Let’s start with a simple disclaimer: there is no possible way that we, or anyone, could truly narrow down the many legends of house music into a list of 10 artists that have shaped the genre into what it is today. There are too many artists that have put their unique touch on the genre to be able to name them all in one place.
But let’s consider this: when you think of the phrase “house music”, what artists come to mind? We’ll take a look – and give a listen – to a few here that we believe have had a massive influence on the musical style we all know and love.
Frankie Knuckles was one of the key artists in the development of house music in Chicago when the genre was still in its early days. He was known as the “Godfather of House Music” to many, as he has a strong reputation for being the true creator of the style.
Knuckles spent decades as a leader in the house music culture and community particularly in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. He was well-known in the community for his marathon DJ sets at his two Chicago clubs, The Warehouse and Power Plant.
Knuckles’ music production was not only about quantity, but also about quality. Some of his biggest hits include “Your Love” (1986), “The Whistle Song” (1991), and “Ain’t Nobody” (1989).
The pioneer passed away in 2014 at the age of 59.
Larry Heard stands alongside Frankie Knuckles as a Chicago house music legend. Born in 1960, he’s known for his role as a pioneer of deep house music. He kicked off his production career in the mid-1980s and still continues to produce today.
Heard has recorded and released music under a number of other aliases outside of Larry Heard including Mr. Fingers and Loosefingers. He was also a member of Fingers, Inc. and has mentored various other successful artists in the space, including Son Dexter.
A few of his tracks you may recognize include “Can You Feel It”, “Closer”, “Precious Love” and “Mystery of Love.”
Saunders is the third Chicago house music influencer on our list, often noted by historians as the originator of house music. He began his journey down the house music production road in 1983 with Frankie Knuckles as one of his major influences.
Jesse has been in the music world since he was young – he learned the piano when he was five years old and eventually made his way to any other instrument he could get his hands on. He first dove into the Chicago club culture when he was sixteen. His most notable track “On & On” was released in 1984 on Jes Say Records, the label he created with Vince Lawrence.
For anyone not overly familiar with the history of house music, this is an intriguing tidbit of knowledge: Daft Punk actually found their initial popularity in the French house music scene.
The duo, which consists of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, converged in 1993 and began to grow their following in the late 1990s as a part of the French house movement happening at that time. Over time they took their original house style and worked in other genre elements – a taste of rock, disco and groove – to build their own sound that has evolved into the Daft Punk we know today.
One of their first huge tracks, “da Funk”, was created in the studio in the spring of 1995. The track was one of the original proponents that pushed their name into the limelight, and we can see why – with a catchy bassline and a funky synth, it truly rocks a dancefloor.
Claude VonStroke – the head honcho of San Francisco-based label Dirtybird Records – has become one of the most well-known names on the house music front since his entry into the space in the early 2000s.
VonStroke, originally hailing from Detroit, started Dirtybird Records in 2005 after meeting up with Justin and Christian Martin. He has since built one of the most popular house labels in the industry. His first big hit “Who’s Afraid of Detroit?”, released in 2006, can still be heard across many sets today, as it’s a classic track that throws a dark and dirty feel into a heavy bassline and a catchy melody.
The artist has built quite the roster under the Dirtybird label including Justin Martin, Eats Everything, Shiba San and Catz n Dogs to name a few. He has not been afraid to try new, funky things like touring with Green Velvet as “Get Real”. VonStroke has also been releasing new productions under his real name, Barclay Crenshaw, to exhibit his prowess in the bass music world.
Carl Cox began his time at the turntables since he was fifteen and has not slowed down since. He’s a leader in the acid house genre in particular, as well as a label owner, a dance music pioneer and one of the most recognizable names in the music world.
Cox found his inspiration within the early stages of Chicago house music and eventually found himself in the British club and rave culture, where he continued to build a name for himself. His debut single, “I Want You”, hit in 1991.
While many artists in the 1990s moved in different directions like trance and jungle, Cox stayed true to his roots and remained in the underground and club environments that allowed him to build his house and techno knowledge. Instead of trying to follow a path of popularity, he chose to perfect what he did best: remain king of the underground music world. And thus, he remains.
He recently finished his weekly residency at one of the most iconic clubs in Ibiza, Space, and hosts a two-hour radio show called Global Radio. And, of course, you can find his iconic Carl Cox & Friends stage at Ultra Music Festival.
Though many of the artists on this list came from the birthplaces of house and techno music – Chicago and Detroit, respectively – or from cities like London or New York, it’s important to tip our hats to those who hail from the West Coast. Doc Martin is one of these.
Doc Martin met the decks in 1986 and fell into the house music scene with twists of inspiration from disco and funk. Much of what has shaped his sound came from playing in clubs in San Francisco and immersing himself in dance music culture that exists so strongly in major cities across the West Coast. His sound today has evolved into a base of house music with a mixture of eclectic genres – think a touch of acid with a bit of funk, a touch of tribal bass and more – and tracks spanning many years, ultimately presenting a sound that stands out from any other West Coast artist.
Martin has performed at some of the most famous clubs across the globe, including Output in New York, Factory93 in Los Angeles, the DC10 circuit in Ibiza and more. His sets are constantly surprising, funky and groovy in a way that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Marshall Jefferson is another influencer from the Chicago house music scene that was one of the major players behind the genre’s development in the 1980s.
Born in 1959, Jefferson grew up with a love for hard rock bands like Black Sabbath but eventually found a love for house music after spending evenings at the Music Box club in Chicago. Once he started producing, he was on a roll – between 1985 and 1986 he released six tracks that quickly became some of the most played songs in Chicago clubs.
“Move Your Body”, Jefferson’s single released on Trax Records in 1976, stands in the history of house music as one of the most defining tracks of the genre. Marshall also spent time producing under other artists’ names, including Hercules’ “Lost in the Groove” and Kevin Irving’s “Ride The Rhythm.”
Danny Tenaglia, a New York City native, found himself in the electronic music world early on: at age 12, he was introduced to DJ mixtapes and quickly became enthralled with the techniques behind mixing tracks. From that point on, the artist that we all know as Danny was born.
Tenaglia not only released numerous productions during the 1980s and 1990s, both remixes and originals, that quickly became some of his claims to fame – he has also held residencies at some of the most prominent nightclubs in NYC during the 1990s. The artist dove into producing starting in the mid-1980s and released on numerous prominent labels at the time like Strictly Rhythm and Minimal, Sexy Tribal. Over the course of his time producing, in combination with his club residencies, he became a leader in the origins of the New York City house music scene.
Masters At Work
Masters at Work – the brainchild of Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez and “Little” Louie Vega – was a powerhouse duo that produced an immense library of iconic tracks during their time together. They were known for their history as a team of remixers who put their own touch on songs from massive artists including Madonna, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and Jamiroquai.
Gonzalez and Vega began working together as MAW in 1990 after meeting each other through Todd Terry, another massive New York house music icon. MAW has an intriguingly eclectic sound, as they take a house music base and intermix it with bits and pieces of genres like hip-hop, funk, disco, jazz, African and Latin music. Their touch brings an instant groove to the dancefloor and a refreshing take to any song they remix.