Eddie Newman loves telling the story of the time he sunk Pontoon in the Tonle Sap.
It was 2008 and Newman had been tasked with boosting crowd numbers at the club, which at the time was on an actual pontoon floating off Riverside.
With a budget of $5,000 he improved the sound and lighting, booked former Studio 54 and Ministry of Sound DJ Bert Bevans and flyer-bombed the city.
“By 11:30pm the nightclub was under water,” Newman says. “There were 16 ballast tanks keeping the thing afloat but one of them had a leak. With so many people, there was a domino effect and – glug, glug, glug – down we went.
“It took about 45 minutes. Even when there was a foot of water on the dance floor people were still going for it.”
The club re-opened three months later with its reputation made – and with a vastly improved floatation system – and the crowds turned out in droves.
Five years on and Newman is hoping to repeat the success of the original Pontoon with his new club, Code Red – albeit on sturdier ground.
When a reporter spoke to the heavily tattooed Scotsman earlier this week, the venue was still being fitted out but Newman was confident it would be ready for the opening night on Thursday.
“The idea is to bring proper clubbing to Phnom Penh, like you would have in London or New York,” he said.
“We want to have a place that people feel like making an effort when they came out. They dress up and make a night of it.”
After several years with Pontoon – which moved to its current location in Street 172 in 2011 – Newman went out on his own in October 2012.
He has since started an underground electronic music festival in Singapore called Big Wig – each ticket holder received a free novelty coloured afro – and last year attempted to open another club called Code in the Riverside venue that used to be the Mao Club.
That venture was scuppered by complaints from neighbours before it could open its doors and Newman is hoping this new venue won’t have the same issues.
Located across the road from the Naga World Hotel and Entertainment Complex looking out over the river, it doesn’t actually have any neighbours who could complain.
“It’s great,” he said. “We’ve been able to save money on soundproofing and spent it on the sound system and lighting. We’ve spent maybe $45,000 on the sound.”
Newman said he wasn’t concerned that Code Red was a bit of a hike from the traditional entertainment districts at Street 51 and Riverside.
“We want to be a destination club,” he said. “Even when we moved Pontoon there was just Heart of Darkness and a few hot dog stands. We want people to make an effort.”
Newman insisted Code Red would have a strict policy of no “commercial” music with DJs playing “educated sounds” of techno, house and drum ‘n’ bass.
“We want to stand out for the music,” he said. “Every club in Phnom Penh plays the same music every night from the same DJs. Pontoon started as an electronic music venue but it’s gotten much more commercial.
“There’s also nobody bringing out international acts on a regular basis, so that’s something we’re going to focus on.”
In the coming months he has booked Leeroy from the Prodigy, Scotland’s The Cuban Brothers and Ninja Tune’s DJ Woody.
He added that there would be a door tax of at least $6 on Friday and Saturday nights and a rubbery dress policy that Newman summarises as “no jasmine pants, no Angry Birds T-shirts”.
“We want to attract more of the Cambodian crowd earlier on in the evening and the expats later on. Not so much backpackers,” he said.
Newman said he was excited about finally being able to run a club on his own terms again.
“All the longest running clubs – like the Ministry of Sound or The End in London – were set up because of a love for the music, not to make money,” he said.
“That’s what it’s about for me. I just want to make Code Red a fun place to be.”