Hey, Time Traveller! 👋 Welcome back to May 16, 1993!
📰 The International Criminal Court begins prosecuting war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.📽️ A very young Kieran Culkin co-stars in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Nowhere To Run.📺 And it’s the end of a TV era as Sam Malone pours his last beer in Cheers.
🎶 George Michael and Queen have fallen off the top of the UK Top 40, meaning we have A New Number One!
Ace of Bass, ’All That She Wants’
I love a good pop music conspiracy theory, like the one about Paul McCartney dying and being replaced by an actor, or the one about Avril Lavigne dying and being replaced by an actor, or the one about Bob Holness playing the sax on ‘Baker Street’.
And so, when Cracked.com published an extremely juicy story in 2015 about how Ace Of Base were a secret Nazi psyop, I clicked the link so hard that I almost broke my finger.
Cracked’s article turned out to be nonsense, of course, but it’s not total fantasy. Ace Of Base really did have some links to extreme right-wing groups, including literal Nazis.
But were Ace of Base really trying to revive the Third Reich via their catchy reggae-pop? Let’s examine the facts and find out!
The day had just begun
Ace of Base is Jonas ‘Joker’ Berggren and his sisters Linn and Jenny. The trio started making techno music in the 80s under the name Tech-Noir, which is the nightclub where Arnie first meets Sarah Connor in The Terminator.
In 1990, local musician Ulf Ekberg joined Tech-Noir and formed a songwriting partnership with Joker. Ekberg also suggested that they change their name to Ace Of Base, a name that he thought of while hungover and listening to Motorhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’.
As a techno band, Ace Of Base struggled to find gigs in the metal-dominated local scene. Instead, they moved to a studio and started work on a demo. A reggae band were working in the studio next door, and their riddims started to rub off on AOB.
Now, you might think that an unsigned Swedish techno band doing reggae might sound terrible. It’s actually worse than you imagine, because they also included a bit of rapping.
Nevertheless, Ace Of Base sent these demos out to every music producer in Sweden.
One lucky recipient was the up-and-coming Denniz PoP, who would hit the big-time in 1992 with his work on Dr. Alban’s ‘It’s My Life’. PoP listened to the ‘Mr. Ace’ demo in his car stereo, but quickly decided that it was worthless garbage.
And then Ace Of Base had a bizarre stroke of luck.
When Denniz tried to eject the cassette, it got stuck. It still played, somehow, but he couldn’t wiggle it loose. Poor Denniz spent weeks driving around Stockholm with this terrible song playing on a loop until, somehow, he started to love it.
Ace Of Base owe their success to a literal case of Stockholm Syndrome.
Denniz summoned Ace Of Base to his studio, and they began working ‘Mr. Ace’ into a real song. The result was ‘All That She Wants’, and the rest is history.
The gentle voice that talks to you
History sometimes bites you in the ass, though.
Ace Of Base became huge in continental Europe, then the UK, and eventually the US, and international stardom always brings an extra level of scrutiny. The media started digging—and they found something big.
Ulf Ekberg used to be a Nazi.
Before Ace of Base, Ekberg had been in a post-punk band called Commit Suicide, who were active on the local skinhead scene. Ekberg was also reported to be a member of the far-right Sweden Democrats (roughly equivalent to Britain’s National Front).
Ekberg tried to downplay these stories. He apologised for some of his past behaviour, but said that it was a teenage phase (and in fairness, the Nazi stuff happened when Ekberg was under 18). He also denied some details of the story, saying that Commit Suicide were never a Nazi band and that he’d never been a member of Sweden Democrats.
The apology upset some of his old friends, especially Commit Suicide’s old labe, Flashback Records.
The Flashback people cracked open their archives and found some astonishingly racist old recordings by Commit Suicide, the least offensive of which is a cover of Skrewdriver’s ‘Smash the I.R.A.’ (Skrewdriver being one of the best-known white supremacist punk bands). Flashback also found some vintage photos of Ekberg giving Nazi salutes.
These songs and photos were gathered in a limited-edition EP called Uffe Was A Nazi!
Ekberg claims that most of the tracks on the EP are not by Commit Suicide, and that Flashback simply mislabelled them, although he admits it’s not cool to have been label-mates with these racist bands.
As for not being in Sweden Democrats…well, that seems unlikely, seeing how one of his Commit Suicide bandmates was Anders Klarström—the first official president of Sweden Democrats. There are pictures of them together at SD political events.
Ekberg has apologised repeatedly for his Nazi days and describes far-right ideology as “nauseating” (while still claiming that he wasn’t really involved in politics). On balance, it seems probable that this was just a stupid teenage edgelord phase, and he’s genuinely embarrassed by it all.
Nevertheless, he did clearly have some links with far-right ideology. Which raises the question: did any of this leak into Ace Of Base’s music?
Beware of what is flashing in her eyes
Cracked’s 2015 article argues that Ace Of Base’s music was littered with Nazi references—and even tried to brainwash people through subliminal messages.
Even the band’s name is a Nazi code, according to Cracked. Have you ever wondered why they’re called Ace Of Base? Wouldn’t a techno band call themselves Ace Of Bass.
Cracked believe that this is a deliberate choice, and a reference to the Keroman Submarine Base in Lorient. Keroman was an impenetrable fortress and home to the elite U-Boat captains, earning it the nickname “base of aces”.
Couple of problems with this theory. For starters, there’s not much evidence that anyone ever used the nickname “base of aces”. Cracked’s only source is a Netflix series called Nazi Mega Weapons, and it’s hard to find any written references to this name.
Also, if the Germans gave Keroman a nickname, it was probably a German nickname.
Cracked don’t really have any evidence besides the “base of aces” thing. The rest of their argument consists of squinting at lyrics to see if there’s a hint of fascism.
Could ‘Happy Nation’ be talking about an Aryan nation? I don’t know, maybe? Is the line “I see danger in the eyes of a stranger” about the fear of immigrants? Possibly, or it might be about a dog looking at the postman. What if the sign in ‘The Sign’… is a swastika?
We’re now getting into muddy waters of a true conspiracy theory, scanning lyric sheets for tiny breadcrumbs. This is how Beatles fans found lyrics that “proved” Paul McCartney is dead. In fact, I bet we could find Ace Of Base lyrics that confirm Paul is dead.
In the song ‘Happy Nation’, Ace Of Base sing:
No man's fit to rule the world alone
A man will die but not his ideas
You see, Paul died (“a man will die”) but his public image continued (“but not his ideas”). “No man's fit to rule the world alone” is a reference to the fact that there are two Pauls: the real one who died and the actor who replaced him.
This is a fun game, but it proves nothing.
Anyway, this idea of secret coded message is an unnecessary elaboration. Ace Of Base do have right-wing politics in their music, and it’s not hidden in the music. It’s right there in plain sight.
She’s going to get ya
All that she wants is another baby
She's gone tomorrow, boy
All that she wants is another baby, yeah
People have long debated over the exact intent of the word “baby” here.
If it’s a literal baby, then this song is about a woman who tries to get pregnant, presumably so she can leech off the generous Swedish welfare state. If “baby” means “boyfriend”, then the song is slutshaming a woman who has sex for pleasure.
Either way, these lyrics are weirdly hateful. They sound like an Andrew Tate monologue, and no one really questioned them in 1993 because we were too distracted by the perky Swedish pop-reggae hooks.
I guess that’s the ultimate proof that Ace Of Base’s music don’t have hidden Nazi mesages—because there’s no need to hide them. In fact, here in 2023, the idea of Nazis being secretive is almost quaint.
Elsewhere in the charts
[Number 9 ↑] Bon Jovi, ‘In These Arms’
We saw Bon Jovi return last year with a vaguely grunge vibe on ‘Keep The Faith’, but this turned out to be just a phase. The third single from the album reverts back to Classic Bon Jovi soft rock, and there’s nothing wrong with it.
[Number 15, New] Tina Turner, ‘I Don’t Wanna Fight’
A song written by Lulu, of all people. Even weirder, she wrote it for Sade, who choose to pass it onto Tina Turner.
Nothing wrong with Lulu, Sade or Tina, it’s just a weird line-up.
[Number 27, New] Saint Etienne, ‘Hobart Paving’
“Only love can break your heart,” said Saint Etienne in 1991, which turned out to be LIES, because ‘Hobart Paving’ can also break your heart.
[Number 29, New] Felix, ‘Stars’
Returning to one of our other recurring topics of 1993: the de-weirding of dance music in the lower reaches of the Top 40. ‘Stars’ is one of the weirder singles we’ve had in weeks and the video has a very MTV-at-2am vibe, but it’s still quite polished by 1992 standards. I don’t know if we’ll ever ever again see a bonkers, amateurish dance 7” in the charts.
[Number 40, New] Lenny Kravitz, ‘Believe’
Lenny takes a break from impersonating Hendrix to write a bit of Beatles-esque psychedelia. It’s okay.
Album of the Week
Blur, Modern Life Is Rubbish
I’ve declared records to be “The First True Britpop Album” at least three times recently, so we can’t do that again. However, it’s fair to say that Modern Life Is Rubbish was a massive leap forward for a new kind of indie-pop with a very British (London-centric, really) identity.
Modern Life saw Blur return with sound so different from ‘There’s No Other Way’ that Select magazine declared that “this is, without a doubt, the first Blur album”. Blur’s look had changed too, with the bowl-cuts and baggy sweaters ditched in favour of a 60s Mod aesthetic.
The music also harked right back to the 60s. People in the 90s would never shut up about The Beatles, but Britpop’s real ancestors were bands like The Kinks and The Small Faces—groups that combined rock’n’roll, pop hooks, lyrical storytelling, and a fixation with London.
In fact, you could describe 90% of Britpop as bands trying—and failing—to write a song as perfect as The Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’. Blur’s ‘For Tomorrow’ is an early example of this quixotic obsession, and it’s actually a pretty good attempt.
If all of this makes it sound like Blur were bandwagon-jumpers…well, that’s an accusation people would keep making for years. But Modern Life showed that there was something really special going on here
Tracks like ‘Advert’ and ‘Oily Water’ showed that Graham Coxon had a cutting-edge indie sensibility, while songs like ‘Miss America’ and ‘Blue Jeans’ showed that Damon Albarn was capable of real pathos.
The magic of Modern Life Is Rubbish is the sheer breadth of Blur’s ideas. They flit between ideas and genres with ease, while maintaining a coherent identity throughout. This is, without a doubt, the work of an exceptional band.
And it contains hints of what’s to come. Modern Life shows a side of Blur that would disappear until 1997’s eponymous Blur. But the first signs of the Parklife era appear on Side 2, with ‘Sunday Sunday’, a raucous knees-up with elements of ‘Itchycoo Park’.
Britpop already existed before Modern Life Is Rubbish, but here is where it becomes an unstoppable juggernaut.
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Having come of age in the 90s, I love this Substack so much.
Maybe I’m biased (nah!) but I think 90s music is grievously underappreciated .
I worked in a record store when The Sign came out, and is hard to overstate how popular this record was. We literally couldn’t keep it in stock. 30 years is a long time, but I’ll bet I personally rang up 2-300 copies of it.