for female bands and stuff like that. I had just done a deep dive and researched a lot about women in music and the history there and I really wanted to put together something that was gonna kind of shove it onto everybody's face. Not only do we have so much musical talent in our females, but it’s overlooked all the time basically because of the boys' club. They’re out there and they’re just as talented and they’re just as driven as all these men but you find it time and time again that these boys want to play together or with their friends and when they get the idea in their head like, “Oh, we should probably have a girl on this lineup because it should be fair” they don’t know where to find them. If they do find them, they don’t look at them as seriously. So putting these people and these artists are the forefront where we could really shove it in everybody’s face that they exist and they’re so fucking talented was really the driving force of the beginning of Bitch Fest.

Like, “Fuck your boys' club, we’re going to tear it down and create this space”.

Ashley: Yeah.

Lexy: Yeah, just take over the spaces entirely. Taking these venues leaves them less opportunity to use up those spaces. Also, a lot of male bands aren’t even booking shows in March in Toronto because the festival is going on. That isn’t to say that a lot of the male bands aren’t going to play shows throughout March but a lot of people have taken a step down from doing it because a lot of people want to come out and see these bands or some of these bands are their friends and they’re like, “Oh damn. If we play, we’re taking valuable space away from them”. So you get to see who your allies are in the community as well and what they really do stand for.

We had a couple all-male bands apply being like, “We’re allies!” and we’re like, “We’re not here to highlight allies. If you were really an ally, you wouldn’t have applied for the festival. Now you’ve taken up my time looking at your stuff when I could be looking at the bands that have women or trans people or two-spirit people or fem non-binary people - any fem-identifying people. It takes away my time from doing that which is what we’re highlighting”. It’s been interesting to see the boys gain the knowledge to be like, “Maybe we should step back for that amount of time”. It’s really important to see that and it’s been nice to see that too.

To bounce back to the book list for a minute, how do you choose which books to highlight and what are you reading now?

Lexy: So currently I am reading something that is not related to anything at all. [laughs] Right now I’m reading a biography of my Indigenous background and my heritage so it’s basically like a Bible that was given to me. It’s called And Grandma Said by Tom Porter, it’s a really good book. It explains to you a lot of verbal history that was passed down to Indigenous peoples in Canada. We kinda consider it our Bible because a lot of stories in Indigenous culture are passed down verbally and not written, we don’t use paper. There are stories and songs and riddles and poems. The book really breaks it down on paper for the first time so that’s what I’m reading.

When it comes to “Songs by Women” or “Mental Health Songs or Books or Movies” for Bitch Fest I literally have hundreds and hundreds of them in a Google Document and that’s how I go and pick and choose. Sometimes I’ll throw a book on there that I haven’t read but I’ve read the breakdown of and I put them there as a reminder to myself to go read it, I don’t always have time to read. I’ll usually pick one from every type of list so I have anarchist books, books from female musicians, autobiographies or biographies, and then a book about Indigenous people or politics or mutual aid. That’s how I pick and choose everything. They’re either books that I’ve read or books that I’ve wanted to read for quite some time.

Ashley: I don’t think I’ve read any books this year. The last two years I did a lot of reading and watching documentaries building up to the fest so I think this year I was a little bit read and documentaried out. [laughs] At the moment I’m also not reading anything in particular to Bitch Fest but I’m reading a book that one of the bands from Bitch Fest gave to me which is Unmasking Autism.

One thing that’s really big with the festival is making sure that all of your spaces are safe and accessible to everybody who wants to be a part of it. What goes into making this happen?

Lexy: When I came onto the team last year, my job was to look at accessibility. There’s certain aspects of dealing with the community that I don’t have control over, one being the fact that the majority of venues in the city aren’t wheelchair accessible. So it becomes difficult to give that form of accessibility to people which sucks but we are able to livestream so people can watch from home which is a huge deal. This year the festival is being completely documented for a documentary so every show and every set is going to be posted onto YouTube by a company called Silversmith Productions. This year it’ll offer people the opportunity to watch the fest from home even if they weren’t able to be there. Even if it’s not live, they’ll be able to watch it a couple days later which is still cool. Everybody can watch it and everybody can see it.

When it comes to safety within the spaces, I tend to act as security at most of our shows but venues typically have security. We do a couple of other things that we like to keep a bit more private. You won’t see the security until you actually get there in the venue. We like to put up posters in the bathroom for anybody who uses the fem bathrooms which is typically where people will go if they’re fem-identifying or trans if there isn’t a gender-neutral bathroom in the venue. Some venues do have gender-neutral bathrooms. The Baby G is gender-neutral and the Bovine is pretty open to whoever needs to use the bathrooms but there’s no gender-neutral bathroom. In a place like that, if you go into the girl’s bathroom, you’re going to see some things in there that will help keep the community safe.

Last year I created the mutual aid department which offered harm reduction supplies to the community I won’t get too specific for that but we offer harm reduction supplies to the community and this year we’re hoping to offer a little bit more during the festival. You can pick up supplies from any show.

Ashley: The fact that we’re community-based in itself kind of creates a bit of security as well. We’re both out and anybody who volunteers with us is typically out in the community talking.

Lexy: Everybody already kinda knows each other anyway because it’s community-based. So many of the local bands are there and they’re bands that we see constantly and work with constantly. Knowing that these are people that we frequent with and who are our friends, already offers a layer of safety for anybody coming in.

Ashley: Yeah and it’s nice to see that. We try to make it as friendly and accepting an environment as we possibly can so that the patrons that come to our shows follow suit as well.

Lexy: You read the room.

Ashley: Yeah, so I think that adds a bit of a nice space for people as well.

Lexy: Plus we’re both moms. I grew up in the hardcore punk, street punk, and oi scenes so I’ve been in the punk scene since I was like 5 and I’ve been going to shows since I was 11 or 12. A lot of the seasoned punks that are out there right now like Gag Order, Armed and Hammered, The 3Tards, and all these random old-man bands taught me a lot about keeping the community physically safe. I’m not afraid to grab onto somebody if they’re being an asshole and get them out of the venue myself. That definitely is seen at most of our shows. I’ve had incidents where I’ve had to remove people myself and they’ll go. Nobody wants to really get caught fighting a girl and nobody wants to get caught losing to a girl either. [laughs]

Like, “Don’t try anything, I’ll kick your ass!”

Lexy: Yeah, exactly! I have no problem with it. [laughs]

Last year along with the shows, you also hosted a trivia night, a movie night, and a period supply drive at all of your shows. Do you have plans to do any of these things for this year?

Ashley: We don’t have plans to do the precursor shows. They didn’t really go over as well as we had hoped last year. I think it had something to do with the fact that there was a lot of storming and stuff that February.

Lexy: This year, aside from the fact that we have nine venues for the regular shows, there’s a small venue in Kensington Market called Lola and they do matinee shows. I was planning on doing two Bitch Fest pop-up shows in the afternoon. There were a few bands that didn’t respond to their confirmation emails and later when everything was posted and confirmed they were like, “Hey, we got a confirmation but we didn’t send our confirmation in”. Because that happened and they were still accepted, I decided to throw those bands on the matinee shows. Some special guests are going to come out but these are pop-ups so those are still being planned. Those shows are going to be used to drop off any kind of donations that people have throughout the month of March. I’d rather people come out to a couple of shows in the middle of the afternoon than have to carry things out at night time which was one of the things that people were having trouble with last year. They didn’t want to carry a bunch of shit to the show on the TTC. Having a designated space on a Sunday afternoon gives people an opportunity to drop things off and also get a crowd out for the bands. So it’s a great way to mix the two. Like I said before, the harm reduction supplies are going to be given away at every show anyways like they were last year, so that’s how we plan on incorporating that.

There is a record label called Twin Fang that’s going to be reaching out to all the artists throughout February to put out a compilation. It might be all the artists, it might not. We’ll see how the semantics really break down on that. That’s all new information that’s still being figured out as we go. So there’s a lot of things that are still happening aside from the main festival being ready to go. There’s a lot of things that are still happening throughout the month of February.

We’ve partnered with FannaTickets for ticketing this year. Anything Bitch Fest related you’re going to be able to go through FannaTickets to find all the information. They’re going to have the information about every band including their EPKs, they’re going to have links for separate tickets, and they’re going to have one big page for the passes. They’re doing a lot, they’re really focusing on Bitch Fest this year. They’re really navigating the website to be based around that being their biggest thing. They’re going to set up the website so there’s pop-ups throughout the website so even if you go to read somebody else’s blog there’s going to be a pop-up for Bitch Fest. Throughout February they’re going to be releasing interviews and blog posts with the bands. Some of the bands I’m going to interview myself and Ben and Brandon will edit them and post them up. FannaTickets is where everybody’s going to be able to go to get their tickets for Bitch Fest this year.

What are you most excited about for Bitch Fest 2024?

Lexy: I’m excited to see what the response is this year. That’s what I’m excited for. I’m excited to see how each show goes.

Ashley: I’m excited for the overarching all of it. It’s great to be in spaces where, as a female myself, there’s so much feminine energy. It’s a very different vibe in those shows than in other shows. It’s a really good energy to be around. It’s also March which I’ve found doing the past few years kinda creates this nice beginning boom for the show season because people are like, “It’s starting to get nicer out. My chequebooks are starting to balance out from Christmas”. [laughs] Everybody’s at that point where they’re wanting to go out again and it creates this nice resurgence of everybody coming back together. Like I said, the last few years it was almost like this "welcome home from the holidays" vibe from everybody where they were like, “It’s so nice to see you! I haven’t seen you in a couple months!” That’s really what I’m looking forward to because I think it definitely helps get everybody out of their winter blues.

What advice would you give to somebody who’s going to a Bitch Fest show for the first time?

Lexy: Have fun! That’s it.

Ashley: Have fun and talk to people.

Lexy: Have a good time. As long as you’re there and you’re having fun, people are going to see that. More than anything, your vibes are going to fill that room. So come happy and leave happy. Have a good time and talk to everybody. Don’t feel like you have to be pressured to fit into a certain area of the community either. There are a lot of people who are in recovery who come out to the shows and you don’t have to drink to have a good time. There’s all-ages shows. Obviously, we want people to come out and just feel comfortable being there as who they are. That’s cool. Just be there.

Ashley: And come say hi to us!

Lexy: Yeah, come talk to us! I dress up like a clown every once in a while for the shows and I’m trying not to be a scary clown because I think I scared some people last year but that’s ok. [laughs] Come say hi because we’re actually really nice people. We love doing this.

Mar 01Bovine Sex ClubToronto, ON19+ / Up The Punks / No Jerks / 9pmThe Filthy Radicals, Wise Guise, Punx in Space, Heart Attack Kids
Mar 02Dock EllisToronto, ON19+ / Up The Punks / No Jerks / 8pmThe Holdouts, The Lookout, DangerSex, Cheap Sets
Mar 07The PistonToronto, ON19+ / Up The Punks / No Jerks / 8pmKavara, Death Club, Souls Cut Cold, Morgan-Paige
Mar 08Hard Luck BarToronto, ON19+ / Up The Punks / No Jerks / 8pmCross Dog, CNT, Gaijin Smash, Strange Limbs, Angry Spells
Mar 09Dock EllisToronto, ON19+ / Up The Punks / No Jerks / 9pmThe Lef7overs, Back Alley Gospel, Heavy Petter, Duotang
Mar 14Sneaky Dee’sToronto, ON19+ / Up The Punks / No Jerks / 8pmAbraxas Reflux, Banananananana, They Call It Chaos, Ashlee Schatze
Mar 15Ground ControlToronto, ON19+ / Up The Punks / No Jerks / 8pmMvll Crimes, Shit Happens, High Anxiety, Iron Moose, Psychbike
Mar 16SeeScapeToronto, ONAll Ages / Up The Punks / No Jerks / 8pmNeon Bloom, Pretty Face, Electrokat, Thunder Queens, Pizza Bush
Mar 21The Baby GToronto, ON19+ / Up The Punks / No Jerks / 8pmChairman, Days on Parade, Sugar Bomb, Second Wife
Mar 22SeeScapeToronto, ONAll Ages / Up The Punks / No Jerks / 8pmChinese Medicine, Be Still, The Black Void, Like A Girl
Mar 29Painted LadyToronto, ON19+ / Up The Punks / No Jerks / 8pmNameless Friends, Blind Decision, Earl Wyvern, ASD
Mar 30Bovine Sex ClubToronto, ON19+ / Up The Punks / No Jerks / 9pmDoghouse Rose, Like A Motorcycle, Positive Charge, Queens and Kings, Chyenex

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