Bingo Players' Maarten Hoogstraten Remembers Paul Bäumer, Shares 10-Year Anniversary Tour Mix: Exclusive
When he stands behind the decks and stares at the moving mass of hundreds huddled before him, Maarten Hoogstraten will reflect on the last decade of his life. It would be hard not to during the Bingo Players 10-Year Anniversary Tour. The 13-date run across the United States kicks off in Miami's LIV Nov. 3 and ends in Atlanta's Gold Room Dec. 3, and it will be a month of many triumphs, but it will also be very bittersweet.
“I'm very happy that its already been 10 years and glad for everything we've accomplished,” Hoogstraten says. “Of course, we lost Paul, so it's a bit of a mixed feeling.”
It's hard enough to make it 10 years in the fickle dance music business. It's even harder when you lose your partner and best friend to cancer.
Hoogstraten met Paul Bäumer when he went over to a friend's house after school. His friend's brother was there, tinkering around on the same production software and found him Hoogstraten played around with at home. Music became their instant connection, and a new friendship sprang forth that would take the men much farther than either of them could have ever dreamed.
A few years later in 2006, the friends began releasing chunky, energetic electro house under the name Bingo Players. It was smoother than the aggressive Dutch house of peers like Afrojack and Chuckie, and the soulful take helped the songs perform well. Songs like “Touch Me” and “Chop” started climbing the Netherland dance charts. People started to reach out. They wanted to book Bingo Payers at clubs and festivals. It was awesome, save for one little problem.
“We'd never DJed,” Hoogstraten laughs. “We had to learn how to DJ within a few weeks.”
The Bingo Players bet it all and came out winners. They got more gig requests, bigger and better ones, and soon, they had to make another choice. Should they continue playing weekends, living off the stready income of 9 to 5s, or should they risk it all?
“We thought, 'if we don't do this right now, we may never get the chance again,'” he says. “I'm really glad we took the chance.”
Those early shows changed the way they thought about music. Now they could see crowds reacting in real time. They started catering the beats and melodies to crowd reactions, honing the sound that would become distinctive of their early years. They were tapped for remixes by Joachim Garraud, Ferry Corsten, even N.E.R.D. Then, they came to the US.
“We saw a whole different crowd, and a whole different energy, and from that moment, on I think our songs started to shift a little bit as well,” Hoogstraten says. “EDM was coming up, with more melodies and shorter songs. It was a little less clubby, a bit more big room, and more festival stuff like Swedish House Mafia, and Avicci in the beginning. That really inspired us.”
In 2010, Bingo Players settled into a bigger, brighter, poppier sound. It was the sound of the energy these massive American festival crowds sent like thousands of fireworks toward the booth. It was a style perfected on the duo's biggest hit “Cry (Just a Little),” the same beat Flo Rida sampled for his radio smash “I Cry.”
“Cry” led to work with Pitbull, Far East Movement, the Prodigy, and Dada Life. Bingo Players set forth on a never-ending tour, pumping the air with high-octane positivity. Hoogstraten was the technical one, the nit-picker, the micro-detail obsessor. Bäumer was all about the big picture. He had the concepts in mind, he saw the final vision. He was the arranger, the one who always wanted to push forward to the next thing.
“That was a great dynamic for us,” Hoogsraten says. “We were balanced well with each other. I learned a lot throughout the years from him, but still, it's tough when he's not there.”
One day in June of 2013, Paul complained of the flu. It was nothing strange. They got colds all the time, what with their constant traveling and hectic work schedules. They both thought nothing of it, but Bäumer kept feeling worse. He checked himself in to the hospital while Hoogstraten continued on the road. Bingo Players was scheduled to play Spring Awakening Festival in Chicago. That's when he got the call.
“(Paul) said 'listen, they found cancer in my blood,'” Hoogstraten remembers. “I couldn't believe my ears ... I was just in a total vision. I had to do meet and greets and be happy with everybody, but I couldn't tell what was happening. That was really rough so.”
In the months that followed, Hoogstraten kept touring, kept making music, tried to wring the last bits of knowledge and input from his weakened friend. He never gave up the idea that Bäumer might just get better.
“I wanted to be at home to be with him, but he was also like, 'come on, let's carry on,'” Hoogstraten says. “The fans everywhere made banners for Paul, or t-shirts, or posters. That was so great, to have all these fans support us throughout that time. People sometimes make fun of the EDM community 'oh the ravers with their clothes and glowsticks and whatever.' They make fun of that, but they were such a great community when it came down to supporting me, and I'm really thankful for that.”
“Stay strong, Paul,” the posters would say. One venue even had a giant banner made for everyone in attendance to sign. Hoogstraten carried that cumbersome bundle with him from city to city until he could return to Bäumer's bedside.
“It was hard sometimes to show him,” he remembers. “He was really grateful that everybody reaches out and gave him those message, but the other side, he was really missing going on the road and meeting all those people.”
Bäumer passed in December, six months after his initial diagnosis. Hoogstraten was crushed.
He took a few weeks off to be with family and friends, to process the loss of the man he'd stood next to and worked beside, the man with which he'd shared his hopes and dreams and put in blood, sweat, and tears to watch them come true.
“I talked with Paul about continuing after he past away, because at a certain point, it was pretty obvious he wasn't going to live very much longer,” Hoogstraten says. “I'm really glad we had the talk. It was really rough of course, but he said to me, 'if you want to continue, if you have the strength, go for it.' We worked so hard. We had our biggest song called going number one in the UK, everything was looking great, and we worked so hard for that. He said 'if you want to continue, please do,' so I kept those words in mind.”
The outpouring of love was phenomenal. Fans flooded Bingo Players with support. Fellow artists honored Bäumer's memory every way they could. Chuckie ended his set at Tomorrowland with Bingo Player's music and asked the crowd of thousands to take a seat in remembrance.
Three years have passed, another huge milestone is on the horizon, and every step of the way, Hoogstraten walks with Bäumer in mind.
“What would Paul have done right now? What would he do here?' he asks. “I learned so much from him. I've known him for maybe 15 years together. I know everything, or a lot about him. I try to keep his memory and ideas in the direction we're going, even though sometimes it's hard, because the industry is changing so fast all the time. It's really hard to see what he would have thought about how things are right now, but I keep doing my best. I'm hoping to make him proud.”
For this 10-year anniversary tour, Hoogstraten teamed with fundraising organization Fuck Cancer. A portion of tour profits will help fund cancer research in the hopes that others can be saved from the tragic fate Bäumer suffered. Hoogstraten also commemorates the past with a special anniversary mix, exclusive for fans via Billboard Dance. It's representative of the group's early days, with lots of unreleased remixes, edits and originals from Bingo Player's beginning. It's Hoogstraten and Bäumer together, the way Hoogstraten likes to remember it.
“I just try to keep on doing what I love, and as long as I love it, I'm gonna do it,” he says. “I really love doing the shows and making music, and I hope I can do it another 10 years.”