The group's Maarten Hoogstraten talks about the loss of his friend and bandmate and coming back to 'Knock You Out'
When Bingo Players returned to Boom, Belgium for the Tomorrowland festival, it was a homecoming of sorts for the group’s Maarten Hoogstraten. In 2013, Hoogstraten's then bandmate Paul Bäumer was diagnosed with cancer, causing the duo to miss the festival and a slew of other dates. Bäumer lost his battle with the disease last December.
A lot can change in a year. Bingo Players continues as a solo venture with Hoogstraten, recently a first time father and the artist behind a No. 1 on the Dance/Club Play Chart, the Sia-co-written anthem “Knock You Out.” Hoogstraten has stayed mostly out of the spotlight since Bäumer’s passing, but in an exclusive interview with Billboard, he spoke for the first time about the loss of his friend.
“It’s still hard for me to think about it and talk about it,” Hoogstraten says of Bäumer’s passing. “But it’s good to be back on the road. It’s good to finally start making music again and playing shows, even though it’s now by myself.”
The success of “Knock You Out” has been hard-won for an artist whose future was all but certain only six months ago. Bingo Players first came to prominence with the 2011 track “Cry (Just A Little),” later sampled on Flo Rida’s “I Cry,” which rose to No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 2012. At the beginning of 2013, they were announced as one of the original residents at Hakkasan in Las Vegas, alongside Tiësto, Calvin Harris and Deadmau5. Still, one big hit does not guarantee a lifetime career in the fast-changing and fickle world of dance music, and even after gigs at Ultra and Coachella, Bäumer’s illness hit at a critical time for the group as they were poised to make a bid for continued prominence.
“It was out of the blue,” Hoogstraten says of the summer 2013 diagnosis. “It was really hard to process. He was in good health and there were no signs of him being sick.”
After a brief hiatus from touring, Hoogstraten continued on the road last fall while allowing Bäumer to recover in what would ultimately be preparation for the solo iteration of Bingo Players.
“The first few shows I did alone were really weird,” Hoogstraten admits. “I always thought he was next to me and he wasn’t. He was always the more outgoing guy, entertaining the crowd and I was more the shy one.”
Out of respect for his privacy, Hoogstraten says he promised Bäumer not to discuss publicly the kind of cancer he had, but the two DJs – friends since they were both 15 – talked at length about if and how Bingo Players would proceed in the event of Bäumer’s death.
“It was not a pleasant discussion,” Hoogstraten reveals. “He told me, honestly, listen, if you want to continue if I don’t make it, you have my blessing to continue as Bingo Players if you want to. If you don’t want to, I can understand that.”
After some time off and much trepidation, Hoogstraten returned to the road, heartened by the support of the duo’s fans.
“I was afraid, especially when I said I was going to continue Bingo Players by myself, people would say, ‘yeah, but it’s never the same without Paul,’ but nobody said that,” Hoogstraten shares. “For me, that was one of the most beautiful things, to see so much love from the fans, from the community and everybody.”
“Knock You Out” came to Bingo Players somewhat prophetically. With lyrics by Sia that speak of self-empowerment and triumph over haters, Hoogstraten instantly connected to the song.
“It’s all about overcoming struggles and emotional challenges, it really reflects [where I am] right now,” he says. “When I play it, it’s spot on. I could write those lyrics myself.”
Hoogstraten is still grieving the loss of his friend, but for a group whose catalog and DJ sets are definitively uplifting, the opportunities for resilience are boundless. “When I do a show and I play our songs that we made together and I see that people are still singing along, making signs and t-shirts, that gives me a good feeling. It’s a mixture of sadness and joy,” he says. “That’s the power of music and the whole thing around it. I can take that remedy for myself. It soothes me sometimes.”
Hoogstraten says the Bingo Players sound will evolve without straying too far from what they have always done best: Pop vocals and dance beats with strong melodies and big hooks that audiences eat up. It’s part of Bäumer’s legacy that Hoogstraten is careful to keep intact.
“Sometimes it still feels like he’s there,” Hoogstraten says. “When I’m playing, he’s standing next to me and saying ‘ok, let’s go, we’re going to rock this crowd.’ Even if we weren’t playing for a big crowd he would always say ‘we’re going to do this, the crowd’s going to love it.’ I still hear his voice sometimes in my head saying ‘you can do it.’ The same goes for in the studio when I’m making music. I was so used to having somebody else’s feedback. Now when I’m alone in the studio I can hear what would Paul do. It’s nice.”