Before he founded Ace of Base, Ulf Ekberg was a neo-Nazi skinhead. Did Ekberg use Ace of Base's success as an opportunity to erase his neo-Nazi past and rise to a position of geopolitical influence?
The internet has left us with unprecedented skepticism toward innocence. In the age of Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, it seems literally impossible for any public figure to exist without at least one skeleton clawing its way out of the closet. We even expect simple pleasures, like reggae-inflected Swedish pop group Ace of Base, to have a few secrets kicking around.
Well, they've got one.
Ulf Ekberg, a founding member of Ace of Base, started his career as a neo-Nazi skinhead.
Not only that, he created a platform for his ideals through his Nazi punk band, Commit Suiside, which sang songs with "explicit racist lyrics." How explicit you might ask? Here's a little example:
"Män i vita kåporna på vägen tågar. Vi njuter när vi huvudena av niggrerna sågar/ Svartskalle, vi hatar dig! Ut, ut, ut, ut! Nordens folk, vakna nu! Skjut, skjut, skjut, skjut!"
"Men in white hoods march down the road, we enjoy ourselves when we're sawing off niggers’ heads/ Immigrant, we hate you! Out, out, out, out! Nordic people, wake up now! Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot!"
In addition to performing with Commit Suiside, Ekberg was also a member of the Sweden Democrats, a political party that has publicly "rejected" any ties to neo-Nazism. This is interesting, considering the fact that the group was founded by Nazis, and active members still maintain connections with contemporary hate groups. For example, Anders Klarström, the former head of the Sweden Democrats. Funny enough, Klarström was also a member of Commit Suiside with Ekberg. Around the time that the band disbanded in 1986, Klarström was convicted of illegal firearms possession, as well as sending death threats to a Jewish theater director and entertainer named Hagge Geigert, who was publicly outspoken against racism and neo-Nazism. At the time, Klarström referred to Geigert as a "Jew pig," and threatened to burn him.
Ekberg's response has been fairly noncommittal. In a 1997 documentary, he is quoted saying "I told everyone I really regret what I did. I've closed that book."
In 1998, a small Swedish record label called Flashback Records released Uffe Was a Nazi!, a limited-edition collection of Ekberg's output with Commit Suiside. The cover is a photograph of Ekberg giving the Nazi salute. Although only 1,000 CDs were produced, it was an extremely damaging attack on Ekberg's Nazi past and has become a major collector's item. Uffe Was a Nazi! includes five songs, like "Rör inte vårt land," which translates to "Don't Touch Our Country," and "Vit makt, svartskalleslakt!" which translates to "White Power, Black Skull Slaughter." It also, amazingly, finds the band rethinking the white-power, skinhead-punk act Skrewdriver's "Smash the IRA," translating the lyrics to German and renaming it "Smash the VPK." The VPK, or "Left Party," is a socialist and feminist party in Sweden:
Here's how Ekberg found his way into Ace of Base. In August of 1990, a Gothenburg musician named Jonas Berggren was hours from playing a show with his band, who'd been performing for several years as either CAD, Tech-Noir, or Kalinin Prospect. At the last minute, their bass player decided to ditch the show to go watch the Rolling Stones on the other side of town, so Berggren asked his friend Ekberg to fill in. A few weeks later they dubbed their new lineup Ace of Base, and the rest is history: "All That She Wants" blows up, Happy Nation/The Sign sells 23 million copies, and the group becomes one of the decade's most beloved pop acts.
It's unclear whether or not Berggren, or the rest of Ace of Base, knew about Ekberg's previous dalliances with neo-Nazism when they asked him to join. For some reason it's not really spoken about today, so when you tell your friends about this stuff, you can expect some jaws hitting the floor. Ekberg's response has been fairly noncommittal. In a 1997 documentary, he is quoted saying "I told everyone I really regret what I did. I've closed that book. I don't want to even talk about it, that time does not exist in me any more. I closed it and I threw the book away in 1987. I took the experience from it, I learned from it. But that life is not me. It's somebody else."
Today, according to his website, Ekberg is "a visionary leader and an eminent businessman." Ekberg is still in Ace of Base, but he's also working for a strategic-marketing company called Result, which has teamed with partners like BMW, Fiat, IBM, and LinkedIn. In 2002, Ekberg founded another entertainment-marketing company called Legion Network (now defunct), and worked with Canon, Motorola, and Nokia. From 2002 to 2005, he was an advisor to Nokia on their global music and fashion strategy.
But things get even more cryptic. Ekberg is also an active member of the German Marshall Fund's Asia Program think tank. Keep in mind, the GMF was formed in the spirit of (and named after) the Marshall Plan, the post-WWII, US-led economic-incentive program geared toward preventing the spread of Soviet communism and opening up recovering nations to democracy.
What does all this mean? It's simply incredible that this stuff hasn't gotten out, especially since it's hidden directly in plain sight. While researching this article, I spoke with many other journalists who had never heard this story. In fact, I've never heard anyone make reference to this secret history ever in my life. Not to get all Conspiracy Theory about it, but I just can't imagine a full recovery from this sort of hatred. What's also frightening is that Ekberg has now carved himself a position of extreme authority and influence. For many years, he was directly responsible for the ways in which brands and consumers connect, and is currently involved in a grant program specific to geopolitical ideology.
Did Ekberg use Ace of Base's success as an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and erase his neo-Nazi past? I'm not sure, and part of me doubts it, but at press time, I can safely say I'll never be able to enjoy "The Sign," "Don't Turn Around," or "All That She Wants" in the same way, ever again.
Ben is VICE's Music Editor, and the Editor-In-Chief of Noisey. You can follow him on Twitter right here - @b_shap
Thanks to Ezra Marcus, for helping with research, and to Maggie Mustard, for a million ideas.