Formed from the ashes of various proto-punk groups in 1971, the Styrenes took their cue from the Velvet Underground, fusing straightforward rock music with more avant-garde tendencies (a later line-up included cello, clarinet, saxophone and tape loops alongside yer drums-bass-guitar-voice line-up). Their work ethic hardly prodigious, the band managed to release 4 albums and a clutch of singles in their 30-year existence, and much of it is unfortunately now extremely hard to find.

1976. Cleveland, Ohio. Singer/guitarist Jamie Klimek (aka Climax; ex- of The Mirrors) and keyboardist Paul Marotta (ex- underground legends The Electric Eels) formed the core of the band, and appeared in all subsequent line-ups. They were initially joined by drummer Anton Fier (ex-Feelies) and bassist Jim Jones, and put out the "Drano In Your Veins" single the following year. As was the Styrenes' wont, there was a long pause before the band relocated to New York in 1980 and Klimek and Marotta put together a new line-up. Jim Jones was out, and the band remained without a permanent bassist. Fier was also replaced, by Paul Laurence, and later formed the Golden Palominos. In addition, Fred Lonberg-Holm was added on cello. The year after, they issued the album "Girl Crazy" on Mustard Records, and followed it with a 12" single containing "True Confessions", which explored tape manipulations and bizarre jazz.

Jump forward to 1989, and the classic Styrenes line-up was formed when they were joined by ex-Pagans frontman Mike Hudson. The mini-album "A Monster and The Devil" on Tinnitus Records saw the band finding their trademark sound, switching from punk to radical jazz while Hudson's drawling, Lou Reed-esque voice told stories of "death, violence and stupidity". In fact, Reed is probably the closest comparison, sharing a similarly laconic style and fascination with the dark side of urban life, while the band's more straightforward numbers occasionally recalled "Transformer"'s glam sound.

Aside from a track on a Scat Records compilation in 1991, the band then remained quiet until 1996, when they issued their magnum opus, the "One Fanzine Reader Writes" single on Drag City. The title track was backed with an astonishing nine-and-a-half minute piece, "All The Wrong People Are Dying", Mike Hudson's tribute to his late brother Joey, who had featured in several of the other stories on Styrenes records. Hudson sounds genuinely devastated while telling the story, with his mood swings between confusion, defiance, black humour and finally total nihilism reflected in the band's musical progression from a military-style elegy to massively dissonant Velvets-esque rock and back. The song also eulogises late friends from the punk scene such as Johnny Thunders, Dead Boys frontman Stiv Bators and "A Monster and the Devil" sax player Pete Haskin. In 1998, Newcastle record label Overground issued a retrospective album called "All the Wrong People are Dying", featuring the "Fanzine..." EP, the "Monster..." album and various other tracks.

It's always hard to know where you are with the Styrenes (some websites record that they split in 1979 without releasing any records), but it's probably not best to write them off. Just when you least expect it, they'll have released another record and then seemingly go back into hiding.

  • Girl Crazy (Mustard, 1982)

  • True Confessions (Mustard, 1982)

  • Two Up Two Down ("Hotel Cleveland Vol. III" compilation, Scat, 1991)

  • It's Artastic! (Cleveland '75-'79) (Homestead, 1991)

  • One Fanzine Reader Writes (Drag City, 1996)

  • We Care, So You Don't Have To (Scat, 1998)

  • All The Wrong People Are Dying (Overground, 1998)

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