Wells was born in Swindon but moved to Bradford at an early age. The son of a company director, he attended Hanson comprehensive school in Bradford, but left with minimal qualifications in 1977 and later worked in a factory and as a bus conductor. It was at this time that he became involved with punk rock, including the radical socialist Leeds art-punk band The Mekons.
In 1982, he began performing as a ranting poet and comedian under the names Seething Wells, Swells and Susan Williams. He was a support act to various northern English punk bands, such as The Fall, The Mekons and Gang of Four, along with fellow ranting poets Attila The Stockbroker, Swift Nick, Little Brother, Mark Miwurdz, and Porky The Poet.
After moving to London, he began to write for NME, initially under the name Susan Williams. He championed socialist soul/punk band The Redskins; American hardcore punk bands such as Black Flag and the Butthole Surfers; British bands that merged thrash, hardcore and heavy metal, such as Extreme Noise Terror, Napalm Death; and certain pop artists, such as Daphne and Celeste. In the 1990s, he diversified, occasionally writing comedy (for shows such as On the Hour and The Day Today) and other non-music related journalism.
In 1992, he and Nick Small formed GobTV, a music video directing partnership. GobTV videos were characterised by extreme visuals, rapid edits, a political agenda and humour. GobTV made promos for The Wildhearts, Manic Street Preachers, and Skunk Anansie amongst others, and were the top UK directors in 1994 and 1995. The partnership ended in 1996. In 1999 he started the Attack! Books publishing house and his debut novel was Tits Out Teenage Terror Totty. His illustrated history Punk: The Stories Behind the Songs was published in 2004. In 2009 he contributed a story to the Love Hotel City anthology.
Wells became a sports columnist for The Guardian, FourFourTwo, 90 Minutes, The Quietus music website and the Philadelphia Weekly, and was in the process of writing several books.
There were many tributes to Wells after his death. Musician Billy Bragg wrote: "The antithesis of the bonehead racist, he was in fact an articulate left-winger and unlike the bully boy who only picks on those weaker than him, Swells chose to target the powerful, the popular, the hip and the cool."
Music journalist Everett True described Wells as "a tastemaker. He informed people's opinions, challenged them, led them, changed them…most of this by default, by sheer force of his personality and peerless ability to entertain.".
Boff Whalley, of anarcho-punk band Chumbawamba wrote: "Seething (Steven) Wells died two days ago. Then tonight, starting to write this, I find out that Michael Jackson has died. One of these two men owned a ranch called Neverland and had three children called Michael Joseph Jackson Jr, Paris Michael Katherine Jackson and Prince Michael Jackson II. The other one was the King of Pop."
Gareth Campesinos!, singer for the indie rock band Los Campesinos!, wrote on his band's website that "...[T]here have been a few things that have stood out above others in Los Campesinos!' short history that have made me think "shit, we're really doing this", and one of them was the first time I read Steven Wells ranting against us. That we were on his radar, and that he deemed us worthy of his bile was an honour"."In October last year, Swells wrote: “I have seen the future. It’s Garry Bushell being kicked senseless by Gareth from Los Campesinos! forever. So it's not all bad." I promise, if I ever get the chance, for the only good thing I can think of to ever come from Swindon, I will do that".
Welsh rapper Akira The Don devoted an entire mixtape to Wells shortly after his death, with the song "He Was The Greatest" entirely about Steven Wells in particular. The Wildhearts' 2009 album Chutzpah! is dedicated to Wells.