Following the much-anticipated release of Sex Education’s final season, we sat down with music supervisor, Matt Biffa, to delve into his creative process and experiences while working on the show.
The captivating universe of Sex Education goes beyond its distinctive characters and gripping plotline; it is equally complemented by a carefully curated soundtrack. Since Season 4 premiered on Netflix in September, songs from the show have been dominating the Tunefind Top Trending songs chart, underscoring the show’s musical excellence.
After initially reading the script for season 4, which scene did you look forward to working on the most?
Matt: The biggest challenge is always the first song of the first episode, particularly as we were coming back after a long time away. I also felt like previous cold opens had set quite a high bar, particularly the use of “I Touch Myself” for season 2. Originally, I really wanted us to open with something massive by an artist like Prince, but after trying 50 or 60 songs, I realised that we had to cast the net wider. The Nina Simone song came to me while I was out walking the dog one afternoon, and it was the only song that everyone immediately agreed on, so that was it.
Every song in the show is a challenge, because the scene descriptions are usually pretty eye-opening, but the other one that I was really looking forward to was the finale. Knowing that this was the last song anyone would ever hear in the show definitely felt intimidating, so I kept squirrelling ideas away over the months leading up to the edit. I knew that we’d have a lot of differing opinions, so in this case I wanted to have a lot of ideas to draw on.
— Why did you feel that the music you had chosen in this particular scene was most fitting for it?
Matt: Otis and Maeve are missing each other, and Maeve’s starting to feel quite frustrated. The lyrics are pretty on the nose at first, but I loved how they play against the second half of the scene, where Otis fails to send back a nude after some pretty disastrous pube-shaving.
Which scene did you enjoy watching back most after final mixing took place?
Matt: Brandi Carlile’s “This Time Tomorrow (In The Canyon Haze)” really hit me hard when I watched it back. It was a song that I had a very strong feeling would work for Maeve’s story this season, and we actually tried it in quite a few places before landing on the end of episode 7. I was literally like a dog with a bone on that one – I love how the “I’ll always be with you” lyric plays over Maeve’s realisation that she’ll be OK, and at that moment she’s achieving a degree of closure regarding the relationship she had with her mother. I always took it that she also felt reassured at that moment that she’d be able to move forward without Otis, and that she had a glimpse of how her life could be, but I might have been overthinking it at that point…
What were the challenges for you on this project?
Matt: As I say, literally everything is a challenge with this show! The budget is never what everyone imagines it to be, and so I spend a lot of time managing the expectations of both sides. I’m forever explaining to the rights holders and producers what’s realistic, and that seems endless sometimes.
Traditionally, we argue and agonise over pretty much every cue, and sometimes there can be some pretty heated disagreements over song choices. I’ve seen 10-page email chains that span a weekend where people are vigorously arguing for and against a certain song, and it takes a lot of diplomacy to be in the middle of that and stay on good terms with everyone. But “Sex Education” is greater than the sum of its parts, so it took all of us to make it what it was. All of our personalities are in there, and I suppose I was in the middle of it all just trying to hold it all together and make sure we were doing everything with integrity.
Lastly, even though the show’s successful, we still get denials all the time. Some of the older approval parties take one look at the title and straight up interpret the show as being gratuitously pornographic. Sometimes I can talk them round – after 4 seasons I’ve really finessed my spiel about what the show is and what it hopes to achieve for teenagers – but sometimes they still find it dubious and deny. I’d usually have to call some rights holders before sending a clearance request, because getting a request with some of those scene descriptions out of the blue would be incredibly weird. So there’d be these hilarious phone calls where I’d be explaining that the song was going to play over three minutes of the cast constantly having loads of pretty insane sex, or that it’s a montage where Otis can’t stop pleasuring himself and gets caught by his mum in the car. You get hilarious mails back asking “how much jizz do we actually see”, or “how explicit is it when Jackson has a finger in his bum?”.
What was your highlight/most memorable moment of working on the fourth season of Sex Education?
Matt: Probably the last ever session we had together to choose the song for the finale. We had 4 of those sessions, and each of them had about 25 songs laid to picture, meticulously edited so that each one was as great as it could be. The poor assistant editors had pages of notes from me asking them to cut an intro by 4 bars, come in at the second verse, cut the first half of the guitar solo, come back here, play through to the end. It drove everyone in my house beserk because they could hear me play a fragment of a song, stop it, then play another bit endlessly until I’d worked out what was best.
Anyway, with each session, no one could agree on anything – 4 people would love something, and one person would be totally allergic to it, so it was a very involved process. I realised though that every one of those meetings was potentially the last time we’d ever be in a room again. I kept detailed notes with the date and time, noting every reaction to every song. The last one was very emotional at the end – we inevitably felt incredibly reflective on what we’d achieved over the years. When I look back at the full 4 season song list, I feel incredibly proud – immodestly, I think there are some absolute bangers there.
Could you tell us a bit more about your other recent and upcoming projects?
Matt: I’ve just had “The Woman In The Wall” come out – that show was amazing to work on, chiefly because we managed to get an unreleased Sinead O’Connor song for the finale. She’d agreed to let us have it before she died, but then I had to iron out all the details, which was a delicate process. The song itself is unbelievably moving, and we stripped it down to just her voice for the first part of the use, so it’s almost unbearably powerful when you hear it.
I’ve got lots of projects happening with all the usual streamers but the next thing to come out will be “The Buccaneers” on Apple in November. For that one, I came up with a concept that was about as complicated and difficult as you could possibly imagine, and then I idiotically pitched it to Apple and the producers. They said, “sounds amazing, go away and do it”, and then I had to find a way to make the bloody thing real. So I got Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint on board to produce about 15 entirely new bespoke songs with all sorts of American female artists. I think it turned out pretty well, but see what you think when it comes out.
Thanks again for taking the time out to speak with us!
You can listen to the full soundtrack below.
Sex Education is now available to stream on Netflix.