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It is quite difficult to give the exact definition of this music genre, due to the different usages of the term, the wide variety of its sub-genres and its very complex development (which lasts since mid 20th century). One of the dictionary definitions is: "a type of popular music with a strong loud beat which is usually played with electric guitars and drums" (Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, 2008).
Under the influence coming from the USA, rock music started spreading all over Britain in 1950s, resulting in formation of a great number of rock bands. Almost every city in Britain had a significant number of newly formed rock bands. Cities like Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London were the biggest centres of this new culture, with Liverpool having almost 350 new bands. The great expansion of British rock bands and their growing popularity reached their peak in 1960s with bands such as: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin. Their singles took top positions in pop charts in America, which led to so called "British Invasion", term used to describe immense popularity of British rock bands in America. In 1980s British rock music again became extremely popular abroad, with the help of new music channel, MTV, broadcasting videos from "image conscious" British bands, especially A Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran, Dire Straits, etc, and this period was called "The second British invasion". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_rock#Indie_rock )
Until the end of 20th century, rock music got a great number of its sub-genres, of which the most prominent were: indie rock, psychedelic rock, glam rock, folk rock, alternative rock, etc. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rock_genres )
In the 21st century this practice continued, resulting in even more diverse genres, such as Post-Britpop, post-punk revival, soft rock, heavy metal, etc.
British rock bands significantly influenced a great number of generations, not only in Britain, but also world-wide. They were and still are creators of popular culture with their rebellious lifestyle, authentic clothes and hairstyles, but also through their lyrics that promoted peace and love, especially in 1960s and 70s; but due to this complexity of the genre subtypes, rock music was also associated with Christianity, atheism and even Satanism.
Most popular 21st century rock bands from Britain
According to the variety of sources, different music charts of reputable magazines, music forums and various articles, the most popular and/or most significant British rock bands nowadays are (randomly):
-The Libertines -Radiohead -Muse
-Coldplay -The Smiths -The Coral
-Oasis -Gorillaz -Ocean Colour Scene
-Depeche mode -Blur -Rouge Wave -The Artistic Monkeys, etc.
Of course, evergreen idols that even young generations of 21st century look up to, such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Sex Pistols, Queen, etc. remain popular , especially in this era of modern technology, the Internet and You-Tube where everything is available and easily reached.
For more perceptive insight into the rock music situation in Britain today, four of the most prominent, popular or controversial modern rock bands listed above will be closely looked at. These are:
The Libertines, Radiohead, Coldplay, Muse
When Chris Martin (vocalist) and Johnny Buckland (guitarist), originally classmates at University College, London (ULC) decided to form a band in 1996, they named it "Pectoralz". When they got their third member, Guy Berryman, the bassist, they renamed it to "Starfish". In 1998, with their manager Phil Harvey and percussionist Will Champion, they came up with the third and final name, which is currently the name of the most popular alternative rock and post-Britpop band- Coldplay.
Before signing for Parlaphone in 1999, the band released two EPs  , "Safety" (1998) and "Brothers and Sisters" (1999), quickly recorded, but still good enough to send them straight to Top100 list. The next EP, "The Blue Room", came out the same year (1999), and soon after, their debut album "Parachutes" followed. The album was a great success with the first Coldplay single ("Shiver") to penetrate the Top 40 list and their first Top 5 single in the UK- "Yellow". At this period the band had to face its first serious problems which even escalated to Champion being fired by Chris, but it was a short-term disagreement, and after he returned to the band, the new rules of democracy and equality were introduced. The act also agreed to exclude any member from the band "who used hard drugs".
After the successful concerts around Europe, the act toured North America, and there they won Grammy Award for the "Best Alternative Rock Album" in 2002. This was their first significant international award, although in 2001 they were recognised as "Best British Group" and their album "Parachutes" as "Best British Album" of the year at the Brit Awards.
"Rush of blood to the head", their next album, recorded in Liverpool in 2001, brought them another Grammy Award for "Best Alternative Music Album" in 2003, as well as some of their most popular singles such as: "In My Place", "The Scientist" and "Clocks". Again they were honoured at the Brit Awards, but also by the Rolling Stone magazine for the best band of the year 2003.
( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coldplay#cite_note-58 )
The next album was 2005's "X&Y" with 8.3 million copies sold worldwide and that put the album at the top position on album charts in 20 countries. Singles like "Speed of Sound", "Fix You" and "Talk" inspired positive but not overly enthusiastic reviews of the album. Their fourth album "Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends" was recorded during and after band's tour all over Latin America, which resulted in clear influence of Hispanic culture on the new songs, but also new experiments with styles and sounds such as blues and distorted guitar. The album had a great commercial success, and its greatest single, "Viva la Vida" won three different Grammy awards in 2009.
Finally, their latest album, "Mylo Xyloto"  was first presented in 2011 with the single "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall". The second single, "Paradise" won the award for "Best Rock Video" at MTV Video Music Awards last year. The group also took part in closing ceremony of the Paralympic games in London 2012, and after their Australian tour they announced a three-year pause and preparation of the 6th album, whose title, according to Chris Martin, "is much easier to pronounce". Authenticity, great innovation and constant experimentations with music elements (e.g. acoustic and electronic) make this band one of the best selling and most influential bands of the new millennium.
Formed in 1994, this rock band lasts for almost two decades, and every year it is getting more and more popular. Their musical style combines the most various influences and sub-genres, which contribute to their authenticity and easily recognisable style. They boldly mix hard rock with classical music and rock opera, progressive rock, electronic music and space rock. But all those experiments and innovations could not be conducted without Matthew Bellamy's multiple talents and, of course, great distinctive voice. Matthew is the frontman of the group, but all three members are versatile and play more than four instruments each. Other two members are Christopher Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard.
It took Muse almost six years to become one of the most popular rock bands in the world, and almost ten years to become recognised as they deserved in the USA. (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/muse/biography)
Their first EP called "Muse" came out in May 1998. The following year, their second EP "Muscle Museum" brought them high 3rd place in the singles chart of indie rock music. Their first album was called "Showbiz" (1999). The second studio album ("Origin of Symmetry") came out in 2001, and it was well received by the British media, and it also made a lot of impact on Muse's later works, such as album "Black Holes and Revelations". With the next album called "Absolution" (2003), Muse got their first Top10 single "Time Is Running Out". The band finally started their international tour across North America, Australia and New Zealand. The next year they were awarded "Best Alternative Act" and "Best Live Act" at MTV Europe Awards, and "Best British Live Act" at Brit Awards.
"Black Holes and Revelations" (2006), band's 4th album, was mainly inspired by Sci-Fi motives and dissatisfaction of the political situation in the world. The album got platinum, earning "Platinum Europe Award", after being sold in one million copies in Europe only.
The 5th album, "Resistance", brought the most popularity to the band, especially internationally, since it took the first position in music charts in 19 countries, as well as third place in the Billboard 200 list. Media and critics were highly positive about it and especially enthusiastic when it comes to variety of styles and influences used on this album. Hits like "Uprising", "Resistance", and "Unclosed Desires" provided a great international tour and significant awards, such as "MTV Video Music Award", "Grammy Award for Best Rock Album", "American Music Award for Favourite Artist in the Alternative Rock Music Category", etc. Their 6th album, "2nd Law" is currently in preparation. Muse also took part in Olympic Games closing ceremony in London 2012. They are also a band well-known for their charity work, great donations and fight for justice and human rights.
The Libertines- According to the New Music Express magazine (NME), "the greatest rock' n 'roll story of our generation". (http://www.nme.com/blog/index.php?blog=10&title=the_libertines_still_the_greatest_rock_n&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1 )
This indie or (independent) rock band started telling their story of garage rock revival in the late 20th century, i.e. in 1997, when Carl Barat and Pete Doherty (both of them vocalists and guitarists) felt connected by their mutual love for song writing and music creation, and founded a band, at that time named "The Strand". Bassists and other members of the band changed, but Barat and Doherty remained frontmen. In 2002, with more gigs and their first singles "What a Waster" and "I Get Along" they drew media attention, especially of above mentioned NME magazine, which stayed loyal to the group throughout their career. The singles were not an immediate success and even had to be censored in order to be played on BBC Radio 1, but after they appeared on NME cover, they reached 37.postion in the UK Singles Chart. The next single was ranked eight positions higher on the same Chart, and soon after the band was awarded "Best New Band" at NME Awards.
Of course, as it is usually the case with rock bands, after the great success come the great problems. Their problems were associated with drug abuse. Namely, Doherty was crack cocaine and heroin addict by 2003, and this addiction made him more isolated and in a bad relationship with other members of the band, which led to even more problems, even noticeable during their live performance until their final break up in 2004. Despite the problems within the group, and Doherty's prison sentence of 6 months they somehow managed to finish their Japan tour without Doherty, and even made a single "Don't Look Back into the Sun" which held, up to that moment, their highest (11th) position on the Chart. What is special about this group are the gigs they held all over London, and the one, when Doherty came out of the prison and the audience literally invaded the stage, was, according to Q-Magazine, "one of the 100 best gigs of all the time". After the group breakdown, the frontmen went their separate ways, making new songs in cooperation with other artists, however, The Libertines made their highest-ranking hit after their break-up, which took the high 2nd position in the Chart. Their final performance before the 2010 reunion was in Paris, December 2004. Even after the 2010 reunion, band members continued their solo careers currently without intention to reunite back again.
Another alternative rock band, which developed their authentic style by never being afraid of reinvention and experimenting, mixing different rock genres and even electronic music was formed in 1985 in Abingdon by five schoolmates, Thom Yorke, Jonny and Colin Greenwood , Phil Selway and Ed O'Brien. The act released eight albums: "Pablo Honey" (1993), "The Bends" (1995), "OK Computer" (1997), "Kid A" (2000), "Amnesiac" (2001), "Hail to the Thief" (2003), "In Rainbows" (2007) and "King of Limbs" (2009). The second album brought them great popularity in the UK whereas the third album, "OK Computer" made them popular and recognisable worldwide. "Kid A" is nowadays considered one of the most important albums from the beginning of the 21st century. When it comes to Radiohead, both, audience and critics recognise their importance and ingenuity when it comes to rock music and its development, not only in Britain, but also worldwide. That is no wonder, having in mind that this act sold more than 30 million copies of their albums all around the world. They were nominated for more than 60 significant music awards, 18 of which they won. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiohead) Some of the major awards this band was deserving of: 3 Grammy Awards, one MTV Music Video Award, 7 NME Awards, 2 PLUG Awards, and 4 Q Awards. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_awards_and_nominations_received_by_Radiohead)
Some of the Radiohead's greatest hits:
-"Paranoid Android", from the 1997 album "Ok Computer" charted at 3rd place on UK Singles Chart;
-"Creep", their debut single from 1992, not very well received in the beginning (78th place on UK Singles Chart), but in 2008 entered the chart again, taking the 37th place
-"Karma Police", it was an immediate commercial success, charted 8th place on UK Singles Chart
-"No Surprises", also from the album "OK Computer", number four at UK Singles Chart
-"Street Spirit (Fade Out)", 1996, 5th place on UK Singles Chart
-"High and Dry"
-"Idioteque" , etc.