Fathers of the modern electronic music genre, Germany's Kraftwerk essentially wrote the blueprints from which every electronic-based artist and producer would follow. The group's highly acclaimed and utterly groundbreaking albums -- including Autobahn (1974), Trans-Europe Express (1977), The Man-Machine (1978), and Computer World (1981) -- forever changed the popular music landscape, affecting disco, hip-hop, experimental rock, and most notably the synthpop and dance-pop that saturated much of the 1980s. Not since Wendy Carlos had a musical act propelled synthesizers and electronic instrumentation to such a high degree of mainstream awareness and acceptance. Through their game-changing innovations and widespread influence, Kraftwerk are universally revered as gods of electronic music.
02 Depeche Mode
One of electronic music's biggest juggernauts in terms of record sales and permeating influence, Depeche Mode ruled the 1980s and early-'90s with era-defining hit albums and singles. Though synthpop was established years prior to the group's formation, Depeche Mode became unquestionably the style's reigning kings, selling out stadiums and attaining recognition on a global scale. With a clear knack for songwriting and an incessant desire to push their production values to the leading-edge, Depeche Mode always seemed to be at least a couple steps ahead of their contemporaries. The band's back catalog -- including such classics as Black Celebration (1986), Music for the Masses (1987), and the multi-Platinum Violator (1990) -- is among the richest and most celebrated in electronic music, easily placing Depeche Mode's name in the upper echelon of synth legends.
Electronic music's first superstar and icon, Jean Michel Jarre truly took the genre to early commercial heights with spectacular, record-setting live shows and groundbreaking albums. His 1976 masterpiece, Oxygène, is regarded as one of the most important albums in electronic music history for simultaneously popularizing the genre and further influencing the development of progressive forms of synthesizer-based music. In addition, Jarre's penchant for constructing sensual soundscapes has earned him recognition as one of New Age music's chief architects. After selling an astounding 80 million records, performing in countries around the globe, and even having the honor of an asteroid named after him (4422 Jarre), Jean Michel Jarre is far and away the most popular and culturally significant synthesist of all time.
04 New Order
The most innovative and respected dance band of their era, New Order took the underground sounds of Hi-NRG and electro and incorporated them into a slick, upbeat rock & roll foundation. While they were never as widely popular as synthpop peers Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys, New Order managed to record the biggest selling 12-inch single of all time, "Blue Monday", a gargantuan and legendary track that married the energy of club culture with the attitude of the post-punk scene. In addition to that seminal classic, New Order released several universally acclaimed albums -- including Power, Corruption & Lies (1983), Low-life (1985), and the acid house-inspired Technique (1989) -- which established alternative dance in the music industry and influenced much of the electronica of the 1990s and onward.
05 Giorgio Moroder
The most revolutionary producer of the disco era, Giorgio Moroder evolved the popular 1970s dance style from its original organic arrangements to a completely electronic foundation. His production of Donna Summer's immortal classic "I Feel Love" is arguably the single most important electronic dance record of all time, having paved the way for Italo disco, Hi-NRG, house, techno, trance, and beyond. As an artist in his own right, Moroder released seminal electro-disco albums like From Here to Eternity (1977), a landmark recording whose relentlessly pulsing first-half presaged the concept of the continuous DJ mix. The legendary musician sustained a high profile throughout the 1980s composing award-winning synthesized film soundtracks. Today, Giorgio Moroder is regarded as an elder statesman in the electronic music community and the father of contemporary dance music.
06 The Human League
As the first great British electronic band, the Human League proved to be a guiding light for the synthpop movement of the late-1970s and early-'80s. Unlike fellow-synth pioneers of their era, such as Gary Numan and Ultravox, the Human League drew a major audience on both sides of the Atlantic -- thanks primarily to their huge international hit "Don't You Want Me?", an electronic anthem which signaled a new "British invasion" in pop music (with an emphasis on synthesizers). Alongside that classic single, the band released the seminal album Dare! (1981), which is considered by many to be the greatest full-length synthpop release of all time. While the Human League continued to ride pop chart success into the 1990s, their impact on electronic and dance music remained evident, as producers of dance-pop, house, and techno acknowledged the influence of the band's melodic sequencer-laced compositions.
07 Brian Eno
Brian Eno is among the most revered and singularly talented solo artists in electronic music history. His musical contributions were great and many, from realizing ambient music as a distinct style with a defined purpose, to pioneering revolutionary production techniques and acting as an early proponent of sampling. Eno has recorded several albums that are widely regarded as masterpieces -- such as Another Green World (1975), Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978), and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981). With a resume as extensive and diverse as his (including collaborations with music legends Robert Fripp, David Byrne, and Cluster), Brian Eno has made a name for himself which is held in the highest esteem by virtually the entire electronic music community and beyond.
The Queen of Pop is arguably the figure most responsible for giving electronic dance music its greatest crossover success. While generally not seen as an innovator in electronic music, Madonna's career nonetheless shined a spotlight on several of the most significant dance styles of the 1980s and '90s (a few of which were originally relegated to underground clubs). From the get-go, she flirted with electro-disco (e.g. "Holiday", "Into the Groove"), later to embrace house music toward the tail-end of the '80s (e.g. "Express Yourself", "Vogue"). Madonna continued to enjoy a steady stream of hits well into the 1990s, culminating with her crowning achievement, Ray of Light, an album which effectively took on techno, downtempo, and other styles of electronica. Having remained rooted in the vein of electro-pop well into the 2000s, Madonna has solidified herself as dance music royalty.
09 Tangerine Dream
Tangerine Dream have been among the most longstanding and important groups in electronic music, having pioneered kosmische musik, a synthesizer-heavy extension of Germany's krautrock scene. Their seminal LP Phaedra (1974) is perhaps the most significant album to utilize the burgeoning sequencer technology of the early-1970s -- effectively kick-starting the "Berlin school" style of electronic music composition, known for its Steve Reich-inspired minimalism. Tangerine Dream's repetitive, trance-like quality proved to be incalculably influential on nearly every corner of electronic music, placing them in company with Kraftwerk as one of the genre's most crucial architects. Also venturing into film scoring and producing New Age music, Tangerine Dream have continued adding to the largest and most enduring discography in electronic music.
10 Gary Numan
Hailed as one of synthpop's prime originators, Gary Numan did more than nearly anyone to push the synthesizer to the forefront of New Wave pop music. In the late-1970s, Numan fronted Tubeway Army, an outlet in which he first experimented with the mini-Moog synthesizer. After the group scored a bit UK hit with "Are 'Friends' Electric?", Numan's star power rose tremendously, prompting him to start recording under his own name. As a solo artist, he released the quintessential synthpop song, "Cars", which became an early bona-fide hit for the electronic music community -- as did the song's parent album, The Pleasure Principle (1979). Even as a mainstream figure, Numan's influence extended into the subterranean and experimental sounds of industrial and techno music, making him a widely revered and oft-celebrated electronic pioneer.
11 Afrika Bambaataa
The most crucial electronic-based hip-hop pioneer, Afrika Bambaataa molded the seminal robotic sounds of Kraftwerk into a funkier, more club-friendly style known as electro. The significance of electro cannot be overstated, as everything from techno to Latin freestyle and Miami bass -- several of the biggest dance styles of the following decade -- were direct offshoots of this new sound. Without doubt, Bambaataa's pinnacle moment as a recording artist was his groundbreaking single with Soulsonic Force, "Planet Rock", which countless electronic producers imitated (or downright lifted) for their own records. Bambaataa continued in the vein of electro for a period of time before shifting gears to collaborate with renowned artists of different musical backgrounds (like James Brown, John Lydon, and UB40), further adding to his extensive musical impact.
12 Daft Punk
The enigmatic, helmet-clad Daft Punk have been one of the most popular and celebrated electronic dance acts of the last two decades. With their affinity for old-school house, techno, disco, and electro-boogie, the duo have created simple yet incessantly catchy singles -- classics like "Da Funk", "Around the World", "One More Time", and "Harder Better Faster Stronger". Their first two LPs, Homework (1997) and Discovery (2001), are among the most acclaimed dance albums ever recorded, having inspired an entire generation of beat-makers, producers, and DJs. As of late, Daft Punk have expanded their fanbase exponentially with the release of their 2013 summer anthem, "Get Lucky", and its corresponding album, Random Access Memories (their biggest successes to date). Now embraced by mainstream audiences, Daft Punk's legend only continues to grow.
13 Wendy Carlos
The premier synthesist who turned the world on to the technology in the late-1960s, Wendy Carlos was among the most trailblazing electronic musicians in history. Though she was predated by other synth proponents, such as Perrey & Kingsley and Delia Derbyshire, it was Carlos's Grammy Award-winning debut, Switched-On Bach (1968), that truly put the synthesizer (the Moog in particular) on the map. Carlos proved to be no novelty act, as she followed her artistic breakthrough with a multitude of innovative work, including Sonic Seasonings (1972), a record whose meditative tones paved the way for ambient and New Age music -- as well as her electronic scores for the films A Clockwork Orange (1972) and Tron (1982), cited by artists of progressive electronic music and synthpop as vastly influential.
14 Pet Shop Boys
Inspired by the energetic yet lush sounds of Italo disco and similar European dance music, Pet Shop Boys developed a highly rhythmic and synthesizer-dominant style built around expertly crafted, romantic pop songs. Their music was exceptionally well-received by consumers and critics alike, propelling them into super-stardom. Like New Order before them, Pet Shop Boys eventually embraced American club music, such as house and freestyle, to further expand their fanbase. Today, Pet Shop Boys are the most profitable British musical duo of all time, having sold over 50 million albums. And after placing an impressive twenty-two Top 10 singles on the UK pop chart (including classics like "West End Girls" and "It's a Sin"), they have secured their status as one of electronic music's utmost visible and admired representatives.
15 The Prodigy
Rising up from Britain's underground dance scene, the Prodigy became unquestionably the biggest superstars of electronic music in the 1990s. A handful of their early singles -- such as the cartoon-inspired "Charly" and the ragga-flavored "Out of Space" -- virtually defined the rave scene, while their latter-day offerings epitomized the sound of Big Beat, a style that they (alongside the Chemical Brothers) helped pioneer, which became a considerable commercial force toward the end of the decade. Controversial and flashy music videos for their songs "Firestarter" and "Smack My Bitch Up" kept the Prodigy popular with the MTV generation, and their increasingly aggressive sound helped them connect with fans of punk, industrial, and alternative rock. To this day, the Prodigy remain the most culturally relevant and influential hardcore dance act ever.
16 Nine Inch Nails
By far the most popular exponent of industrial music, Nine Inch Nails brought never-before-seen levels of attention and success to the abrasive electronic-rock hybrid. Under the leadership of mastermind Trent Reznor, the band recorded some of the most angst-ridden music to be accepted by the mainstream (e.g. "Head Like a Hole", "Closer"), though it was Reznor's flawed, human touch -- amidst the precise, mechanical nature of the compositions -- that proved to be the group's most alluring feature. Nine Inch Nails' debut LP, Pretty Hate Machine (1989), became a considerable success and a huge influence on the wave of industrial acts to flood the market in the 1990s. Critically-championed (and even bigger-selling) follow-ups The Downward Spiral (1994) and The Fragile (1999) further cemented Nine Inch Nails' standing as the most important industrial band of all time.
Since the early-1990s, Moby has been electronic dance music's poster child. Not only did Moby establish a genuine celebrity persona for himself in a virtually image-less music scene; he helped pioneer and bring into awareness several electronic subgenres, including breakbeat hardcore and ambient techno, and would later incorporate strong rock and gospel elements into electronica. His archetypal rave staple, "Go", was one of the most influential dance singles of its day, name-checked by DJs and dance producers around the world. Moby's mainstream success climaxed with the release of Play (1999), an album that conquered the charts internationally, making him a pop sensation at the turn of the millennium. To this day, Moby remains a highly respected figure, known for his outspoken political and philosophical views as much as for his iconic music.
18 Yellow Magic Orchestra
The brilliant trio Yellow Magic Orchestra are often considered to be Japan's answer to Kraftwerk -- and it's a justified comparison, as YMO were one of the true progenitors of electronic composition aimed at the pop market. Their seminal first two albums, Yellow Magic Orchestra (1978) and Solid State Survivor (1979), clearly took cues from their German counterparts' forward-thinking sonic architecture, though displayed an even more accomplished sense of musical interplay and prowess. Through their pioneering application of synthesizers and drum machines (particularly the TR-808), the group contributed to the conception of various electronic music styles, from synthpop and electro to techno and even video game music. And while not nearly as popular as their early e-music brethren, YMO have proven to be among the genre's most groundbreaking and influential purveyors.
19 The KLF
Consisting of seasoned producers Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, the KLF took full advantage of their record industry knowledge to become the most commercially successful house music project of the late-1980s and early-'90s. The duo charted several dance classics -- including "3 AM Eternal", "Justified and Ancient", and the seminal proto-trance single "What Time is Love?" -- in the UK and abroad. While their infamous shock-value hijinks and outrageous artistic statements (e.g. burning £1 million) kept them buzzworthy in the media for a brief time, the KLF remain a lauded act in the electronic music community (now over two decades since their retirement) for their pronounced advocacy of sampling, their groundbreaking ambient-dance compositions on 1990's Chill Out, and their trailblazing stadium house sound on the 1991 masterpiece The White Room.
20 The Chemical Brothers
Among the most important bands to elevate electronic dance music to a broader audience in the 1990s, the Chemical Brothers added elements of hip-hop, funk, and rock & roll to a throbbing techno pulse. Their in-your-face crossbreed sound, labeled "Big Beat", became one of the most dominant dance styles of the decade, finding its way into television advertisements, action film soundtracks, and various other media. The Chemical Brothers' classic head-bangers -- such as "Chemical Beats", "Setting Sun", "Hey Girl Hey Boy", and the Grammy-winning "Block Rockin' Beats" -- established the duo as a highly respected musical act in both dance and rock circles. Now considered electronica royalty, the Chems continue to inspire legions of producers and DJs aiming for arena rock intensity and showmanship.